Northwestern hires former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to review how it reports hazing

Lynch will make her findings public after examining the university’s accountability mechanisms, the university announced Tuesday.

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Former Attorney General Loretta Lynch speaks during a press conference at the Dirksen Federal Building, Jan. 13, 2017.

Former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times files

Northwestern University has hired former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to review the school’s abuse reporting mechanisms in the wake of an expanding football team hazing scandal that has resulted in half a dozen lawsuits against the Evanston school.

Lynch will make her findings public after examining the university’s accountability mechanisms “to detect, report and respond to potential misconduct in its athletics programs, including hazing, bullying and discrimination of any kind,” the university announced Tuesday.

This is the school’s latest response to the scandal that has led the school to fire football head coach Pat Fitzgerald and discontinue the use of its Kenosha, Wisconsin, training facility, where much of the alleged hazing happened. The school has already said it will now monitor the football locker room, implement anti-hazing training and add an online reporting tool for abuse.

“Hazing has absolutely no place at Northwestern. Period,” Northwestern President Michael Schill said in the announcement. “I am determined that with the help of Attorney General Lynch, we will become a leader in combating the practice of hazing in intercollegiate athletics and a model for other universities.”

Lynch will begin her review immediately and provide updates to Schill and the board of trustees’ audit and risk committee, the school said.

Peter Barris, chairman of Northwestern’s board of trustees, said in the statement that the board supports the “critical review” and will “cooperate fully” with Lynch and her team. The school’s board is named in several of the lawsuits filed by former football players.

Lynch served as U.S. attorney general from 2015 to 2017. It was under Lynch that a Justice Department investigation found widespread constitutional abuses by the Chicago Police Department after the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald. The investigation led to a consent decree outlining terms of federal court oversight over CPD.

Since then, Lynch has been working in private practice with the firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison.

Northwestern’s hazing scandal broke July 7 when the university published the summary of an internal investigation into allegations of hazing on the football team. The school suspended Fitzgerald, then fired him after the student newspaper published accounts of hazing from two players.

Derrick Gragg, Northwestern’s vice president for athletics & recreation, who is named in some of the lawsuits, said in the statement: “The Athletics Department welcomes this review as a critical tool in identifying the additional steps Northwestern can take to eradicate hazing. By making the results of her review public, we hope our entire community will be better informed and guided as we all work to address this critical issue in college athletics.”

Responding to Northwestern’s announcement, attorneys Ben Crump, Steve Levin and Margaret Battersby Black — who have filed five lawsuits against the university on behalf of former players — asked if the new inquiry means that the university believes the original investigation was flawed or not thorough enough. They also asked: “And if the University is dedicated to transparency as they say, then why are the findings of the first investigation yet to be made public?”

A spokesman for the university did not immediately respond to those questions.

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