Report on USU president Noelle Cockett investigation expected to be released Friday

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Noelle Cockett, president of Utah State University, speaks at a news conference in the state's Emergency Operations Center on Thursday, March 12, 2020 addressing the current state of COVID-19 in Utah. Results from the Utah Board of Higher Education's independent investigation into discriminatory remarks allegedly made by Cockett about then-interim head coach Frank Maile are expected to be released Friday.

Results of an investigation into the conduct of Utah State president Noelle Cockett will be released Friday, a spokesperson for the Utah Board of Higher Education told The Salt Lake Tribune.

The board will meet in a closed session Friday morning to review and discuss the results of the investigation into Cockett. Afterward, the board will issue a statement and the results of the investigation will be released. The spokesperson said the board will not necessarily make a disciplinary decision at that time.

The board authorized the investigation after Cockett came under fire for discriminatory remarks members of USU’s football team said she made about interim head coach Frank Maile. Cockett allegedly made the remarks during a Dec. 8 meeting the team’s leadership council called with her and athletic director John Hartwell to advocate hiring Maile as the head coach. The players accused Cockett of citing concerns about Maile’s cultural and religious background and negative impacts they could have on the future of the team.

Maile, a former USU player, is a Pacific Islander and an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints.

Later that week, the players unanimously voted to forfeit their final game of the season in protest.

Cockett said she was stunned by the players’ reaction to the meeting.

“I am devastated that my comments were interpreted as bias against anyone’s religious background,” she said in a statement.

On Dec. 13, Maile called on the USU’s board of trustees to start a probe into “religious, cultural and racial discrimination” at USU, which it obliged. Several members of Utah’s Polynesian and football communities also called on the university to acknowledge its biases.

A day later Blake Anderson, the former coach at Arkansas State, was formally introduced as the Aggies’ next head coach. At the time, he said he did not expect Maile to return for a sixth year as the team’s defensive coordinator. The Aggies later hired former Miami Hurricanes safeties coordinator Ephraim Banda for the position.

The Utah Board of Higher Education authorized an independent investigation into Cockett’s comments during a closed meeting Dec. 15. It charged Geoff Lanward, the Utah System of Higher Education’s deputy commissioner and general counsel, with leading the investigation in conjunction with USU.

The Utah Board of Higher Education has the sole authority to hire, evaluate, discipline and terminate presidents of Utah’s public colleges and universities.

Cockett is USU’s 16th president and its first female president. She has held the position since 2017, when she was selected after a nationwide search by the board. A geneticist, Cockett has worked at USU since 1990, when she joined the faculty as a researcher and assistant professor in the Department of Animal, Dairy and Veterinary Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences.

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