U of M releases unredacted letter questioning Bowen's behavior

By Updated: May 24, 2019 10:31 PM CT | Published: May 24, 2019 6:12 PM CT

The letter questioning former Memphis Athletic Director Tom Bowen’s conduct on a Lady Tigers basketball trip was written by Elizabeth A. Holloway, based on an unredacted letter released by the university late Friday.

The April 16 letter from Holloway – which also was critical of the way university officials had little interaction with her – noted what she viewed as problematic actions by Bowen with a female employee during the trip to the American Athletic Conference tournament in Uncasville, Connecticut, in early March.

Four days after the letter was sent, Bowen, who served as the U of M athletic director for seven years, submitted his resignation, saying he was pursuing a new career opportunity. His stepping down was not announced until May 14, about three weeks after Memphis president David Rudd accepted Bowen’s resignation on April 22.

There's little information in the letter further identifying Holloway, other than she's a "former employment lawyer and HR professional" who won the trip in an auction to raise money for the Lady Tigers basketball program.

On Thursday, Melanie Murry, the university’s counsel, acknowledged Bowen left “in lieu of an investigation.” However, she would not comment on the reason for the potential investigation, including whether it was associated with Holloway’s letter.

The university originally provided a heavily redacted version of the letter to comply with an open records request by The Daily Memphian seeking documents pertaining to “behavior or other circumstances that may have contributed to (Bowen’s) resignation.”

That led to a request for the full letter, and the U of M released the correspondence Friday afternoon based on the amended open records request.

“The University of Memphis released the April 16 letter containing unredacted information in response to a specific request from the Daily Memphian,” Murry said in a statement Friday. “In response to a more general inquiry, the University has provided the letter in its entirety.”

The Daily Memphian elected to block the name of the woman identified in the letter as being with Bowen because she is not a public figure and has not been identified as the focus of any potential investigation.

The original version of the letter noted behavior between Bowen and the woman – a university employee – seemed “a bit flirty,” and Holloway mentioned the two sat with each other throughout the trip and seemed to seek each other out. However, she did acknowledge the actions may “seem innocuous, perhaps even petty, and may amount to nothing more than unprofessional, lazy or odd behavior.”

Bowen immediately called the letter “meritless,” adding that he was never presented the letter during his time as athletic director. In a prepared statement, he said the release of the letter “is dumbfounding to me, and hurtful to my wife and children.”

“The innuendos are categorically false, had nothing to do with my resignation, and I would agree with the letter’s author that it appears petty,” Bowen said.

Geoff Calkins: Calkins: Full Bowen letter adds to the mysteries

Holloway said in the letter that the trip was part of an auction item at a fundraiser for the basketball team. The package included traveling on the team plane, hotel accommodations, and tickets to the AAC women’s basketball tournament.

Holloway said none of the athletic personnel on the flight spoke to her, and only learned the identity of two employees seated near her after she introduced herself to them.

“They never spoke to us again on the flight,” Holloway wrote in the letter. “In comparison, the players and cheerleaders who boarded after we did all spoke to us as they boarded -- every single one of them.

“I realize that this incident, while unprofessional, is also trivial. And, I am certainly not a huge donor who warrants extra attention -- but I do think that everyone deserves a little professionalism and courtesy.”

At that point, according to the letter, Bowen was not on the trip and was arriving later because of a prior commitment. Holloway said she overheard an employee say she would take Bowen’s key because he was arriving late and the employee didn’t want him to have to wait for check-in in the early morning hours.

“Maybe Mr. Bowen is the kind of boss who does expect this,” Holloway wrote, later adding that such actions “seemed unusual” to her.

Memphis won the opening game over Temple, but lost the second game to Cincinnati and the team headed home.

On the bus trip for the flight home, Holloway said Bowen and the female employee made a point of sitting together, and “I can only characterize their behavior as being a bit ‘flirty,’” she wrote, adding the two sat together on the flight to Memphis.

“Perhaps the culture and expectations of professionals in college athletics vary from those in a corporate setting – I don’t know,” Holloway wrote. “I can tell you that, when I was working, what I saw and experienced (on the trip) would have raised a lot of questions and red flags.”


Tom Bowen University Of Memphis David Rudd
Clay Bailey

Clay Bailey

Clay Bailey, a lifelong Memphian, has worked as a reporter in the city almost four decades. He concentrated on suburban coverage. He also is a freelance sportswriter for the Associated Press.

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