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Controversy Re: USU Prez's Purported Comments on Polynesian Latter-day Saint Coach's Religious and Cultural Background


smac97

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1 minute ago, Kenngo1969 said:

I'm beginning to wonder if, at a minimum, Utah State University, aka Utah taxpayers, isn't going to have to pay Frank Maile "go away" money.  President Cockett cannot very well use some version of the, "That-isn't-exactly-what-I-said" defense when whoever represents Coach Maile has eighty witnesses lined up on the other side to testify to the contrary.

I have the same thought. In addition too, though unfortunate, would such make hiring practices at Utah State suspect in terms of religious or ethnic discrimination.

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50 minutes ago, smac97 said:

Also from KJZZ:

Yeesh.  

Thanks,

-Smac

Interesting. Two days ago on reddit, someone posted, in an apparent attempt to defend the President, that the President did not want to deal with a  "well they hired a Polynesian who is Mormon...go figure" situation. And not wanting to deal with that was the basis of the Presidents comment and the reddit commentor stated that such was in compliance with Federal law.

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3 hours ago, provoman said:

I have the same thought. In addition too, though unfortunate, would such make hiring practices at Utah State suspect in terms of religious or ethnic discrimination.

Let's take a look again and KJZZ's reporting on a paraphrase of Pres. Cockett's remarks:

Quote

Linebackers Kevin Meitzenheimer and Nick Heninger say Cockett asked players about Maile’s LDS faith.

“What do we say to people who have concerns — or outside concerns — about hiring an LDS Mormon from Utah,” Meitzenheimer said, summarizing Cockett’s comments.

Heninger offered a similar version of what Cockett said.

“How he’s a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and how that looks outwardly for like, recruiting,” he said. “She mentioned the Polynesian culture as well.”

Cockett issued a statement over the weekend, saying she was “devastated that my comments were interpreted as bias against anyone’s religious background.”

How else can her remarks be reasonably "interpreted?"  "What do we say to people who have concerns ... about hiring {a Polynesian} LDS Mormon from Utah," she purportedly asked.  If that is not "bias against anyone's religious {and racial/cultural} background," I don't know what is. 

So I guess we're left with a few options:

A) Pres. Cockett expressed her own concerns "about hiring {a Polynesian} LDS Mormon from Utah," but imputed those concerns to conveniently vague and anonymous "others" as a form of plausible deniability for herself ("What do we say to people who have concerns...").

B) Pres. Cockett shares these "concerns ... about hiring {a Polynesian} LDS Mormon from Utah" and "the Polynesian culture" with others, but again imputes them entirely to others ("people who have concerns -- or outside concerns...") as a form of plausible deniability for herself.

C) Pres. Cockett does not share these "concerns ... about hiring an LDS Mormon from Utah" at all.  Even a little bit.  But she nevertheless felt obligated to acknowledge that others "have concerns ... about hiring {a Polynesian} LDS Mormon from Utah," and that these concerns were sufficient and legitimate enough to include in the decision-making process.

Assuming that the reporting of what she said is more or less accurate, are these the appropriate options from which we can draw a conclusion?  Or are there more?

Thanks,

-Smac

Edited by smac97
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2 hours ago, smac97 said:

Let's take a look again and KJZZ's reporting on a paraphrase of Pres. Cockett's remarks:

How else can her remarks be reasonably "interpreted?"  "What do we say to people who have concerns ... about hiring {a Polynesian} LDS Mormon from Utah," she purportedly asked.  If that is not "bias against anyone's religious {and racial/cultural} background," I don't know what is. 

So I guess we're left with a few options:

A) Pres. Cockett expressed her own concerns "about hiring {a Polynesian} LDS Mormon from Utah," but imputed those concerns to conveniently vague and anonymous "others" as a form of plausible deniability for herself ("What do we say to people who have concerns...").

B) Pres. Cockett shares these "concerns ... about hiring {a Polynesian} LDS Mormon from Utah" and "the Polynesian culture" with others, but again imputes them entirely to others ("people who have concerns -- or outside concerns...") as a form of plausible deniability for herself.

C) Pres. Cockett does not share these "concerns ... about hiring an LDS Mormon from Utah" at all.  Even a little bit.  But she nevertheless felt obligated to acknowledge that others "have concerns ... about hiring {a Polynesian} LDS Mormon from Utah," and that these concerns were sufficient and legitimate enough to include in the decision-making process.

Assuming that the reporting of what she said is more or less accurate, are these the appropriate options from which we can draw a conclusion?  Or are there more?

Thanks,

-Smac

I would say all three option are violations. A & B would tend show bias on part of the President.  C, show bias in the hiring process - as culture or religion are not lawful standards in public hiring. 

It is unclear to me what the burden of proof is when it comes to a EEO claim, but it looks like a shifting burden.

For reference as to a civil rights violation,

Comcast Corp. v. National Association of African American-Owned Media

Holding: A plaintiff who sues for racial discrimination in contracting under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 bears the burden of showing that race was a but-for cause of the plaintiff’s injury, and that burden remains constant over the life of the lawsuit.

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13 minutes ago, provoman said:

I would say all three option are violations. A & B would tend show bias on part of the President.  C, show bias in the hiring process - as culture or religion are not lawful standards in public hiring. 

It is unclear to me what the burden of proof is when it comes to a EEO claim, but it looks like a shifting burden.

For reference as to a civil rights violation,

Comcast Corp. v. National Association of African American-Owned Media

Holding: A plaintiff who sues for racial discrimination in contracting under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 bears the burden of showing that race was a but-for cause of the plaintiff’s injury, and that burden remains constant over the life of the lawsuit.

I don't think actual legal consequences are the real threat for Cockett, here. I think loss of confidence and trust is more toxic to her as university president.

Attorneys here: can she sue for unlawful termination/breach of contract if the Board of Regents decides, post-investigation, to remove her as president? Sort of a reverse-O.J. Simpson: not found legally guilty, but due to what emerged from the investigation (that didn't rise to the level of a clear legal violation)? The optics of fighting that legally in Cache County, Utah, with the LDS students and alumni, aren't good. 

Can a Board of Regents decide to release a president deemed toxic, even if there might not be EEOC violations?

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18 minutes ago, rongo said:

I don't think actual legal consequences are the real threat for Cockett, here. I think loss of confidence and trust is more toxic to her as university president.

You may well be correct here.

18 minutes ago, rongo said:

Attorneys here: can she sue for unlawful termination/breach of contract if the Board of Regents decides, post-investigation, to remove her as president?

That would depend on the terms of her employment contract.

I wonder if it may come to that, though.  As you said, the "loss of confidence and trust" may ultimately be more determinative.  Can Pres. Cockett really continue to run a school where she has alienated decent-sized portions of the Latter-day Saint and racial minority communities?

18 minutes ago, rongo said:

Sort of a reverse-O.J. Simpson: not found legally guilty, but due to what emerged from the investigation (that didn't rise to the level of a clear legal violation)? The optics of fighting that legally in Cache County, Utah, with the LDS students and alumni, aren't good. 

Yep.  That's part of why I don't think things will end up in this sort of legal fight.

18 minutes ago, rongo said:

Can a Board of Regents decide to release a president deemed toxic, even if there might not be EEOC violations?

I think they could have a series of behind-the-scenes discussions with her, culminating in her resigning her position.

Thanks,

-Smac

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5 hours ago, smac97 said:

Let's take a look again and KJZZ's reporting on a paraphrase of Pres. Cockett's remarks:

How else can her remarks be reasonably "interpreted?"  "What do we say to people who have concerns ... about hiring {a Polynesian} LDS Mormon from Utah," she purportedly asked.  If that is not "bias against anyone's religious {and racial/cultural} background," I don't know what is. 

So I guess we're left with a few options:

A) Pres. Cockett expressed her own concerns "about hiring {a Polynesian} LDS Mormon from Utah," but imputed those concerns to conveniently vague and anonymous "others" as a form of plausible deniability for herself ("What do we say to people who have concerns...").

B) Pres. Cockett shares these "concerns ... about hiring {a Polynesian} LDS Mormon from Utah" and "the Polynesian culture" with others, but again imputes them entirely to others ("people who have concerns -- or outside concerns...") as a form of plausible deniability for herself.

C) Pres. Cockett does not share these "concerns ... about hiring an LDS Mormon from Utah" at all.  Even a little bit.  But she nevertheless felt obligated to acknowledge that others "have concerns ... about hiring {a Polynesian} LDS Mormon from Utah," and that these concerns were sufficient and legitimate enough to include in the decision-making process.

Assuming that the reporting of what she said is more or less accurate, are these the appropriate options from which we can draw a conclusion?  Or are there more?

Thanks,

-Smac

The AD and team leadership council were on the call.  What if the President asked, in essence, is the best way to improve  the USU football program to make it distinct and unique from a recruiting standpoint.  LDS coach?  There’s one at the Y and the U.  Polynesian coach?  See the Y.  

Were her comments meant to say hiring Coach Maile as Head Coach makes USU a me too hire and the second or third choice for recruits looking for LDS and Poly coaches?  On an objective level, it’s not an illogical question. 

Edited by let’s roll
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28 minutes ago, let’s roll said:

The AD and team leadership council were on the call.  What if the President asked, in essence, is the best way to improve  the USU football program to make it distinct and unique from a recruiting standpoint.  LDS coach?  There’s one at the Y and the U.  Polynesian coach?  See the Y.  

Pres. Cockett heads a public university.  She is a "state actor."  She is acting on behalf of the state.  The state cannot discriminate based on race or religion, even if the underlying intent is to make the USU football program "distinct and unique from" BYU and the U.

Imagine if Pres. Cockett had said "In order to make our football program distinct and unique from a recruiting standpoint, let's not offer any scholarships or team positions to black athletes.  There are plenty of such players at U and BYU."  

Quote

Were her comments meant to say hiring Coach Maile as Head Coach makes USU a me too hire and the second or third choice for recruits looking for LDS and Poly coaches?  On an objective level, it’s not an illogical question. 

I'm not sure what you mean by "me too" hire.  Could you elaborate?

Also, why would "recruits looking for LDS and Poly coaches" have - as Pres. Cockett purportedly put it - "concerns ... about hiring {a Polynesian} LDS Mormon from Utah"?

Now, if there are recruits who would decline to attend USU because the coach was Polynesian and a Latter-day Saint, then your question might make sense, since they would fit within the parameters of those whom Pres. Cockett characterized as "people who have concerns — or outside concerns."  But then that would mean that Pres. Cockett was allowing the latent (or heck, patent) race- and religion-based prejudices of prospective "recruits" to affect the hiring process at USU.  Wouldn't you be concerned about that?  

Thanks,

-Smac

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26 minutes ago, let’s roll said:

The AD and team leadership council were on the call.  What if the President asked, in essence, is the best way to improve  the USU football program to make it distinct and unique from a recruiting standpoint.  LDS coach?  There’s one at the Y and the U.  Polynesian coach?  See the Y.  

Were her comments meant to say hiring Coach Maile as Head Coach makes USU a me too hire and the second or third choice for recruits looking for LDS and Poly coaches?  On an objective level, it’s not an illogical question. 

Had she said that, and said it that way, I don't think it would have provoked the reaction it did. Which is why she said she would be facing "difficult conversations" in the days ahead. 

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34 minutes ago, smac97 said:

Pres. Cockett heads a public university.  She is a "state actor."  She is acting on behalf of the state.  The state cannot discriminate based on race or religion, even if the underlying intent is to make the USU football program "distinct and unique from" BYU and the U.

Imagine if Pres. Cockett had said "In order to make our football program distinct and unique from a recruiting standpoint, let's not offer any scholarships or team positions to black athletes.  There are plenty of such players at U and BYU."  

I'm not sure what you mean by "me too" hire.  Could you elaborate?

Also, why would "recruits looking for LDS and Poly coaches" have - as Pres. Cockett purportedly put it - "concerns ... about hiring {a Polynesian} LDS Mormon from Utah"?

Now, if there are recruits who would decline to attend USU because the coach was Polynesian and a Latter-day Saint, then your question might make sense, since they would fit within the parameters of those whom Pres. Cockett characterized as "people who have concerns — or outside concerns."  But then that would mean that Pres. Cockett was allowing the latent (or heck, patent) race- and religion-based prejudices of prospective "recruits" to affect the hiring process at USU.  Wouldn't you be concerned about that?  

Thanks,

-Smac

 

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Just now, let’s roll said:

 

Me too hire in the sense that the other football programs in the state have LDS and Poly coaches...USU making a hire of an LDS Poly Head Coach doesn’t differentiate them...so the issue recruits may have is not that they don’t want to come to a program with an LDS or Poly Coach, they want that, and can find it at the U and the Y, making USU third in a three horse field unless they can offer a coach offering something that isn’t found at the U or the Y....e.g. an Air Raid offense guru.

The question could be phrased...apart from being LDS  and Poly, what does the coach offer.  I believe there are probably lots of great answers to that question which I expect the team leadership was more than anxious to provide.

I’m not an apologist for the AD or the President.  Whatever their motives, they clearly created more confusion than clarity.  I just see a number of plausible appropriate contexts for the discussion regarding Coach Maile, who by all accounts is a fine man and coach.

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6 hours ago, smac97 said:

Assuming that the reporting of what she said is more or less accurate, are these the appropriate options from which we can draw a conclusion?  Or are there more?

Thanks,

-Smac

The team leadership was purportedly lobbying for Maille to get the job.  I don't know who is on the team leadership council,  but if it included LDS and Polynesian players,  they might have suggested that he is a good fit for their program....ie. he understands the culture of the team.   If she replied something to the effect of; we can't hire him simply because he's LDS, from Utah, or Polynesian,  it might have been interpreted to mean those were the reasons he wasn't hired.   That's a possibility.  Especially considering the turmoil lately within the program (losing season, coaching turnovers, etc.). 

Either way,  if she brought up religion or ethnicity in discussing the hiring process it was,  at best unwise, and possibly not legal.  

Again... this is all based on the assumption that the article is reporting an accurate summary of her remarks.  I've seen at least one other account of what she said on the players Facebook page a day or two earlier.  

We don't know what was said.  Hopefully, the investigation will be able to determine that. 

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Let's try a little thought experiment here:

What if someone said, "We have to consider the optics of hiring an African American coach"?

Or, "We have to consider the optics of hiring a Muslim coach."

Or, "We have to consider the optics of hiring a Jewish coach."

Or, "We have to consider the optics of hiring an Evangelical coach."

Problem there?  Yes, there's a virtual guarantee there's a problem there.

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4 hours ago, let’s roll said:

The AD and team leadership council were on the call.  What if the President asked, in essence, is the best way to improve  the USU football program to make it distinct and unique from a recruiting standpoint.  LDS coach?  There’s one at the Y and the U.  Polynesian coach?  See the Y.  

Were her comments meant to say hiring Coach Maile as Head Coach makes USU a me too hire ...

Maybe.  On the other hand, it depends on how thinly one slices the salami.  I'm sure the cultural anthropologists will be eager to correct any misunderstanding on my part, but "Polynesian" is a catch-all term for anyone from any of the Pacific Islands.  Conversely, Kalani Sitake is the first Tongan head coach in NCAA Division I football.  (I tried asking Google, individually, about the ethnicity of the three Polynesian coaches I can think of off the top of my head: Coaches Kalani Sitake, Frank Maile, and Ken Niumatalolo of the Naval Academy.  It tells me that Kalani Sitake is "Tongan," but that Frank Maile and Ken Niumatalolo are "Polynesian.")  I know from personal experience, however, that some Islanders take ethnic distinctions very seriously: For example, never ask a Samoan if he's Tongan, or vice-versa and so on and so forth ... not unless you like to, and can, run. ;)

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And I can't help but go back to what I said earlier in the thread: If this is a case of President Cockett "letting the mask slip," so to speak, it's odd that it happens now, after decades of living and working in Utah higher education and among members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 

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On 12/14/2020 at 10:16 PM, smac97 said:

KUTV: Blind survey of USU football players finds nearly all concerned by president's remarks

Quote

LOGAN, UT (KUTV) — Members of the Utah State football team’s leadership committee — players chosen by each position group — conducted a blind survey last week to gather feedback from the team about a Zoom call with President Noelle Cockett.

The survey found near unanimity — players were largely offended by comments Cockett made on the call about interim coach Frank Maile.

Players requested the call to lobby the administration to keep Maile.

2News has been unable to find a recording of the Zoom call, but players say that Cockett questioned whether Maile’s cultural background — a Utah native of Polynesian descent, and a member of the LDS Church — made him an ideal candidate for the full-time job.

Linebacker Nick Heninger said Cockett questioned how outsiders would view the decision to hire Maile, and how it affect recruiting efforts.

Cockett issued a statement over the weekend that said she was, “devastated that my comments were interpreted as bias against anyone’s religious background.”

Some players felt strongly after the call that they should boycott the final game of the year. But Heninger wanted to be sure that such a move would be a team decision.

“Emotions were high, some people were really outspoken about their emotions, others weren’t,” he said.

So he wrote out a survey and sent it to 81 players. 69 of them indicated they were upset by what happened on the Zoom call.

39041602-3ce5-4be6-bfb0-3385d769faef-med
Members of the Utah State football team’s leadership committee — players chosen by each position group — conducted a blind survey last week to gather feedback from the team about a Zoom call with President Noelle Cockett. (Photo: KUTV)

The above image is hard to read, but here is what I think it says:

Quote

 

If so, describe what concerned you.

#1 responses

That they were concerned that coach frank was a member of the lds church and that he was from Utah

Discrimination

The president and AD of the school exposed their own bias and prejudice against hiring a coach who is Mormon

The topic about why he may not be hired.  Poly lds from Utah.

The discrimination from the president of USU towards Coach Maile

That the president was not taking our concerns seriously

N/a

 

The image appears to be the top of a scrolling page of responses to a question or series of questions.  The top of the image appears to show how many responses, and the number might be "61" (the image is too grainy).

Quote

Aside from asking which year of eligibility they were in, Heninger instructed the players not to reveal their identity.

“There can be a lot of pressure in this — especially in the locker room — you don’t want guys to feel pressured into a decision,” he said.

Results were tabulated and distributed to those in leadership prior to a team meeting Friday morning.

52 players indicated before the meeting that they wished to skip the last game of the year. Heninger said by the end of the meeting, everyone was onboard.

The controversy at Utah State necessitated an emergency meeting Tuesday of the Utah State Board of Higher Education, which has authority over Utah’s public colleges.

Nina Barnes, the vice-chair, said the board was unanimous that an independent investigation was the best way forward.

“The students will be heard,” she said. “We are here to listen and to lead in a really positive way.”

When asked about the blind survey that found so many players were offended, Barnes said the board would take it seriously.

“Naturally, we would be concerned hearing that,” she said. “That is why we had an emergency meeting this morning. And we are — as quickly as possible — moving forward to get an investigation underway.”

How long might it take to get to the truth?

“We want them to take the time necessary to do a thorough investigation so at this point I just don’t know,” Barnes said.

Thanks,

-Smac

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Perhaps someone can fill in the blanks left by the reporting I’ve seen.  That reporting says only the team leadership council members were on the call (a player from each position group).  If that’s true fewer than 20 players would have been on the call.

If that is the case, what were 81 players sent the survey sharing opinions on, was there a summary of the dialogue on the call given by players who were on the call to players who were not?

Or has the role of the leadership council been misreported?  Were all players invited to attend the call and the role of the leadership council was in drafting the survey, sending it to all team members who were on the call, compiling feedback and presenting the feedback to the team at the team meeting?

If the former, the survey would be less relevant as players would be reacting to hearsay, if the latter, the survey is a good resource in gauging player reaction to what they heard the President and AD say.

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19 minutes ago, let’s roll said:

Perhaps someone can fill in the blanks left by the reporting I’ve seen.  That reporting says only the team leadership council members were on the call (a player from each position group).  If that’s true fewer than 20 players would have been on the call.

If that is the case, what were 81 players sent the survey sharing opinions on, was there a summary of the dialogue on the call given by players who were on the call to players who were not?

Or has the role of the leadership council been misreported?  Were all players invited to attend the call and the role of the leadership council was in drafting the survey, sending it to all team members who were on the call, compiling feedback and presenting the feedback to the team at the team meeting?

If the former, the survey would be less relevant as players would be reacting to hearsay, if the latter, the survey is a good resource in gauging player reaction to what they heard the President and AD say.

If her actual statement was pretty benign, and if only a handful of people were involved on the call, then why is she hunkered down in full "damage control sequestration?" Is it because her attorney has advised her to say nothing until the investigation is completed? It seems to me that if she really did say nothing of consequence, and it is being blown out of proportion or even willfully misrepresented, the best course would be a clear denial and reiteration of what she actually said. I think there are too many witnesses, and what she said was not benign, for that to happen, so it's going the "independent, 3rd party investigation" route. 

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18 hours ago, let’s roll said:

Me too hire in the sense that the other football programs in the state have LDS and Poly coaches...USU making a hire of an LDS Poly Head Coach doesn’t differentiate them...so the issue recruits may have is not that they don’t want to come to a program with an LDS or Poly Coach, they want that, and can find it at the U and the Y, making USU third in a three horse field unless they can offer a coach offering something that isn’t found at the U or the Y....e.g. an Air Raid offense guru.

Okay.  I don't think a state actor can discriminate against race or religion based on such sentiments.

18 hours ago, let’s roll said:

The question could be phrased...apart from being LDS  and Poly, what does the coach offer.  

Well, that doesn't work either.  Counting race/religion being in favor of Frank Maile is also discriminatory (against non-Latter-day Saint and non-Polynesian candidates).

In any event, it does not sound like Pres. Cockett was looking at Maile's race/religion as an asset, but rather as a liability

But then, there's "Affirmative Action..."

18 hours ago, let’s roll said:

I believe there are probably lots of great answers to that question which I expect the team leadership was more than anxious to provide.

Sure.  And I think they would have been fine with Frank Maile being passed over for the job, provided that he was on equal footing with other candidates.  The issue is whether Pres. Cockett and the AD put Maile on less-than-equal footing because of his race and religion.

18 hours ago, let’s roll said:

I’m not an apologist for the AD or the President.  Whatever their motives, they clearly created more confusion than clarity.  I just see a number of plausible appropriate contexts for the discussion regarding Coach Maile, who by all accounts is a fine man and coach.

Yep.

Thanks,

-Smac

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1 hour ago, rongo said:

If her actual statement was pretty benign, and if only a handful of people were involved on the call, then why is she hunkered down in full "damage control sequestration?"

In 2020, an allegation of racism, standing alone, can be sufficient to destroy a reputation, a career, a livelihood.  I do not blame her one whit for being "hunkered down."  She's fighting for her reputation, and for a career that she has spent her life building.

1 hour ago, rongo said:

Is it because her attorney has advised her to say nothing until the investigation is completed?

That could be part of the equation.  And there's nothing wrong with that, either.

1 hour ago, rongo said:

It seems to me that if she really did say nothing of consequence, and it is being blown out of proportion or even willfully misrepresented, the best course would be a clear denial and reiteration of what she actually said.

Ideally, yes.  But we are living in strange times.  A "clear denial" might be construed adversely against her, at least at this stage.

1 hour ago, rongo said:

I think there are too many witnesses, and what she said was not benign, for that to happen, so it's going the "independent, 3rd party investigation" route. 

Yes.  I think what she said is becoming more difficult to justify.  Race and religion are protected classes.  We as a society are really sensitive about such things, perhaps to an extent that some manifestations of it are not altogether healthy or appropriate.

If she had asked about "people" who have "concerns" about Frank Maile's win-loss record, or about his lack of sufficient experience to take over a head coaching job, none of this would have happened.  As it is, she appears to have injected race and religion into the decision-making process, and in a way that is - as you put it - "not benign."

Thanks,

-Smac

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I suspect that there's a lot of discrimination that goes on that nobody ever finds out about.   Unless someone's comment of, "Oh, we don't want to hire him.  He's [fill-in-the-blank with invidious characteristic; race-based, religion-based, gender-based, et cetera, potentially ad infinitum and potentially ad nauseam]" somehow enters the stream of public dialogue (and even in our media-saturated environment: e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok, et cetera, it's still possible that it won't) some people (and entities, though that is rarer) are savvy enough to discriminate without any repercussions whatsoever.

Edited by Kenngo1969
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On 12/15/2020 at 9:55 AM, smac97 said:

What do we say to people who have concerns ... about hiring {a Polynesian} LDS Mormon from Utah,"

I’m going to go ahead and suggest she say, “The coach’s religion, ethnicity and resident state were non-issues in the hiring process”.

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6 minutes ago, katherine the great said:

I’m going to go ahead and suggest she say, “The coach’s religion, ethnicity and resident state were non-issues in the hiring process”.

Which would then invite questions like "Then why did you specifically bring them up?"

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Deseret News Opinion Piece: 

Investigation at USU shows Utah’s ‘gentile culture’ needs to retire
Allegations of discrimination involving the Utah State football coaching staff are a reminder that cultural divides have no place.

Some excerpts:

Quote

When news first surfaced that Dr. Noelle Cockett, president of Utah State University, allegedly questioned the religion of a football coach when discussing with players who should lead the team, it seemed off.

Here’s a university administrator in Utah, not a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, allegedly holding that association against someone who is?
...
{T}he Deseret News obtained the anonymous survey that players created and distributed among themselves after the comments were made, and there seems to be consensus. When asked to “describe what concerned you” about Cockett’s comments, more than 40 players mentioned religion — or, as a USU football player told me specifically Wednesday night, “Her concerns were his religion and (that) he was from Utah.”

That much should make most readers pause, and for obvious reasons. Hearing that one’s membership in the state’s predominant religion might make them a less desirable job candidate is, understandably, uncomfortable. For some, it will raise questions of whether such behavior contravenes Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the federal law aimed at preventing employment discrimination.

So far, so good.

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But before hoisting the pitchforks and allowing the persecution complex to take over, let’s consider how we can avoid these situations. Latter-day Saints, like myself, would do well to look inward before pointing fingers outward. Our introspection might begin by addressing Utah’s longstanding “gentile” dynamic that ought to be relegated to the past.

Early Latter-day Saint arrivals in the Utah territory, having been mistreated at each stop along the way, were wary of outsiders — often viewing visitors to the territory as so-called “gentile outsiders.”

Early in the 20th century, the state’s first Jewish governor was elected — but not without some grief. Historian Leon Watters recounted that Gov. Simon Bamberger, while campaigning, visited a small community in southern Utah, and upon meeting the community’s leader — a towering Norwegian immigrant — was told, “You might yust as vell go right back vere you come from. If you tink ve let any damn Yentile speak in our meeting house, yure mistaken.”

Bamberger, not one to take offense easily, retorted, “As a Jew, I have been called many a bad name, but this is first time in my life I have been called a damned gentile!” As the story goes, the response won over the skeptics.

Other fictional accounts — like Fitzgerald’s “Papa Married a Mormon” — play off of the same tensions, with a hint of sincerity — that outsiders in a religious community can feel awfully marginalized at times.

I think this is correct.  Some of that marginalization is sort of unavoidable.  Differences of opinion, belief, and behavior will mean that not everyone feels perfectly at home in every environment.  And some of that marginalization is self-inflicted.  But apart from situational and self-inflicted marginalization, we need to look within ourselves and find ways in which we can improve the situation.

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Group identity is important — it often gives us strength. Community is important. But how we define the “others” — and even if we choose to define them, and the role those definitions assume — can be damaging. We’re stronger when we don’t have these artificial divides.

The USU incident, though disappointing, might be read as an imperfect inverse of tensions in Utah that have existed for the better part of a century-and-a-half. The disconnect between university and the community probably factored in, too — the so-called “town-grown” gulf that sometimes sprouts between the homegrown community and the more secular, progressive, “outsiders” within universities.

Such issues are not unique to Utah. But religion and culture add another complicated layer.

These are good observations.

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This need not be. In a state that prides itself on its volunteerism and community-oriented culture, giving a little more of ourselves — and shelving a bit more of our tribalism — could go far. State leaders recently committed to rooting out disparities along racial and ethnic lines, and all of us could commit to do the same.

When it comes to tribes of all kinds, the annals are unfortunately full of incidents of us and them — and now that Latter-day Saints may be on the flipside, it’s not comfortable. In no way does that justify any comment Cockett may have made — but that tension-filled tug-of-war between “saints” and “sinners” might be best replaced by a unified effort for all of us to become better neighbors.

Utah’s “gentile culture” — the us-versus-them dialogue, the useless divides — is a relic of the past. It deserves to stay there.

Well said.

Thanks,

-Smac

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