San Jose State University (SJSU) President Mary Papazian announced her resignation on Thursday amid an ongoing scandal where SJSU has been accused of not properly looking into reports of sexual abuse by an athletic trainer for over a decade.
Since 2006, former SJSU trainer and Director of sports medicine Scott Shaw has been accused of sexual harassment by multiple students. The first block of allegations against Shaw, made primarily by members of the women’s swim and dive teams, were brought forth to SJSU in 2009, alleging that Shaw massaged their genitals while saying it was medical treatment. The University investigated but found in 2010 that there was nothing substantial to back the claims up.
Shaw allegedly continued doing this to students throughout the next several years. In 2016, Papazian became President of the University but failed to do anything more of the continued allegations until public pressure influenced her to start another investigation in 2019. Despite more athletes coming forward from more recent incidents, the second investigation failed to take them into account and relied mostly on older information dating back to the first report, clearing Shaw again.
This led to the Department of Justice and the FBI getting involved, which quickly turned the investigations, as well as public support, against the University. The Department of Justice eventually concluded that the University had not responded adequately enough to the numerous reports last month, and had even caused more students to be harmed by not investigating properly.
“The department found that SJSU failed for more than a decade to respond adequately to reports of sexual harassment, including sexual assault, of female student-athletes by an athletic trainer then working at SJSU,” the DOJ announced last month. “Beginning in 2009, female student-athletes reported that the trainer subjected them to repeated, unwelcome sexual touching of their breasts, groins, buttocks, and/or pubic areas during treatment in the campus training facilities. The department concluded that for years, SJSU’s ineffective response exposed additional student-athletes to harm. The department also found that SJSU retaliated against two SJSU employees. The first employee repeatedly alerted school officials to the threat the athletic trainer posed, and the second employee expressed opposition to retaliating against the reporting employee and was terminated by SJSU.”
While SJSU agreed with the report and to improve numerous changes to prevent this happening again, as well as paying a total of $1.6 million to all known victims, the announcement brought further outcry from the public.
Compounding this was Shaw resigning from the school in 2020, as well as a continuing FBI investigation against him and whistleblower lawsuits by a former Athletic Department employees alleging retaliation looming overhead.
Amid mounting public pressure, Papazian resigned on Thursday.
“The best interest of the campus continues to be at the forefront of every decision I make. After thoughtful consideration, I have made the decision to step away as president,” said President Papazian. “I truly love this university and believe this choice will allow the focus to be positively and solely on our talented, diverse, and outstanding campus. It has been my great honor and privilege to work with the exceptional SJSU students, faculty, staff, alumni and community partners. I am incredibly grateful to the entire SJSU and San Jose communities for the opportunity to serve at what I consider to be one of the best and most transformational universities in the country.”
While Papazian did not give a reason for leaving, mentions of Title IX changes stemming from the DOJ investigation as well as Papazian stating previously that she would continue cooperation with all Shaw-related inquires point to the scandal being at least a factor behind her decision.
“What happened is that she essentially did a Joe Paterno,” Arnold Kleef, a Philadelphia-based researcher who compiles information on college athletics sexual abuse scandals, told the Globe on Thursday. “Like Penn State, there was an employee who had been doing this sort of thing on campus, albeit with Shaw only allegedly touching. And then a higher up looked into it then did the bare minimum. It is by no means exactly what happened, but the pattern of doing the minimum and what looks like protection is clear.”
“A lot of other scandals parallel this sort of thing, and it always includes resignations right after a major report coming out. Penn State had a bunch last decade, and other colleges saw Athletic directors, college presidents, coaches, and others resign early to cut their losses early. You can never say for sure unless the person who resigned admits it, but Papazian followed the standard ‘Administrator who did something wrong’ playbook to a T. And those resignations, or firings if it comes to it, are always an indicator that the University is truly making strides for change.”
According to Papazian, she is to officially step down at the end of December. SJSU has yet to announce an interim President or a permanent new President.