A time for Accountability in the Hoffner Case

If people in positions of power can operate in anonymity, hide behind data privacy laws, and can get away with unethical behavior against a high-profile head football coach, then imagine what they get away with every day with everyday employees?

My letter to Minnesota State Senator Terri Bonoff:

May 3, 2014

Dear Senator Bonoff:

Now retired, I spent my career as a Secret Service agent, Star Tribune executive, and self-employed leadership consultant and writer about leadership and organizations. Therefore, I followed the Todd Hoffner case with great interest and deep concern from the beginning (below is a blog piece I published on July 12, 2013 entitled “A Grave Injustice”).

The judge dismissed the criminal charges. The arbitrator evaluated the evidence presented and ruled on Hoffner’s suspension and dismissal. The judge strongly criticized authorities and the arbitrator strongly criticized university decision makers.

You and Representative Pelowski asked for an independent review of the university and the Minnesota Colleges and University system.

The citizens of Minnesota do not need a rehash of the criminal charges or the suspension and discharge of Hoffner and the evidence utilized to justify those actions. Those issues have been decided. Nor is the primary issue the laws, processes, and procedures utilized by the university as stated by university President Davenport. My reaction to his letter requesting an investigation by the legislator is that he is seeking a fig leaf to cover the decisions and actions of people in positions of power and to avoid being responsible and accountable for those actions and decisions.

What is needed, and what I believe you asked for, is a thorough investigation of the thinking, motives, strategies, and decisions of everyone involved in the actions taken against Hoffner including Chancellor Rosenstone who I cannot imagine did not approve the actions taken by university President Davenport.

I wrote in my blog post:

It is never right to punish the victim of injustice for the embarrassment that injustice may cause a big institution.

I believed from the first report that the law enforcement people acted from hysteria. I believed that the university authorities acted from a desire to protect the university from unwanted attention this case brought to it. Instead of standing against the legal system’s hysterical reaction, they blamed the victim, something so common in our society. This was an awful thing to do.

Assigning Hoffner to a non-existent position and sticking him in a storage closet was designed to humiliate and scapegoat him so he would quit. I saw such sinister behavior often in the corporate world and always found it repugnant. When he didn’t quit, they threw everything they could come up with against him hoping it would add up to a defensible justification to fire him. Did this behavior model for students and the citizens of Minnesota the type of management and leadership we expect of highly paid administrators of our state institutions? Did it demonstrate the values of the university and the university system? The arbitrator nicely dissected each issue they came up with.

It is important to expose those involved and to hold them accountable because if people in positions of power can operate in anonymity, hide behind data privacy laws, and can get away with unethical behavior against a high-profile head football coach, then imagine what they get away with every day with everyday employees?

Please keep the focus of this investigation on the actions of people in leadership positions and hold them accountable for the missteps taken, not laws, processes, and procedures.

Sincerely,

Tom Heuerman, Ph.D.

 

Blog post of July 12, 2013:

Todd Hoffner was a good football coach. Only a month earlier, Minnesota State University, Mankato had awarded him a new 4-year contract with a raise of more than 15%.

But on August 17, 2012, his life changed:

Hoffner had turned a malfunctioning cell phone in to the University for repair. On the phone were two short videos of his three young children as they laughed, danced, frolicked, and played in the nude after baths. In post Jerry Sandusky hysteria, university employees turned the phone over to the police.

Hoffner was placed on investigative leave.  Did the University act precipitously or were they prudent to be cautious?

Then bad judgment: a few days later Hoffner was arrested on two felony counts of suspicion of producing and possessing child pornography. Has insanity become normalized, I wondered.

County human-services officials quickly determined that no sexual abuse or maltreatment of Hoffner’s children had occurred. Nothing suspicious was found on his laptop, in his home, or in extensive searches at his earlier places of employment. The County attorney refused to drop the charges.

Last November, Blue Earth County District Judge Krista Jass dismissed the charges against Hoffner for lack of probable cause. She rebuked County prosecutors and her strongly worded order made it clear that the videos were innocent hijinks, not porn.  Thank God for a brave and lucid judge.

Will the community hold the county attorney accountable for the actions that did great harm to a decent family? Remember citizens of Mankato, if you don’t stand up for the victims of power abused, who will stand up for you when you are the victim?

Did the University reinstatement Hoffner as expected?

No, administrators gave Hoffner a 20 day suspension apparently for using his university cell phone for personal use. The length of suspension appears excessive to this veteran of 18 years of labor relations experience.

Administrators then removed Hoffner from his position as coach and reassigned him to a non-job administrative position and stuck him away in a closet. Then they fired him without explanation.

What motivated the actions of University managers?

Did political enemies in the bureaucracy take advantage of the opportunity to get rid of Hoffner ─the successful coach who had just signed a 4-year contract with a big raise?

Or, did the culture of the institution drive decision-making?  Protecting the institution from whatever people or situations are perceived to be threats to the image of the institution often becomes paramount in crisis and doing what is right regardless of politics and institutional embarrassment get lost entirely. Did Hoffner have to go because he brought embarrassment to the University?

It is never right to punish the victim of injustice for the embarrassment that injustice may cause a big institution.

Or, did the University investigation that came about because of false accusations and an unjust arrest lead to the discovery of new information that on its own justified an immediate termination?

We don’t know the answers to these and many other questions because University officials acted in secret behind closed doors and have shared only cold and terse written announcements. No human face speaks for the University, only a lifeless and uncaring bureaucracy.

Hoffner will challenge his firing in arbitration later this summer. If the University comes up with a reason for his discharge aside from the false allegations of peddling porn, it better be a good one. Remember, this is the coach who had just signed a new 4-year contract with a big raise. Any known issues with Hoffner from before that contract was signed are moot after the new contract effectively endorsed Hoffner fully. Will any new issues be legitimate and rise to the level needed to justify his abrupt termination or will they be concocted efforts to justify earlier bad judgments, political assassination, or the dark side of corporate culture?

The community should watch with discerning eyes.

 

 

One thought on “A time for Accountability in the Hoffner Case

  1. I think the investigation needs to go a bit deeper into the entire culture at MSU. Even back in the 1970’s when I was a college student, MSU was considered a party campus and that reputation continues to this day. I think the administration has become complacent and even twisted when it comes to values. Amanda Jax is dead, Isaac Kolstad is in critical condition. MSU needs some major changes and perhaps they need to start at the top of the pyramid.

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