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Geoff Calkins

Geoff Calkins has been chronicling Memphis and Memphis sports for more than two decades. He is host of "The Geoff Calkins Show" from 9-11 a.m. M-F on 92.9 FM. Calkins has been named the best sports columnist in the country five times by the Associated Press sports editors, but still figures his best columns are about the people who make Memphis what it is.

Calkins: Full Bowen letter adds to the mysteries

By Updated: May 25, 2019 9:11 AM CT | Published: May 24, 2019 8:08 PM CT

Now the University of Memphis has released the unredacted letter, the one alleging that former Memphis athletic director Tom Bowen engaged in conduct with a female staff member that raised “red flags.”

The remarkable thing about the letter?

How unremarkable it is.

The letter is from a woman named Elizabeth Holloway, an attorney who bought a trip with the women’s basketball team – it was to the conference tournament – as an auction item at a fundraising event.

Yes, the letter mentioned “flirty” behavior between Bowen and the other university employee, but the real emphasis of the letter seems to be on the “behavior, environment and tone of the athletic department, which, on that weekend, didn’t seem very focused on the student athletes or the program.”

Holloway said athletic department officials didn’t introduce themselves on the flight up or acknowledge the Memphis fans at the games. She said one athletic department official seemed disappointed the team won because it meant staying another day.

The steamiest allegation was that the female employee – and, no, The Daily Memphian is not identifying her, because she is neither a public figure nor the target of a potential investigation – picked up Bowen’s hotel key for him. But anyone who has ever seen an athletic traveling party check into a hotel understands that is routine.

So what are we to make of it all? Besides to feel bad for the university, for Bowen, for Bowen’s family, for the female employee and for everyone working at the athletic department?

Just this: Either Bowen did resign in lieu of an investigation or he didn’t. Either the university is telling the truth about that or the university is making it up. Either this relatively innocuous letter triggered an investigation that Bowen wished to avoid or the letter had nothing to do with his departure at all.

Melanie Murry, the university counsel, told The Daily Memphian Bowen resigned in lieu of an investigation. Bowen said the letter had “nothing to do with his resignation.”


Clay Bailey: Potential investigation contributed to Bowen resignation, U of M official says


Both those things cannot be true. And if this ever goes to court – and it theoretically could – it matters less what you or I believe than what the university and Bowen can prove.

Let’s take one scenario. Suppose the letter did trigger a possible investigation. Suppose university president David Rudd got the letter on April 16 and decided he was obligated to look into things. This is 2019, after all.  A university can’t be too careful. Maybe Rudd already had cause to worry about Bowen’s relationship with the employee. The letter was just the latest manifestation of an ongoing problem.

Under this scenario, he may have gone to Bowen, told him he was compelled to launch an investigation, and been told that Bowen preferred to resign. Indeed, Bowen resigned on April 20, four days after the letter arrived. The timeline certainly fits. 

If this is how it happened, it wouldn’t even matter – legally – if Bowen and the employee were having an inappropriate relationship. Bowen resigned before the university had dug into the facts. It also explains why the university released the letter in the first place. Because it was legally obligated to release it when The Daily Memphian asked for any documents pertaining to "behavior or other circumstances that may have contributed to (Bowen’s) resignation.”

Now let’s consider the other scenario. The university is simply making this up. Bowen resigned because he was “on the cusp” of taking another job. He never saw the letter or was presented with the facts it contained. He did not resign to preempt an investigation because one was never in the works. He just happened to resign four days after the letter arrived. And then, a few weeks later, the university released the letter to smear Bowen’s good name. 

I confess, this scenario seems highly implausible. Rudd and Bowen plainly did not get along, but would a university – and a university counsel – simply make up facts to ruin an innocent employee who had already left the premises? Especially when doing so would put both of their careers at risk? That is difficult to be believe. 

So let’s consider a third, more muddled scenario. Let’s say Rudd got the letter and called Bowen to say that he had received a complaint about his relationship with the female employee. Let’s even imagine that Rudd had discussed the issue with Bowen before. So he called Bowen and said he was going to launch an investigation this time and Bowen – who really was in talks for another job – decided he had had enough and told Rudd he was done. In this scenario, both Rudd and Bowen might believe they are telling the truth. Rudd might believe Bowen left to avoid an investigation. Bowen might believe he left because he was fed up and had another job in the offing. The university might have released the letter because counsel believed it “contributed to Bowen’s resignation.” Bowen might believe the letter is irrelevant. 

But the letter itself clears up nothing. If anything, the redacted version comes across as more worthy of investigation than the unredacted version. Oddly, enough, the unredacted version does point out a real weakness of Bowen as athletic director. He was never a particularly warm and personable public representative of the university. But beyond that, the letter's significance stems purely from the fact that it was produced in response to a request for documents that led to Bowen’s resignation. The university says the letter contributed to an investigation that Bowen wanted to avoid. Bowen says the letter had nothing at all to do with why he left. Those two things cannot both be true. So this unfortunate saga likely isn’t over yet.

 

 

 

Topics

Tom Bowen University of Memphis David Rudd

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