In the wake of an onslaught of criticism based on a federal investigation over Florida State’s handling of its own investigation into the Jameis Winston rape allegations, alumni and fan dislike of its new logo, and the planned separation of the joint engineering program with FAMU, school officials are hoping for a sighting of the legendary Florida skunk ape on campus to divert attention. The trifecta of complaints is overwhelming the public relations department. Only the saving grace of the Bigfoot-like creature will save them now.
In the latest salvo fired by the young woman who accused Jameis Winston of rape based on an incident in December 2012, she filed a complaint on March 15th with the Office of Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education. The complaint states that FSU violated Title IX of the United States Code by not following prescribed disciplinary procedures. Title IX requires that colleges interview all parties alleged to be involved in a sexual harassment-type incident and conduct a hearing with a preponderance of evidence standard of review. Jameis Winston was interviewed by school officials but the woman who charged him with rape was not. Further, holding a disciplinary hearing with a standard for guilt below the “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt” threshold required in criminal proceedings could have given a different result with respect to Mr. Winston remaining at the school. FSU officials have expressed their concern and stated they are not allowed to comment on individual cases.
Further heightening the desire by Florida State officials for the skunk ape to take a stroll around campus is the FSU fan outrage over a new school logo. While FSU did previously announce a planned change to the logo and an official unveiling is presumably to occur at its spring football game on April 11th, the logo was spotted by an alert FSU fan on a T shirt offered for sale at a Walmart in Tallahassee. The response has thus far been overwhelming, but not in the positive way school officials hoped. Fans are angry and outraged by the change away from the traditional logo.
As an additional log on the public relations fire, the FSU plan to separate the joint engineering school program it currently operates with Florida A & M University, a school with a majority of African American students, has set in motion additional debate over racial inequality in state funding of higher education. While allowing FAMU to continue to use a building on the Florida State campus for engineering purposes, FSU hopes to build a new engineering building on campus to house its new stand-alone program. The new FSU building would require state funding for completion. Supporters of FAMU argue that the FSU engineering program will receive preferential treatment by the state.
FSU prides itself on strong academic programs and sports excellence. In the face of criticism this week on several levels, Florida State leaders hope their public relations machine can weather the storm or that attention is diverted by a skunk ape sighting on campus. Neither occurrence is likely. The skunk ape is very shy and purportedly likes Dade County more than Tallahassee.
By William Costolo