Jim Hanson has been coaching debate at Whitman for two decades and has been widely credited with getting the team to its position of national prominence today. In the weeks following his announcement of resignation, debate alumni, students and faculty have raised questions about Hanson’s decision and the administration’s handling of the change, given that a new coach had not yet been selected for Whitman’s nationally ranked team when Hanson stepped down. Many alumni and debaters have suggested that Hanson’s change of position was not a voluntary choice, a charge which he has declined to comment on. While the college is legally prohibited from discussing the reasons why Hanson stepped down due to laws about employee confidentiality, Hanson’s decision came in the wake of greater administrative focus on the debate team. A three-week investigation by The Pioneer has confirmed that the team was the focus of a Title IX investigation during the spring of 2012, and that other administrative concerns were raised about sexual harassment and treatment of women on the team, as well as about the supervision of assistant debate coaches, most of whom are recently graduated students.
In spring 2012, Whitman administration carried out a Title IX investigation into a report of a sexual assault by a former assistant debate coach. Individuals who were called into questioning with the investigation board, however, have been extremely unhappy with the way the investigation was handled. None of the individuals who were called in to speak received a follow-up from the board or a final report nor were they told when the investigation was concluded. Given these concerns, 135 debaters, alumni and Whitman community members have signed a petition on change.org asking the college to conduct an independent investigation into its Title IX investigation.
Following last spring's Title IX investigation, a number of concerns have been raised regarding the relationship between students and assistant coaches and the administration's expectation and treatment of these coaches. Assistant coaches are almost always recent graduates, often just a year removed from being Whitman students. Despite their closeness in age to members of the team, they are hired as members of Whitman’s instructional staff and are expected to conform to the same codes of conduct as other staff members. In moving forward, members of the debate team hope there can be more positive and open communication from the administration, starting with the hiring of a new Director of Forensics. Steps to begin this process had been underway with the creation of an advisory group consisting of alumni, current debaters and a faculty member to provide input for a new director.
Since Hanson’s announcement, rumors and pieces of information about the reasons Hanson stepped down have been circulating throughout campus and the wider debate community. We hoped to be able to add a more thoroughly researched version of events as soon as possible following his announcement, but we also felt it was important to confirm stories and take the time required to present information from every possible angle...