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UT probe finds no evidence of inappropriate relations

June 6th, 2014 8:33 pm by Associated Press

UT probe finds no evidence of inappropriate relations

KNOXVILLE — A law firm hired by the University of Tennessee to investigate whether a former school official had inappropriate relationships with student-athletes has issued a report saying it found no evidence supporting the allegation.

But the 28-page report released Friday by the university also says both Jenny Wright and another person refused to cooperate with the 13-month investigation into the specific accusations. The law firm of Kramer Rayson also found no evidence that Wright retaliated against an unnamed person through her role as student affairs judicial director.

"Although there were rumors that Jenny Wright had relationships with football players, the investigation revealed no evidence to support such rumors," the report concludes.

Wright, who headed the Office of Student Judicial Affairs, handed in a letter of resignation but was fired in May for refusing to cooperate with a university investigation into whether she was having relationships with student-athletes. She said university administrators harassed and pressured her. She also had said she was accused of retaliating against a student-athlete and initiating the disciplinary process to suspend him from the university.

Her attorney issued a statement saying Wright is relieved Tennessee finally concluded its "exhaustive" investigation after having to endure scrutiny and embarrassment for more than a year because of what he called "baseless allegations."

"Ms. Wright has consistently maintained that she never engaged in any type of inappropriate conduct with or against students," attorney Robert Kurtz said.

Chancellor Jimmy Cheek received the report Wednesday, and Vice Chancellor Margie Nichols said in a statement that Cheek will be reviewing the recommendations and take appropriate action.

Nichols also said Tennessee already had reviewed the Office of Judicial Affairs and that many of the recommendations from the report already are in place, including changing the division's name to the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards. The university is looking for a new director now. But she also noted the report included interviews of people, not sworn statements.

The report also notes that the investigators wanted to ask Wright about other subjects only to be told by her attorney that wasn't allowed in her interview.

But the report does mention Wright's brief relationship with a former staffer, Brad Pendergrass, who resigned as director of football operations in February. According to the report, Pendergrass wasn't happy with how Wright handled misconduct cases involving athletes. Pendergrass denied to investigators ever saying anything to Wright that could have been interpreted as the athletic department threatening her job or that of Vice Chancellor Tim Rogers.

Wright caught a football player lying about missing an appointment, saying he was in class when he wasn't.

"Subsequently, Athletic Director Dave Hart expressed his disapproval to Ms. Wright about how Ms. Wright handled the case and expressed his frustration claiming that Ms. Wright was over-prosecuting cases," according to the report summing up Wright's interview with investigators. "Vice Chancellor Rogers also informed Ms. Wright that Dave Hart felt like the Office of Student Judicial Affairs was over-prosecuting cases." 

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