Brouhaha Over Regent’s Confirmation Hits Senate

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – Supporters of former U.S. Rep. Pat Williams easily outnumbered opponents at a packed hearing on his Board of Regents nomination — but opposition included former allies who argued Williams went too far when he said the University of Montana had recruited thugs.

Williams outraged some of the school’s football fans earlier this year with the comment, and they are now asking the state Senate to block his confirmation. The Senate Education Committee held a hearing on the matter Wednesday.

William’s comments came during the rape trial of quarterback Jordan Johnson, who subsequently was found not guilty. The school also is subject to pending NCAA and federal investigations into the way it and the city of Missoula responded to rape allegations on campus.

The former congressman said Wednesday his comments were aimed at a half-dozen players who had been implicated in a spate of sexual assaults, vandalism and beatings — and not the entire team.

“And I called them what I called them, those few students,” Williams told the committee.

He said the crimes being committed by some students were very real and resulted in convictions that need to be addressed by university leaders. He said the school can’t be afraid to discuss it.

“For too many years, bad actors at universities across America, bad actors and their assaults against women have been set aside, covered up, not exposed, deals were done, and students were allowed to continue,” Williams said. “And the public knew nothing about it.”

Williams’ supporters said at the hearing that he deserves to be confirmed. They said Williams has a lifetime of knowledge on education issues.

Opponents included Jim Foley, who stepped down last year as vice president for external relations as the university was dealing with public backlash over its handling of the cases. Foley is serving out an employment contract that expires in June.

Foley previously held positions on Williams’ congressional staff in the 1990s and has ties to prominent Democrats. Foley said he decided to line up as an opponent even though he expects backlash to the decision.

He called Williams’ description off the players “callous and injurious.”

“Enough is enough with the name-calling of young men who in most cases can’t defend themselves against words,” Foley said. “Words do matter, and I don’t take those words lightly.”

Another opponent was Patrick Duffy, who said he once worked on a Williams political campaign and considered him a friend and mentor.

Duffy, who lives in Missoula, said Williams’ comments were divisive and further polarized the town.

“He taught me it was always important to do the right thing, and that is what I am trying to do today, Pat,” Duffy said, turning to face Williams.

The Senate also is considering the nominations of regents Jeffrey Krauss and Joseph Thiel.

All three were appointed by former Gov. Brian Schweitzer since the last Legislature in 2011 and now face formal confirmation with lawmakers back in session. The Senate generally approves such nominations.

No decisions were made Wednesday.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.