BEMIDJI -- Bemidji State University President Faith Hensrud issued a statement Thursday in response to the Pioneer’s story about former BSU softball head coach Rick Supinski, which was published online Wednesday and in print Thursday.

Her response was also emailed to BSU students and posted on the Bemidji State University Facebook page Thursday afternoon.

Supinski exhibited inappropriate behavior, including an unwanted pursuit of a romantic relationship with one of his players, the Pioneer learned.

Eleven current and former softball players, all of whom requested to remain anonymous for the story, provided details about Supinski’s behavior. Many also voiced frustrations over what they believe was BSU’s lack of an appropriate response during Supinski’s tenure.

“On July 25, 2019 - The Bemidji Pioneer reported inappropriate behavior by a former Bemidji State University softball coach in a story that referenced lack of action by the university,” Hensrud said in her statement. “I assure you that as the President of Bemidji State University, the safety and well-being of our students is my top priority.”

Bemidji State University President Faith Hensrud
Bemidji State University President Faith Hensrud

The player Supinski pursued reported him to the university on March 22 of this year, and he was placed on a leave of absence the same day. He did not coach the final 32 games of the season.

Supinski also missed the 2014 season after the university received a complaint against him, and Supinski was placed on paid administrative leave.

An explanation for his absence was never given to players, according to five members of the 2014 softball team who spoke to the Pioneer.

The five 2014 players all told the Pioneer that they believe Supinski engaged in inappropriate behavior that involved other athletes.

“Sexual harassment is prohibited,” Hensrud continued. “Bemidji State University is committed to eliminating sexual harassment and will take appropriate action against any individual found responsible for such acts. When we receive a complaint or concern from a student, faculty, or staff member, we take swift action. At the time that an allegation of inappropriate behavior is first reported, we conduct an investigation to ensure we understand the details of the allegation. Once the investigation is complete, the university decides whether or not there is a violation of a

Minnesota State policy. If there is a violation of policy, then appropriate disciplinary action is taken.”

After Supinski’s employment ended May 14, BSU Vice President of Finance and Administration Karen Snorek sent a letter dated May 22 to the player to inform her that “an investigation was conducted by Bemidji State University into your complaint against Rick Supinski alleging Sexual Harassment. Specifically, you stated you felt you were harassed by Rick Supinski when you received numerous text messages. Although the text messages started out as non-sexual in nature, they were still unwelcomed. Over the course of two years, the messages became more sexual in content. You were concerned about reporting these behaviors due to the fact that Rick Supinski had sole control over your playing time as an athlete and your financial scholarship.”

Snorek continued, “I find that the information of record supports a finding against Rick Supinski; therefore, appropriate disciplinary action will be taken.”

In her statement Thursday, Hensrud said, “Our policies are clear. To help ensure that everyone is aware of our policies and procedures, BSU students, faculty and staff are provided with information in multiple ways so they understand how to report a concern. Processes for submitting complaints related to sexual harassment are communicated broadly, including on the university website.”

Multiple 2019 players expressed to the Pioneer their frustrations over what they say was a lack of action from the BSU athletic department despite the red flags they brought forth in meetings with Director of Athletics Tracy Dill. Players from the 2014 team expressed a desire for more transparency from the university.

It is unclear whether Supinski resigned his position or was fired. BSU said the only public data concerning the end of Supinski’s time with the university is that his last day of employment was May 14, according to an email the Pioneer received from Andy Bartlett, executive director of Communications and Marketing.

“There is no data on final disposition of disciplinary action or settlement agreements involving Mr. Supinski,” the email said.

In her response Thursday, Hensrud said, “Related to any individual investigations, the university is required to follow the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act. This law limits the information that can be shared to only public data as defined in the Act.”

Dill declined comment for Wednesday’s story. Several other Bemidji State officials also declined to comment.

Supinski did not respond to the Pioneer’s multiple phone call attempts for comment.

“I recognize that it takes great courage to report concerns regarding inappropriate behavior and sexual harassment,” Hensrud continued in her statement. “We take these situations seriously, and I want to ensure that our students feel confident and safe when they make the brave decision to share a concern. I encourage any individuals with complaints or concerns regarding situations that occur at Bemidji State to follow the reporting process outlined on our website. If you see it, or if you experience it, report it — and know that your university will support you.”

Hensrud concluded her statement by directing readers to “read more about Bemidji State’s policies and procedures related to sexual harassment reporting, as well as resources available for our students, on our website at: https://www.bemidjistate.edu/offices/affirmative-action/discrimination-and-harassment/”

Full text of BSU President Faith Hensrud’s response to Pioneer article on former softball coach:

"The Bemidji Pioneer reported inappropriate behavior by a former Bemidji State University softball coach in a story that referenced lack of action by the university. I assure you that as the President of Bemidji State University, the safety and well-being of our students is my top priority.

Sexual harassment is prohibited. Bemidji State University is committed to eliminating sexual harassment and will take appropriate action against any individual found responsible for such acts. When we receive a complaint or concern from a student, faculty, or staff member, we take swift action. At the time that an allegation of inappropriate behavior is first reported, we conduct an investigation to ensure we understand the details of the allegation. Once the investigation is complete, the university decides whether or not there is a violation of a Minnesota State policy. If there is a violation of policy, then appropriate disciplinary action is taken.

Our policies are clear. To help ensure that everyone is aware of our policies and procedures, BSU students, faculty and staff are provided with information in multiple ways so they understand how to report a concern. Processes for submitting complaints related to sexual harassment are communicated broadly, including on the university website.

Related to any individual investigations, the university is required to follow the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act. This law limits the information that can be shared to only public data as defined in the Act.

I recognize that it takes great courage to report concerns regarding inappropriate behavior and sexual harassment. We take these situations seriously, and I want to ensure that our students feel confident and safe when they make the brave decision to share a concern. I encourage any individuals with complaints or concerns regarding situations that occur at Bemidji State to follow the reporting process outlined on our website. If you see it, or if you experience it, report it -- and know that your university will support you.

You can read more about Bemidji State's policies and procedures related to sexual harassment reporting, as well as resources available for our students, on our website at: https://www.bemidjistate.edu/offices/affirmative-action/discrimination-and-harassment/"