Forty-one letters urging a federal judge to be lenient in sentencing Dennis Hastert, the former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, were released on Friday—and attention immediately focused on support Hastert received from former colleagues in the House. Hastert, as part of a plea agreement, has admitted to trying to hide large payments to an individual to cover up past misconduct. The misconduct itself—now revealed by prosecutors to include molesting four boys while Hastert was a high school wrestling coach—can’t result in criminal charges because of statutes of limitations.
Amid letters from politicians, family members, and old friends is one that may stand out to those in academe or who care about women’s athletics. Leo Kocher, head wrestling coach of the University of Chicago, wrote a letter praising Hastert because he fought the U.S. Department of Education on Title IX and intervened with colleges that were considering the elimination of wrestling programs. The letter calls Hastert an “outstanding human being” for these and other actions. (The Chicago Tribune published all of the letters released, and they may be found here.)
Kocher writes that he began to work with Hastert “when it became apparent that the U.S. Department of Education had created a strong incentive for colleges to eliminate intercollegiate athletic opportunities through its interpretation of Title IX. …. Special interests had prevailed upon the Department of Education to create a regulatory regime that forced males to clean out their lockers to no real benefit for—or even in detriment to—females.”
The policy referenced in the letter appears to be “proportionality,” in which one way colleges can demonstrate compliance with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is to show that the proportion of female athletes roughly matches the proportion of female undergraduates. Kocher is correct that many colleges have sought to comply with the proportionality test by eliminating some men’s teams, typically those such as wrestling that tend not to make money.
Advocates for Title IX don’t deny that colleges have done so but criticize the line of attack on Title IX by noting that colleges can comply by adding women’s teams. Further, they argue that the real force behind decisions to eliminate men’s teams like wrestling is the insistence of most colleges on supporting football, which, with its large squads of male athletes, makes proportionality difficult to achieve on many campuses.
Kocher goes on to say that Hastert showed courage in his stance on Title IX because “no one benefits from being accused of being anti-female by the well-funded and media-savvy feminist groups.”
Further, Kocher said that Hastert’s efforts on the issue yielded what they considered successes. “Denny did whatever he could, whether it was prevailing upon the Department of Education to relent in its demand that a male college sports program be dropped (yes, that did happen), or encourag[ing] a college president to find another way to satisfy the onerous demands of a Department of Education bureaucracy that was bearing down hard,” Kocher wrote.
Kocher ends his letter by saying: “Denny Hastert is a good man—and is universally regarded as such by those who have gotten to know him.”
The letter is written on University of Chicago letterhead. Kocher identifies himself as a coach and associate professor at the university. The letter does not include the kind of “speaking for myself, not my institution” language college officials (especially those who are not full-time faculty members) frequently use when taking stances on matters of public concern.
Kocher did not respond to an email asking about whether the molestation of boys (not mentioned in his letter) should take away from what the coach views as a good record of public service.
A University of Chicago spokesman sent the following statement via email: “Members of the university community express their individual views on a wide range of topics, and none of these are to be taken as positions of the university itself. The university also does not speak for the views of individuals.”