Athletics declines comment on reason behind Olson investigation
With the hiring of Mike Gawlik, Central Michigan volleyball has its new head coach. One question is left unanswered: Why was former Head Coach Erik Olson suspended?
Olson was put on paid administrative leave on Oct. 6 after a Faculty Personnel Services investigation was launched on Sept. 23. The Faculty Association received a complaint that Olson “engaged in unprofessional behavior toward the athletes.”
The nature of that complaint was never made public.
The investigation was launched to determine if Olson violated CMU's Nondiscrimination Policy. He resigned on Dec. 1, effective Dec. 31. The university ended the investigation. There is no final report regarding what Olson was accused of.
In emails obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, Olson was not allowed to have contact with any athletic department staff or student-athletes during his leave of absence. He also was not allowed to visit campus, including all athletic facilities.
In a letter to parents, Director of Athletics Dave Heeke wrote that the review was taking place because of "several issues" that recently came to their attention.
Heeke told Central Michigan Life on Friday that he has a personal policy to keep professional matters private.
“We just don’t talk about personnel issues," Heeke said. "There were issues that came to our attention — that were brought to our attention — that were shared with the appropriate people on campus and within the administration and then it was deemed an investigation — a review of the program — should take place."
Athletics Director of Communication Rob Wyman said the silence from the department is a matter of privacy.
"Obviously you want to balance that with being transparent," Wyman said. "There is also protecting people through the process and giving them the privacy they deserve."
At least six student-athletes transferred from the university from the volleyball program since 2014.
Heeke said student-athletes are made aware they can file a complaint internally — something that often occurs in the student-athletes' academic advising area. Heeke would not say if a student-athlete lodged a complaint against Olson.
Student-athletes also provide feedback in a variety of ways and at different points during their careers, providing the department with material for coach evaluations and constructive conversation to improve coaches' performances.
Heeke declined to say if complaints were filed against Olson.
“I’m not going to specifically speak to (Olson's) case," Heeke said. "I will say that we have a number of channels available to student-athletes to share their feelings that can be evaluated in a very professional and appropriate manner and then routed to the appropriate individuals on campus."
According to the internal investigation notice sent to Olson on Sept. 23, if the allegations against him were true, he could have been in violation of CMU's Nondiscrimination Policy.
That policy states "even if not illegal, acts are prohibited if they discriminate against any university community member(s) through inappropriate limitation of access to, or participation in, educational, employment, athletic, social, cultural, or other university activities on the basis of age, color, disability, gender, gender identity/gender expression, genetic information, height, marital status, national origin, political persuasion, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, veteran status or weight."
In an Oct. 13 email, Heeke told Olson’s remaining coaching staff, Theresa Beeckman and Adam Rollman, and another person whose name was redacted, to not restrict players’ time with family members as the team traveled to Northern Illinois and Western Michigan Sep. 25 and 26.
"I do not think it is appropriate to severely restrict the time available to share with family and friends. If restricting time together has occurred in the past, I ask that you adjust the team schedules accordingly for the remainder of the season,” Heeke said in the email.
Heeke said Friday that he would not comment on whether Olson’s restrictions breached the Nondiscrimination Policy, but said they were not the reason for launching the investigation.
"I don’t think it’s appropriate to talk about (personnel issues). That’s where we’ve been very consistent. We’re about looking to the future and making our program the best it can possibly be," Heeke said. "Coach Olson decided to resign ultimately. He did not feel that he should, or wanted to, continue to serve as the head volleyball coach here, that’s how the entire episode concluded — at his request to resign. At that point, I moved forward to take and assess what our program has been like, where we can improve and what environment we want for those student athletes. I’m really focused on going that way versus talking about the past."
When asked if the CMU community deserves to know the truth about what transpired with Olson, Heeke said “I think that’s for the public and journalists to determine. They can opine on that how they wish. I know we’ve conducted our business in a very professional and appropriate manner."
Because the situation is a personnel issue involving a member of a collective bargaining unit, Heeke said, it must be handled according to contractual protocol.
Faculty Association President David Jesuit said any information about restricting the discussion of personnel files would be included in Article 11 of the agreement with the university. There is no such reference made in the agreement.
“He's represented by a bargaining unit and I think any time you are having conversations about personnel issues, those are very sensitive," Heeke said. "There are a number of pieces to that contract that need to be followed accordingly. Fundamentally, I don't think its appropriate to talk about personnel issues. Secondly, there are a number of contractual pieces to that. If information is to be released, it be released in accordance to those contractual arrangements."