Petition Seeks to Remove Pat Williams from Regents

By Beacon Staff

MISSOULA – A group of University of Montana football fans has started a petition asking the governor and higher education officials to censure former Congressman Pat Williams for his statements last week that the UM football program recruits “thugs” and to remove him from the board that oversees the state’s university system.

Scott Gratton, father of former Montana wide receiver Sam Gratton, is circulating the petition via email. He declined to comment to the Missoulian.

The petition argues that labeling UM football players as thugs is untrue, irresponsible and damaging.

Williams told the New York Times last week that the university “has recruited thugs for its football team, and this thuggery has got to stop.”

The Times interviewed Williams in the days leading up to former quarterback Jordan Johnson’s trial for sexual intercourse without consent.

Williams, who attended the University of Montana and has taught there, later defended his comments to a Missoula radio station.

“We need a better recruiting system because the current recruiting system is letting in too many thugs. And that has to stop,” Williams told KGVO-AM. “As a member of the Board of Regents, I intend to do what I can to make sure that very limited thuggery stops.”

Williams said he wasn’t referring to Johnson or to a majority of UM football players, but those who have been convicted of crimes over the past few years.

The Board of Regents distanced itself from Williams’ comments last Thursday, saying he was speaking for himself.

“We as a board do not agree with the statements made,” Board of Regents Chairwoman Angela McLean said in a statement. “Each board member is entitled to his own opinions, and these comments do not reflect that of the board as a whole.”

Former Gov. Brian Schweitzer appointed Williams to a seven-year term on the board in February 2012. A state Senate committee must confirm his appointment and several others this session.

“We demand that you send a clear statement that Montana holds our public officials accountable, that we value our promises to our citizens, and we value our academic institutions, its students and its student athletes,” the petition to Gov. Steve Bullock and the regents says.

“Your failure to take actions clearly within your power will be correctly viewed as tacit endorsement of Mr. Williams’ statements,” the petition concludes.

Kevin McRae, spokesman for the Montana University System, said the regents had no comment beyond the statement.

Williams didn’t return phone calls from the Missoulian seeking comment on Tuesday and didn’t immediately respond to an email request for comment from The Associated Press on Wednesday.

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