BY: NATALIE SULLIVAN & CHRIS CIRILLO
EDITOR-IN-CHIEF & SPORTS EDITOR
Manhattan College conducted a criminal background check on Steve Masiello but failed to verify his academic credentials when they hired him as head basketball coach, according to a letter President Brennan O’Donnell sent to school faculty and The Quadrangle.
In an interview with The Quadrangle, O’Donnell declined to go on record about the process of reinstating Masiello. Instead, he presented a letter to the editor and later sent a similar letter to faculty.
“None of this absolves the College of its responsibility to have verified Mr. Masiello’s credentials when he was hired. During the hiring process in 2011, we did conduct a criminal background check and a standard examination of his record but did not include confirmation of the validity of the degree as part of that report. This was a serious mistake on our part and one that will not be repeated,” read the letter.
The letter from O’Donnell came in response to separate letters sent from the chairs of the school of arts and the council for faculty affairs which demanded answers from O’Donnell regarding his statement that announced Steve Masiello’s path to reinstatement as head coach of the men’s basketball team.
“We are profoundly troubled by the appearance that Manhattan College condones dishonesty, a concern that significantly undermines our confidence in those making decisions that affect every member of the college community, not least of whom are faculty, those primarily charged with upholding and inculcating the highest standards of academic honesty,” the letter, signed by 15 chairs from the school of arts, said.
“We are uncertain as to how we shall press for the importance of academic integrity, hard work, and the dignity of learning when certain members of the community seem above the rules that these principles establish,” the letter signed by the CFA said.
In a letter sent back to the faculty on April 11 – a similar letter was sent as a “Letter to the Editor” to The Quadrangle – O’Donnell explains that the decision was made because “[O’Donnell] determined that the information taken as a whole was consistent with the coach’s claim that he had earned his degree, and therefore did not intentionally misrepresent his record on his application.”
O’Donnell said in the letter that Masiello would not have been reinstated if it was determined that he purposely lied.
Some chairs in the school of arts think that this letter is not enough and continue to call for a meeting with O’Donnell.
“The letter did not explain what factors were relevant in the decision, the reason why relevant constituencies, why the students, the faculty, the staff and the athletic committee were not consulted, or how we apply this decision to future policy matters,” Robert Geraci, associate professor in the religious studies department and a member of the CFA said.
“It is possible that President O’Donnell made the correct decision in this matter, but it is hard to justify that decision given the problematic situation in which this unfolds,” Geraci said.
Professors question how this mistake could have been made both in Masiello’s hiring in 2001 as assistant coach and again in 2011 when he was hired as head coach.
“The president’s letter doesn’t even mention the fact that Mr. Masiello had also applied for the assistant coach position in 2001,” Joseph Fahey, the director of the labor studies program, said. “If we had the same background checks in place back then, and my memory tells me we did those checks many years before, then Mr. Masiello did not intentionally mislead the College back then, either.”
Provost William Clyde, who played a role in Masiello’s reinstatement, said that Masiello appeared to be shocked and caught off guard when he found out he didn’t have his degree.
“Normally, as part of the hiring process, [human resources] might be expected to request an official copy of the transcript just to put it in your file and validate that you did have what you said you did,” Clyde said. “And the president’s reference there was that we didn’t do that when [Masiello] was hired in 2011.”
Barbara Fabe, the vice president for human resources, was unavailable to meet the tight deadline to comment in time for this story.
Clyde said that the administration reinstated Masiello based off the facts of the situation, and not because Masiello was a winning coach. They listened to what Masiello had to say and then talked to officials from Kentucky to confirm what Masiello claimed was indeed true.
Some faculty is calling for a thorough outside investigation of the college’s failure in Masiello’s academic background check.
“Common sense dictates that a full and thorough investigation is completely implausible if it is left in the hands of the same administrators who blundered in the first place,” Ricardo Dello Buono, the chair of the sociology department, said. “We will never have the complete facts surrounding this case until and unless an independent investigation is conducted.”
The letter from the CFA also expressed concern that no students, faculty, staff nor the athletic committee was consulted in the decision making process. Clyde said that it wouldn’t be appropriate for all those parties to be involved in a personnel decision like this one.
Many professors voiced their concerns on the message that the decision to offer Masiello a path to reinstatement may send to prospective and current students about MC’s status as a Lasallian institution.
“It is hard to imagine that this decision won’t be continuously rehashed by sports commentators if the basketball team does well under Masiello’s leadership,” Geraci said. “I expect that the issue will remain on the table for as long as Mr. Masiello is the coach.”
“My fear is that the reinstatement assures students that educational priorities are second to athletic, and perhaps other, priorities,” Geraci said. “I do not know how I can tell my students that they must be relentlessly honest in their work, vigorously pursue their academic potential and be fully aware of their own actions.”
Fahey, a social ethicist, questions the morality and code of ethics followed by making the decision to reinstate Masiello after he has finished his degree at the University of Kentucky.
“If Mr. Masiello had a season record of something like five wins and 23 losses would he be shown mercy or would justice be the measure that was used instead?” said Fahey.
“The moral yardstick that was used here did not stem from ‘virtue ethics,’ but rather from ‘consequential ethics,’ the end justifies the means. This sends a terrible message to our students and I believe insults the Lasallian heritage of Manhattan.”