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University of Washington finds star athlete’s sexual assault allegation credible, but athletic executive quietly moved on

Washington athletic director Jennifer Cohen listens to a question from reporters during a news conference on Wednesday, March 15, 2017. (Ted S. Warren / AP)
Washington athletic director Jennifer Cohen listens to a question from reporters during a news conference on Wednesday, March 15, 2017. (Ted S. Warren / AP)
By Asia Fields Seattle Times

SEATTLE – Cassandra Strickland was a star volleyball player at the University of Washington when she says an executive in the athletic department offered her a ride home, then sexually assaulted her in his truck.

She hesitated for months before reporting it to school officials, who investigated and found her allegations against senior associate athletic director Roy Shick to be credible, and that the sexual contact was unwanted.

The school reached a settlement with Strickland, agreeing to pay for up to $20,000 in therapy on the condition she waive any claims against the school.

Hardly anyone was told of the investigation’s findings. Not even police.

By the end of the investigation in March 2018, Shick had resigned and was working as vice president of a Seattle startup, and UW athletic department staff were told he decided to “take on a new challenge.”

Less than a year later, Shick was hired as vice president of Grand Canyon University, a private college in Arizona. Administrators didn’t know about the UW’s finding until being contacted by The Seattle Times on Friday, according to a university spokesman. The school put Shick on administrative leave, then fired him Sunday, the spokesman said.

Colleges are required to investigate reports of sexual violence, but those findings don’t appear on background checks and schools have broad discretion over what to share with the public, police or prospective employers. In fact, federal law doesn’t require schools to share such information with each other.

UW only shared the finding with a small group of university and athletic department officials and, following Strickland’s wishes, did not report it to police, which it says is in line with university policy. Experts say this practice is common among colleges, which keep misconduct as confidential as possible to avoid legal risk, allowing employees to move between schools with their new employers left in the dark.

While Shick, 42, was made ineligible for rehire at the UW, no record of his misconduct followed him.

Shick did not participate in the investigation and did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Strickland agreed to have her name used in this story.

“My story is not unique. There are hundreds, if not thousands of other girls at other universities, whose stories are being buried to protect the reputation of the schools they attend,” Strickland said in an email. “It’s a problem, it’s been a problem for far too long and we need to change that.”

The investigation and the settlement agreement can only be obtained through a public-records request, which is how The Seattle Times learned of the finding.

Strickland said she felt pressured to sign the settlement agreement in January. She was playing volleyball abroad and wanted to put what happened behind her. So she said after UW Athletic Director Jennifer Cohen, whom she considered a friend, reached out a few times offering to have the university pay for therapy, she figured she might as well sign and didn’t have an attorney review it first.

In a statement sent Tuesday night, athletic department spokesman Jay Hilbrands said the department felt it provided “the best possible support” to the athlete because it encouraged her to seek legal counsel and did not require that she keep the agreement confidential.

“Throughout the entirety of this situation, our top priority was the well-being of the student, protecting them and adhering to their wishes,” Cohen said in the statement.

Universities can enter into settlements, which commonly include a release from claims, with students, said Seattle attorney Rebecca Roe, who has represented sexual-assault survivors in other cases against UW. But, she said, “I absolutely don’t think they are doing the right thing.”

To read the complete story, visit www.seattletimes.com

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