The Free Press, Mankato, MN

December 5, 2012

Hoffner's union working to get him reinstated

Elizabeth Baier
Minnesota Public Radio News

— Minnesota State University Mankato football coach Todd Hoffner is still waiting to see whether he can return to work, after pornography charges against him were dismissed last week.

Hoffner was charged with two felony counts for videos he made of his three young children using his university-issued cell phone. But a judge dismissed the charges last Friday, agreeing with Hoffner's claim that the videos showed innocent family moments and not pornography.

Representatives with the Inter Faculty Organization are working with Hoffner to help him get his job back at the university. The IFO is the collective bargaining unit for the Minnesota State Colleges & Universities system.

According to union officials, Hoffner remains on paid administrative leave until Dec. 17, pending the outcome of the university's own investigation. The scope of that investigation is unclear and university officials have declined to offer any details about what exactly it is they're evaluating.

"We are trying to work with the university and to encourage them to complete their investigation as rapidly as possible and get him back to work," IFO General Counsel Connie Howard said. "He's been off the job far too long."

Hoffner is in the midst of a four-year contract, which ends in the spring of 2016, according to university documents.

Under that contract, Hoffner could be dismissed for just cause, which includes violations of federal or state law or university policies; violations of professional judgment and standards; convictions for criminal activity; and employment performance issues, among other reasons, according to the IFO's Howard.

But Howard said performance issues rarely rise to the level of just cause.

"We don't believe that taking the photos of his kids on the camera came anywhere close to that," she said.

In investigations like this, MSU-Mankato officials say they follow the procedure created by the Minnesota State College and Universities System. As part of the process, trained university investigators may interview individuals with knowledge of the alleged issue and review relevant documents before determining whether disciplinary action is warranted. Hoffner's attorneys say he's cooperated with the university, but declined to comment further.

If the university decides it needs to take more serious disciplinary action, such as termination, Hoffner would be offered an opportunity to meet with school officials prior to that decision to offer his own argument against it. If after that, he's still not reinstated, he can file a grievance, which would be resolved in an arbitration hearing conducted by the Minnesota Bureau of Mediation Services.

"I guess the question is whether or not they have good, objective grounds to terminate him," said Steve Befort, professor at the University of Minnesota's Law School. "Clearly the fact that he's not being prosecuted undercuts that a little bit."

Befort said it's not unusual that the university would have put its own investigation on hold, pending the criminal proceedings. That means the delay between the court ruling and the outcome of the university's investigation might not be surprising.

In the meantime, Hoffner has said he is eager to return to his coaching position.

The Mankato State football team advanced to the national semifinals in the NCAA Division II last weekend and will play Saturday in Mankato. But Hoffner cannot attend the game because he's not been cleared by the university.

"He's a football coach, he's a good football coach," said Jim Fleming, Hoffner's defense attorney. "It's very hard to watch a team that you have built and developed, and the players that you have recruited, and watch them go through the success and you're not able to be a part of that. I think that would be difficult for anyone."