WASHINGTON –– The University of Notre Dame president has called the investigation into the alleged assault of a now-deceased female college student by a football player “thorough, careful (and) impartial.”
In his first public statement about the investigation of the sexual battery allegation made last September at the Catholic Indiana university, Holy Cross Fr. John I. Jenkins told the South Bend Tribune that he also believes the school could have handled the situation better.
The case first made headlines after a female freshman from nearby St. Mary’s College accused a Notre Dame football player of touching her breast without permission, a potential felony under Indiana law.
The 19-year-old St. Mary’s College student, who has been identified as Elizabeth “Lizzy” Seeberg of Northbrook, Ill., committed suicide Sept. 10, less than two weeks after making the allegation.
The St. Joseph County Prosecutor’s Office declined to file criminal charges against the football player, but he may face university disciplinary action. Prosecutor Michael Dvorak also decided not to file charges against another student whom Seeberg accused of sending her a text message that said, “Messing with Notre Dame football is a bad idea.”
“Our review of these two criminal allegations and our decision not to prosecute either of them is based upon the evidence as well as the likelihood that Ms. Seeberg’s statements – as a consequence of her untimely death on Sept. 10, 2010 – would be found inadmissible in a court of law,” Dvorak said in a Dec. 16 statement.
Various media outlets have quoted Seeberg’s parents as saying they are unhappy with Notre Dame’s handling of the case and upset that Fr. Jenkins has not spoken with them personally. They have also criticized what they called a lack of transparency in the investigation.
The university has also taken a lot of heat in the blogosphere concerning the case.
Fr. Jenkins told the Tribune that he is unable to speak with the young woman’s family while university officials are determining if the football player will go through the Notre Dame disciplinary process.
“I’m the ultimate court of appeal in disciplinary matters,” he told the Tribune. “And consequently, I try to remain somewhat distant so I’m not tainted by one side or another presenting their side of the story.”
In the article, he also disputed claims that the investigation was superficial, but he added that the university “could have acted more quickly,” calling it an area where the school can make improvements.
“We conducted an investigation that was judicious and fair to all parties involved,” Fr. Jenkins said. “We grieve for the Seebergs and for the loss of their daughter. At the same time, we have to follow the facts where they lead, and we have to be solicitous for other students and treat them fairly and base any determination on the facts.”
Critics have said university officials took a lax approach in the investigation, because they waited two weeks after the accusation was made to interview the accused football player and allowed him to continue playing for the team during the investigation.
Fr. Jenkins said that in most cases, students accused of misconduct are not suspended from playing on sports teams or participating in other extracurricular activities while the investigation is under way.
Dennis Brown, a spokesman for Notre Dame, told Catholic News Service Dec. 29 that the quotes attributed to Fr. Jenkins in the Tribune article were accurate and that university officials do not plan any further comment on this issue.