The University of Utah spent more than $150,000 on an independent investigation to look into the abuse allegations levied against gymnastics coach Tom Farden.
That figure was requested by The Salt Lake Tribune, which received a copy of the initial contract with Husch Blackwell, a Kansas City-based law firm hired by the U., in a public records request.
The initial contract set the hourly rate for work by the law firm at an average of $400 per hour, which is noted in the document as “discounted” from the standard rate that goes up to $750 per hour, depending on the individual investigator.
A spokesperson for the school confirmed that the university billed 382 hours to the law firm for the Farden investigation. That was spread over 44 interviews and two months of work, she said. It totaled $153,057.
Because the school is a public university, that cost is ultimately covered by taxpayers.
The spokesperson said: “Outside reviews are important tools universities have to independently fact-find and evaluate concerns when they’re brought to our attention. A clear-eyed, comprehensive and objective analysis is essential, especially when issues of student safety are involved.”
The law firm first contracted with the U. in 2022 to handle any issues with NCAA compliance that might come up, according to the spokesperson.
The U. asked investigators to look into Farden in June after multiple women met with the university’s student-athlete advocate to report concerns with Farden’s treatment of them.
Allegations included accounts from multiple gymnasts that Farden threw objects in anger, personally demeaned them by calling them failures and pushed them to perform when they had injuries. The investigators had several single witness reports, but were not able to corroborate much of that or found that the behavior didn’t cross boundaries.
The coach denied most of the accounts, but he did acknowledge once telling a gymnast she would be a “nobody working at a gas station” if not for the U.
And while the investigators found that Farden’s actions didn’t rise to the level of “severe, pervasive or egregious” abuse as defined by the NCAA, they did determine that he violated some policies and caused some athletes to feel an “increased fear of failure.”
He kept his position but is required to complete an improvement plan and be monitored going forward. Farden responded to the findings released earlier this month with a statement, saying: “It has been painful to learn of the negative impacts that my words and actions have created.”
The U. has also worked with Husch Blackwell to look into the 2020 football allegations of racism with defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley, who was suspended for using a slur but then got a reworked contract with a pay raise two years later.
The total cost for the gymnastics review, though, is high compared to the price tag for a previous independent investigation in 2018 that came after the murder of student-athlete Lauren McCluskey.
McCluskey was killed by a man she briefly dated after asking campus police several times for help.
An independent review team of that case found the U. seriously mishandled her concerns and failed to intervene. That group was made of three members: former commissioners of the Utah Department of Public Safety John T. Nielsen and Keith Squires, as well as former University of Wisconsin-Madison Police Chief Sue Riseling.
According to the contracts obtained by The Tribune at the time, Riseling was paid $200 per hour for her work. Nielsen received a $25,000 flat rate. And Squires, who is now the chief safety officer at the U., declined any compensation.