Panel’s decision to bar Brandon Austin from PC campus was overturned by college vice president

By Lynn Arditi
Published May 16, 2014

Former Providence College baskeball player Brandon T. Austin
Former Providence College baskeball player Brandon T. Austin

By Lynn Arditi
Journal Staff Writer

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — A Providence College disciplinary board investigating basketball player Brandon T. Austin’s alleged involvement in a sexual assault of another student last November voted to bar him from campus until the spring of 2015, The Providence Journal has learned.

But a vice president at the private Catholic college who reviewed Austin’s case overturned the decision on Dec. 23, allowing the freshman recruit to stay in school and continue to practice with the team. However, he was prohibited from participating in games for the rest of the season.

Shortly after the college notified Austin of its decision, he left Providence for the University of Oregon.

Now, Austin, 20, is being investigated by University of Oregon officials for his role in an alleged sexual assault of a student at a party near campus — and questions are circulating about what Oregon officials knew, or did not know, about his record in Providence.

Providence College has declined to disclose the reason for disciplining Austin, other than to cite an unspecified violation of the college’s code of conduct.

“We have consistently taken steps to protect the privacy of our students and the confidentiality of information in their educational records,’’ Steven J. Maurano, a spokesman for Providence College, said in an email, “and we plan to continue to do so.’’

‘Gave us confidence’

The University of Oregon’s basketball coach, Dana Altman, who recruited the star player from Providence, has said publicly that he was reassured by PC’s head basketball coach, Ed Cooley, that Austin’s loss of playing privileges in Providence was “not a legal matter,” saying that Providence’s desire to keep Austin “gave us confidence that it wasn’t a serious matter.”

“Brandon was not under any suspension at all,” Altman told reporters a week ago at a news conference in Oregon. “He could not play on the team but he was not suspended from school.”

Julie Brown, a University of Oregon spokeswoman, said in an email that federal privacy laws prevented Providence’s coach from providing details about Austin’s disciplinary record in Providence. However, she said, at the time he was recruited by Oregon, “Brandon Austin was in good standing at Providence College and they wanted to retain him for the 2014-2015 academic year and beyond.’’

PC’s disciplinary proceedings in Austin’s case are detailed in two separate letters, obtained by The Journal, that the college’s Office of Community Standards emailed to the student who reported the alleged assault.

(The Journal does not identify people who allege they are victims of sexual assault.)

The student reported that Austin and teammate Rodney Bullock sexually assaulted her on the college campus late at night on Nov. 2 and into the early morning of Nov. 3.

A five-member board of two students, one faculty member and two administrators heard the case on Nov. 20, according to one of the letters, dated Nov. 22.

The board found that “a preponderance of evidence” supported a finding of “sexual misconduct I,” which includes non-consensual sexual penetration, violation No. 14 in the college’s student handbook. It voted to suspend Austin through the fall semester of 2014, the letter states.

During that period, Austin was “not permitted to be present on any Providence College owned or leased property without the express, written permission’’ of one of several college administrators.

The earliest Austin would be eligible to reenroll would have been the spring semester of 2015.

The no-contact directive that had been in place since Nov. 4 was to remain in effect through May 31, 2017, or until he was no longer enrolled at the college, “whichever occurs later.’’

“As an institution of higher education that pursues our Catholic identity through the Dominican tradition, we strive to maintain a safe and ethics-based environment for members of our community and our guests,’’ the letter said. “Providence College expects students to adhere to high standards of honor and good citizenship, and to behave in a manner that reflects positively on them and on the College.”

(The letter closes “Sincerely, Emily A. Ghiorse, director of community standards, and Richard F. Kless, director of off-campus living and chair of the community standards hearing board”.)

Austin appeals

Austin appealed the decision.

In reviewing Austin’s appeal, Kristine Goodwin, PC’s vice president for student affairs, explained to the alleged victim that she’d come to a different conclusion, according to a Dec. 23 letter.

“Having read the respondent’s letter of appeal and your letter of response, reviewed all documents in the case file, listened to the recording of the board hearing, and conducted interviews,’’ Goodwin wrote, “I cannot affirm the Board’s finding of responsibility.’’

“However,’’ she continued, “because the respondent initiated and/or facilitated what was referenced as ‘teaming up’ — which put you in an unplanned, unanticipated situation — his behavior was inconsistent with the College’s expectations that students treat each other with dignity and respect, as created in the image and likeness of God.”

Goodwin found Austin “responsible for engaging in behavior that was lewd, indecent and obscene,’’ violation No. 11 of the school’s code of conduct. (The violation is described as “harassment, assault, abuse, reckless endangerment, lewd, indecent or obscene conduct.”

In addition to abiding by the hearing board’s no-contact directive, Goodwin placed Austin on “disciplinary probation” through the spring semester 2014, during which time he was prohibited from participating in any teams, clubs or organizations.

“He may practice with the team,” the letter states, “but he may not wear the team uniform or sit on the team bench during games.”

Austin was also assigned a “community mentor” at the college who was to meet with him bi-weekly “to provide guidance and review campus resources.”

“Please be assured that the Division of Student Affairs is supportive of our students’ quest to demonstrate strength of character, safe and productive behavior, and respect for community members,” the letter states. “We are committed to promoting the respondent’s personal growth and helping to guide his future behavior.”

On Jan. 7, the University of Oregon announced that it had recruited “the 9th rated small forward nationally in the Class of 2013’’ from Providence. The 6-foot-6 guard from Philadelphia, was considered one of the country’s top 100 high school recruits. Austin had been offered scholarships by UCLA, Connecticut, Georgetown and Syracuse, according to The Oregonian news organization. The University of Oregon said Austin would be eligible to play for its team in January 2015.

At the time Austin enrolled at University of Oregon, the reason he’d been disciplined in Providence had not been disclosed. But the nature of the complaint against the freshman recruit became public in a March 18 story published in The Wall Street Journal. The newspaper reported that the Providence police were investigating a sexual-assault complaint filed March 6 by a PC student against Austin and his former teammate, Rodney Bullock. (She told police that the assault had occurred on campus in November, and the college had conducted its own inquiry.)

Austin accused again

Meanwhile, another female student — this one at the University of Oregon — reported to police in Eugene, Ore., on March 13 that she’d been sexually assaulted five days earlier at a party near the university campus, according to a copy of the police report posted by The Oregonian. The report names Austin and two other Oregon players, Dominic Artis and Damyean Dotson.

(A district attorney in Oregon later dropped the case, citing insufficient evidence.)

After the allegations of the sexual assault at PC became public, Maurano, the college’s spokesman said of the college’s disciplinary inquiry, “I want to stress that I would recommend against drawing any conclusions that our on-campus process ended with a finding that our student-athlete was found responsible for sexual assault.’’

The case is currently under investigation by the Rhode Island attorney general’s office.

University of Oregon officials have dismissed Austin and the other two players from their basketball team.

With reports from sports writer Kevin McNamara