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How Stuart Robinson’s misconduct went overlooked for years

For nearly three decades, staff at NYU and students and staff at the State University of New York, New Paltz were allegedly harassed and discriminated against by former athletics director Stuart Robinson.

October 28, 2023

A graphic with three strips of excerpts from a lawsuit document against a background of players competing on a volleyball court. The court has the logo of N.Y.U. Athletics in the middle.
Excerpts from the 2018 Title IX lawsuit against SUNY New Paltz. (Graphics by Kevin Wu; courtesy of NYU Athletics)

Content warning: This article discusses sexual and verbal assault.

In 2013, NYU’s former athletics director, Stuart Robinson, wrote an email to a colleague at the State University of New York, New Paltz instructing her to “Go make babies! WOW! I went there.” For employees of the athletics departments at NYU and New Paltz, incidents like this became all too common under Robinson’s tenure.

For three years, numerous employees have alleged that Robinson sexually harassed and made inappropriate comments toward department staff at NYU. Staff said they repeatedly reported his behavior to human resources at NYU’s athletics department, but some told WSN the university either dismissed their complaints or took minimal action in response. Multiple department employees were allegedly told to “suck it up,” or that “Stuart can do whatever he wants” by a human resources representative.

During his over three decades in collegiate athletics, Robinson reportedly harassed multiple athletics department staff at NYU and New Paltz, as well as student-athletes at New Paltz. At both universities, sources said there were systems and people that kept victims’ stories from coming to light.

The following account is based on interviews with over a dozen current and former employees and students from athletics departments at both universities and a review of legal documents, email correspondence and text messages. The majority of people that WSN spoke to for this story asked to remain anonymous out of concern for their privacy and job security.

A Title IX lawsuit at SUNY New Paltz

Driving back from a conference, Elizabeth Student felt trapped and scared, but not surprised when her boss, Stuart Robinson — then athletics director at New Paltz — insisted that she and a colleague play a game of “fuck, marry, kill” by sorting their colleagues into the prescribed categories. This was not the first time she had faced harassment from Robinson, according to a 2018 Title IX lawsuit Student filed against the State University of New York and New Paltz. 

In the lawsuit, Student said Robinson would also make remarks on her appearance — “Your husband deserves you to be dressed better,” “why can’t you look nicer?” “are you really going to wear that?” In April of 2016, Student, Robinson and a group of colleagues were walking back from a coffee shop when Robinson told Student that he planned to visit her alma mater, and then told her “the only thing left of your there was your name and phone number on the men’s bathroom wall saying ‘Call for a good time.’”

Excerpt from the 2018 Title IX lawsuit against SUNY New Paltz.

Student reported Robinson’s behavior to the university’s Title IX office and human resources department, but instead of taking disciplinary action against Robinson, New Paltz offered Student to take a leave of absence, according to the lawsuit. Looking to escape Robinson’s harassment, she took the offer. After taking her leave and exhausting any additional paid sick time, Student decided to sue SUNY and SUNY New Paltz. 

SUNY New Paltz chose to protect the abuser rather than their staff and students. NYU either ignored Robinson’s past or was too lazy to do the proper hiring diligence to protect NYU from Robinson. Sadly, Robinson’s victims could have avoided the degradation.

— A former coach at New Paltz

The ensuing case would detail Robinson’s harassment and unequal treatment of men’s and women’s sports teams at the university, and be the first publicly-recorded allegation of a decadeslong pattern of behavior.

The complaint claimed that Robinson allotted unequal resources to and purposefully derailed women’s athletics programs, such as in one case, where he allegedly refused to plow women’s lacrosse fields during the winter at the same time that he dedicated a large amount of funding to new facilities for men’s teams. After years of proceedings, Student’s case ended without a jury trial. As a result, the state paid Student a sum of $200,000.

“New Paltz chose to protect the abuser rather than their staff and students. NYU either ignored Robinson’s past or was too lazy to do the proper hiring diligence to protect NYU from Robinson,” a former coach at New Paltz told WSN. “Sadly, Robinson’s victims could have avoided the degradation.” 

Multiple people close to the New Paltz athletics department said that many staff members and student-athletes were impacted by Robinson’s behavior, but that few were in a position to take legal action. Many said they made complaints to the university’s human resources department or to the Title IX office, and others said they went to their union. When no action was taken, some decided to leave the university. New Paltz did not respond to questions about allegations against Robinson during his time at the university. 

“He had been called into investigations within the administration about his behavior,” one source said. “Nothing was ever done with it, and that was very frustrating.”

“The way that female coaches were treated was unheard of,” another source said. “If that was my daughter, I would have hit him with my car.”

Robinson’s alleged harassment was not limited to athletics department staff. Rachael Purtell, a former student-athlete at New Paltz who played for Student, said she experienced sexual harassment involving Robinson. When Purtell reported her experience to the university’s department of human resources and Title IX office, she said nothing changed. This pattern would continue at NYU. 

“I observed Stuart’s impact on the department in the forms of disparities in scheduling, facility maintenance, funding and uniform quality disadvantaging the women’s sports teams,” Purtell wrote to WSN. “This was a consensus among the student-athletes as was the fact that sexually harassing behaviors were normalized and condoned within the department.”

The university has maintained that it was not aware of Robinson’s history when it hired him as athletics director. According to email correspondence obtained by WSN, now NYU president Linda Mills was a member of the committee that selected Robinson. The university did not respond to questions about Mills’ role in Robinson’s hiring. 

NYU has told WSN that it used a search firm to conduct a background check on Robinson during the hiring process, which it said included looking into candidates’ civil and criminal legal history. University spokesperson John Beckman said in a statement that NYU was not aware of Student’s case before it was reported by WSN. 

“NYU had not seen the lawsuit before it was reported in the WSN, and the search firm has indicated that it likewise had not seen the lawsuit before it appeared in the WSN,” Beckman wrote. “That’s a source of concern to us, and we intend to look into this matter to see how that can be avoided in the future.”

A call to NYU

A printed N.Y.U. email addressing the appointment of Stuart Robinson in 2020 being torn in half from the middle. A red line at the end of the email highlights N.Y.U. President Linda Mill's participation for Robinson's search committee.

However, NYU’s Title IX office may have been informed of Robinson’s behavior shortly after he was hired. When Purtell learned in a New Paltz press release that Robinson was taking a job at NYU, she said she called the university’s Title IX office to share her experience with the former director. 

“I called NYU’s Title IX office to inform them of my own personal experiences and observations of Stuart’s behavior in the hope that having my conversation on record with them would enable them to more efficiently and effectively address his sexist and harassing behaviors when he inevitably repeated them at NYU,” Purtell wrote to WSN. 

Purtell’s conversation with NYU’s Title IX office was first reported by the New Paltz Oracle. NYU declined to comment in response to questions about Purtell’s call. Within the year, multiple complaints about Robinson were allegedly brought at NYU, and according to multiple sources close to the department, they were dismissed. People close to the department said Robinson would belittle his colleagues and make sexualizing remarks.

Multiple people left the department after they raised maltreatment complaints about Robinson, while others chose to remain. Sources close to the department said a pattern emerged: employees would come forward with complaints about Robinson and human resources representatives would disparage and discourage them from speaking out. Then, a human resources representative would allegedly share the content of the reports with Robinson.

“Countless women have gone to HR to report behaviors”

Matt Huck, senior associate athletics director for internal operations and human resources representative for the department, had what many sources described as a close friendship with Robinson. When complaints of sexual harassment, inappropriate behavior or gender discrimination involving Robinson would arrive at Huck’s office, sources close to the department said he minimized employees concerns

People close to the department said Huck would remark that employees should “just suck it up,” or “work harder” and say that “Stuart can do whatever he wants.” 

“If we had to stand up and say that Matt Huck was doing a good job,” one source said. “I don’t think anyone would stand up.”

Huck also allegedly shared the content of reports with Robinson — sources close to the department have described how raising a complaint could lead to weeks of “being shunned” by Robinson. They also said staff were concerned about the risks of being on Robinson’s bad side, worried that it might impact their athletes or their job security. 

“If you went to Matt, anything that was said was immediately told to Stuart,” another source said. “So there was a lack of trust.”

What happened at New Paltz has been happening in our athletics department for over a year. I can tell you countless women have gone to HR to report behaviors,” one source said. “All we wanted to do was our jobs.

— one source

When reached for comment at his office, Huck told WSN that “we don’t discuss our personnel matters.” WSN also attempted to contact Huck via email and phone call.

Many at NYU found themselves relating to the reported experiences of employees at New Paltz. Some staff stopped raising complaints and started leaving the department.

“What happened at New Paltz has been happening in our athletics department for over a year. I can tell you countless women have gone to HR to report behaviors,” one source said. “All we wanted to do was our jobs.”  

As more people left, the department allegedly struggled to function. Coaches would arrive to practices or games and realize that their equipment was missing, or not set up, and transportation to events went uncoordinated, leaving coaches to scramble for ways to get their athletes to competitions. Robinson would allegedly instruct staff to report directly to him, circumventing other senior staff and slowing down operations. One person described the restructuring of the department as the narrowing of a multi-lane highway down to a singular lane. 

“Every system to support coaches has changed,” one source said. “Stuart did this, he would consolidate power.” 

Following complaints of sexual harassment over the summer, the university placed Robinson on  administrative leave in late July. NYU did not comment on the reason for Robinson’s leave of absence, but told WSN in early September that no students were involved in the “concerns” that prompted his leave.

“We breathed a sigh of relief”

With Robinson on administrative leave, more people began coming forward. A little over two months into Robinson’s absence, on Sept. 27, NYU sent an announcement to all athletics department personnel saying that Robinson was “no longer employed” by the university. 

“We all breathed a sigh of relief,” a person close to the department told WSN. “We had been suffering in silence.” 

An announcement sent to all NYU athletics department personnel on Sept. 27.

At first, department employees were relieved, then they started to ask questions. Some staff were confused and angry about how the university had allowed Robinson to run the department for so long given his history at New Paltz, while others pointed criticism at Huck’s concealment of Robinson’s misconduct. Huck was repeatedly named as someone who failed to follow up on complaints against Robinson. 

In the aftermath of Robinson’s departure from the university, some employees expressed disillusionment with the process for reporting misconduct in the department.

“I don’t know how much faith anybody currently has in the process, because of how long this went on,” one source said. “Without these stories coming out it is unclear that the resolution would have been the same. Some of the response to this has been to tear the system down, because how broken could the system be that this could happen at two universities?”

NYU told WSN in a statement that it does not have an exact timeline for when the search for a new athletics director will begin, but that the university has reached out to a few search firms to begin the process. Senior Vice President for University Life, Jason Pina, has taken over Robinson’s position in an interim capacity, according to NYU. 

If you have any information about this story, contact us at [email protected] or reach Ania Keenan at [email protected]

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