Georgetown did not inform the University of Rhode Island (URI) about an internal investigation into Gordon Ernst, Georgetown’s former tennis coach indicted in the nationwide college admissions scandal on Tuesday, according to a URI spokesperson.
In a statement to the Voice, the spokesperson wrote that URI reached out to Ernst’s references while they were deciding to hire Ernst in August 2018 but allegedly did not hear any negative feedback from those references that would draw suspicion about the coach’s behavior.
Ernst was indicted by the Department of Justice on Tuesday for accepting over $2 million in bribes to label students as top athletic recruits for Georgetown’s tennis team, even though the students did not have the qualifications. The university began an internal investigation around why some of Ernst’s “recruits” never played on the team once they got to campus. The results of that investigation lead the university to place Ernst on leave in December 2017 and to his resignation on June 30, 2018.
“Georgetown was unaware of any criminal activity by Gordon Ernst that would have warranted notifying the Justice Department or other employers,” wrote a university spokesperson in an email to the Voice on Wednesday, when asked whether the university communicated the results of its investigation to URI.
Members of Georgetown staff were directly contacted by URI about Ernst during their hiring process, the URI spokesperson wrote, including the Georgetown athletics director Lee Reed, who allegedly gave positive references.
“[T]he URI athletic director personally called Georgetown’s athletic director in July 2018 and received a positive reference check from him,” the spokesperson wrote. “There were absolutely no indications whatsoever of any personnel concerns, violations of admissions policies or any other issues related to coach Ernst.”
Rachel Pugh, a Georgetown University spokesperson, wrote in a statement that Ernst’s leave was “widely known” after the Voice sent the university URI’s statement.
“Any statement Georgetown made after asking him to resign focused on his athletic record only,” she wrote.
In the university press release announcing Ernst’s resignation on July 1, 2018, the university did not say why the coach was leaving, nor did it make any references to its investigation. The release praised Ernst’s accomplishments while at the university from 2006 to 2018. That press release was taken down from the university site sometime on or before Tuesday, when the scandal broke.
Court reports unsealed on Tuesday show that the FBI’s cooperating witnesses knew of Georgetown’s investigations and had informed at least one of the parents involved in the bribery scheme. URI has placed Ernst on leave.
In an email to the student body on Tuesday, Georgetown vice presidents Lisa Brown and Erik Smulson called Ernst’s alleged criminal acts “an unprecedented breach of trust” and assured that “Georgetown cooperated fully with the government’s investigation.”
In November 2018, the university implemented a new policy regarding the admission of student-athletes. The policy specifies that head coaches may only recommend candidates for admission “who they believe will contribute to the team from an athletic standpoint” and forbids athletic department staff from modifying the application of prospective student-athletes in any way. A system of periodic audits by the Office of Admissions and the athletic department will “determine whether any of the recruited student-athletes were not on the roster of the sport they were recruited for at Georgetown.” If any student-athlete is found to not be on the roster of the team for which they were recruited, the coach must submit a written explanation of the discrepancy.
This article has been updated with Georgetown’s response statement. It will be updated with more information. Alex Lewontin and Nick Gavio contributed reporting.