The Silence of Our Friends

In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

From  the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

The [ Todd] Hoffner saga went viral nationally in the wake of the sex scandal at Penn State involving a former assistant coach. Child pornography charges were filed against Hoffner, and then dismissed when a judge determined the pictures simply showed children at innocent play. But instead of reinstating him, school officials fired him, a decision reversed only when Hoffner won a sweeping arbitrator’s ruling last spring after he had accepted the coaching job at Minot State.

Hoffner found no such support among school officials, who just months before his problems had lavished him with praise — and a raise — after a 2011 season that ended with a bowl victory. Hoffner and his wife said they still cannot explain why key school officials were so quick to abandon them.

Hoffner was (and is now again) the head football coach at Minnesota State University, Mankato, MN.

At times of difficulty in our lives, we find out who our real friends are and, I believe, the realization is almost always painful.

Within a conformity-required university administration?

I’d imagine that Hoffner’s “friends” were friends only as long as the university president “liked” Hoffner. Who would be brave enough to go against the university president and his witch hunt of Hoffner? Who would dare be seen with Hoffner? Who would believe in him even as the injustices accumulated and became obvious?

Rare indeed would be such a courageous friend.

In Hoffner’s case, it was easier to remain silent in the face of injustice than to risk loss by speaking out. And in remaining silent, people lost a part of themselves.

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.

 

 

Justice for Todd Hoffner; condemnation for Minnesota State University, Mankato

UPDATE OF MY POST OF JULY 12, 2013: “A GRAVE INJUSTICE.”

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported today: The Minnesota State University, Mankato, was wrong to dismiss football coach Todd Hoffner after child pornography charges were dropped stemming from nude video images of his young kids on his cellphone, an arbitrator has ruled.

According to Hoffner’s attorney Christopher Madel, the 72-page decision from Gerald E. Wallin says Hoffner should be reinstated because his suspension and firing were not for just cause. The arbitrator ruled that:

• Hoffner should be reinstated to his four-year contract.

• The school should pay back his “improper” 20-day suspension from January 2013.

• If Hoffner accepts a job somewhere else, which he has at Minot State, MSU should pay the difference in pay.

Hoffner’s wife, Melodee, confirmed the ruling Thursday afternoon and said Hoffner’s return to Mankato “is under discussion right now.”

Neither school officials nor Hoffner were immediately available for comment.

Madel said he spoke Wednesday night with Hoffner, whose reaction “was a beautiful mix of shock and gratitude.” The lawyer now hopes Mankato school officials get what Hoffner got: fired.

“I’m hoping that after the powers that be carefully review the decision that they’re going to clean house at Minnesota State University,” Madel said. “Anybody that had any decision-making authority with respect to Todd Hoffner’s employment should resign or be fired.”

He said the arbitrator’s ruling even took issue with the office on the far side of campus the coach was relegated to after the initial charges were filed.

“These people tried to drum up practically anything they could,” he said, calling the ruling “pretty phenomenal.”

Said Hoffner’s wife: “Given the evidence that was put before him, you would hope that this would be the ruling, but you never know.”

I am thrilled for Hoffner and his family. Now those responsible for the horrible decisions made in this case must be held accountable.

My blog of July 12, 2013 is below:

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.

(See ESPN interview with Todd Hoffner)

A Grave Injustice

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.

(See ESPN interview with Todd Hoffner)