Another year at the University of Montana, another confusing, mysterious case of sexual misconduct emanating from the athletic department.
On Jan. 30, Lady Griz soccer coach Mark Plakorus was fired after the University discovered a series of phone calls from Plakorus to a Las Vegas escort service. These calls were made during recruiting trips to Las Vegas on a University-issued cell phone. UM athletic director Kent Haslam was looking through Plakorus’ phone records after receiving a series of complaints from players that Plakorous had been texting them at inappropriate times. These players also alleged experiencing various forms of inappropriate touching from Plakorus.
This was not the story initially told by the University, however.
The day Plakorus was fired, the University announced he had resigned from his position as Lady Griz soccer coach. This initial announcement indicated Plakorus’ resignation was the result of a “mutual agreement” between him and Haslam, and Plakorus claimed he resigned in order to focus on taking care of his father.
Two days later, Haslam told the Missoula Independent that Plakorus had not resigned; instead, the UM Athletic Department had decided not to renew his contract. He’d been fired.
While engaging in campus town halls and interviews during the fall semester, President Seth Bodnar repeatedly invoked the term “transparency” to describe his intentions if he were to be picked as UM’s next president. In a campuswide email sent out on Feb. 2, Bodnar claimed the process the University has engaged in to begin “a new leadership direction in the soccer program” has, and will continue to be, “supportive, transparent, and inclusive.”
There is nothing transparent, however, about allowing the student body to spend three days believing this “new leadership direction” was an innocent case of a man putting his family before his career, as opposed to a case of sexual misconduct that somehow managed to take the University three months to fully investigate.
UM, like so many other universities, has been the subject of extensive investigations surrounding its mishandling of sexual assault and harassment cases. At the foundation of many of these mishandlings has been an administrative desire to protect the reputation of the University over the safety of its students. Although Bodnar has maintained he was unaware of the initial decision to depict Plakorus’ departure as a resignation, it was ultimately the prioritization of the reputation of a coach and an athletic department that put students, particularly Lady Griz soccer players, in danger, as well as produced a confusing, unconvincing narrative about the reason for Plakorus’ dismissal.
In his email, Bodnar stated the University is “committed to our first priority, our students.” A commitment to transparency and the safety of students is too important to simply give lip service to. It should be the driving force of all administrative decisions. Hopefully, this obligation is one the administration will take seriously moving forward.