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Governor’s Office Responds to Petition to Remove Pat Williams + Parent Discusses the Petition’s Origination and Purpose

Pat Williams
Photo courtesy of O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West

On Monday, Jan.11, reports surfaced about a petition to remove Pat Williams from his position on the Board of Regents over comments he made to the New York Times concerning players on the University of Montana football team.

The outrage is over a comment by Williams that the University of Montana “recruited thugs for its football team.” Williams later defended his statements in an  interview with KGVO, adding that, “we need a better recruiting system because the current recruiting system is letting in too many thugs.”

In that same interview, Williams noted the comment was not intended to be used in the context of the Jordan Johnson trial, though that is how the New York Times ran the quote.

In the original reports about the petition, the UM Quarterback Club was said to be the petition’s source, but according to one of the petitions original signors, Chris Coyle, father of current Griz Brock Coyle, the original reports were not entirely accurate.

“This petition was started by a group of parents and relatives of players at the University,” explains Coyle, “it was quickly joined by not only the Quarterback Club, but now a growing body of people across not only Montana, but the U.S.”

According to Coyle the petition grew from 50 to 500 signatures within a day and is continuing to gain steam. It is expected to be released tomorrow and sent on to both Governor Bullock and Montana Senate President Jeff Essman.

“Our issue is not personally against Mr. Williams, he is entitled to his opinion, but our issue is very simple and very focused,” says Coyle. “Mr. Williams has been appointed and apparently is planning  to be confirmed by the Senate to represent the interests of the University of the State of Montana and the students and student athletes. It is clear that Mr. Williams has grossly breached that duty to those people by really ridiculous statements that paint a tremendous group of hardworking people in the worst light possible.”

Speaking of the responses he has received concerning the petition, Coyle says, “the common thread that one can see explicitly through all these emails is the passion they feel for the university and the desire to see people appointed to the Board of Regents who support positive dialogue, the growth of this university, and moving beyond the sort of hate speech and divisiveness that Mr Williams has not only issued, but underscored in his statements to the media the next day.”

Coyle was also hopeful that the focus on Williams’ statements and the subsequent petition would not create a negative atmosphere for the players or their families, “it’s not about us verses Mr. Williams, it’s really about Mr. Williams being accountable himself for his statements.”

Chris Coyle:

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KGVO news requested a response from Governor Bullock regarding the petition for Williams’ removal. The following statement was issued by spokeswoman Judy Beck in the Governor’s office:

“The Missoula community has been under a tremendous amount of pressure in recent years. The Governor believes that, in order to move forward, it’s important that the community engage in frank discussion. And it’s equally important that throughout these discussions, we remain respectful of each other and avoid using broad brush strokes.”

When asked if the phrasing “broad bush strokes” referred to the wording in the petition or to the statements from Mr. Williams, Beck said it was “meant for both.”

The following petition was sent to KGVO via Coyle and is the most up-to-date version:

Petition to Governor Steve Bullock and Montana Senate members:

We are the families, friends and supporters of The University of Montana, and the Montana Grizzlies Football. We are petitioning you to oppose the confirmation of former Governor Brian Schweitzer’s appointment of Mr. Pat Williams to the Board of Regents. We are seeking his removal for statements that were not merely irresponsible, but directly and intentionally damaging to the student athletes and those associated with The University of Montana.

Mr. Williams is appointed and compensated his expenses to serve the citizens of our state and the higher education system. The recent public statements impugning the football players and the University not only breaches his duty to responsibly and objectively support the entire higher education system, but worse, it creates yet another highly public and local example of hate speech, social division and inflamed rhetoric.

Mr. Williams is an experienced public official who was appointed to serve the citizens of Montana, our University system, and all students, some of whom are athletes. He has breached this responsibility by publicly, and in his capacity as a member of the Board of Regents, labeling our football players as “thugs.” This statement was made with the clear objective to paint a very bad picture of our athletes and the overall integrity of the athletic department at Montana. These young men have dedicated the better part of their lives to achieve this level of collegiate athletics, resulting in nationally recognized academic and athletic excellence. What would you suggest we tell these young men now? That it is acceptable to issue such reckless statements? Does our Governor and Legislature condone such actions?

Stating that the football coaches and the University administration are incompetent and irresponsible in their recruiting practices is untrue and damaging to all students and the citizens of our State. These comments are likely to negatively impact the national standing of The University of Montana by hindering fundraising, the ability to attract quality students and teachers and by tainting our graduates for years to come.

Mr. Williams’s statements are now national news. Your decisive action to terminate the appointment of Mr. Williams will also be national news. We encourage you to send a clear message that Montana holds its public officials accountable, that it value its promises to citizens, and that it values the state’s academic institutions, students and student athletes.

Your failure to take actions clearly within your power will be correctly viewed as tacit endorsement of Mr. William’s statements.

We are MONTANA;

Signatures:

 

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