A University of Florida student who said two Gators football players sexually assaulted her in December has reportedly chosen not to appear at a university Title IX hearing on Friday.
She made the decision, according to an ESPN report, because Florida appointed a Gators football and basketball booster as a hearing officer in the case. The booster, Jake Schickel, is a former assistant state attorney and chief assistant attorney for Florida’s Fourth Judicial Circuit, according to a biography on his law firm’s website. The Florida Bar named him "Board-Certified Lawyer of the Year" in 2006.
The two accused players, quarterback Treon Harris and receiver Antonio Callaway, were each suspended in March for a conduct code violation. Harris has since decided to transfer, while Callaway has been expected to be eligible to play this season.
ESPN has details on Schickel’s history as a Florida athletic department donor:
Schickel, 68, is a Scholarship Club donor to Florida Football Boosters, which requires annual contributions of $4,800 to $8,599, according to a 2014-15 Year In Review program published by the UF athletics department. According to the documents, Schickel is also a 3-Point Club donor to Florida basketball, which requires annual contributions of $2,000 to $4,999.
"This is beyond unacceptable," the woman’s attorney, John Clune, told the outlet. "I couldn't be more proud of my client for boycotting this hearing and she'll take her testimony and her witnesses elsewhere. Victims are not required to settle for whatever scraps of fairness are left over in a biased university process. They get a full seat at the table just like the accused, football player or not. If Florida wants to clear their athlete to play, so be it."
Clune said "short of finding a relative of Mr. Callaway," the university couldn’t have appointed someone with more conflicts of interest in the case. Schickel didn’t comment for the story.
For Florida, failing to avoid even the mere appearance of bias could wind up hurting either party. Even a potential verdict in the defendant’s favor could be seen as tainted as a result. Anything that leads either side to question the integrity of the school’s hearing process could be damaging.
In a statement, the university said:
The University of Florida is prohibited to comment on the existence or substance of student disciplinary matters under state and federal law.
However, I can tell you that our student conduct process may be handled by a hearing officer, who could be a university employee or an outside professional, or by a committee of faculty and students.
Any hearing officer and all committee members are trained and vetted for their impartiality. A hearing officer or committee member would not be disqualified or lack objectivity simply because he or she had been a student athlete decades earlier or purchases athletic tickets as more than 90,000 people do each year.
We called Florida’s Title IX office, and we were directed to the university’s main communications office. An official there did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and we’ll update this story if we hear back.