BOULDER, Colo. – The University of Colorado president was criticized Tuesday for refusing to condemn a vulgar anatomical reference allegedly used to describe a female football player who says she was raped by a teammate.
University President Betsy Hoffman's (search) comments in a federal court case sparked a fresh storm of protest surrounding Colorado's flagship school. A member of the Board of Regents and others said they were appalled by what they called Hoffman's lack of sensitivity.
The comment came during a deposition this month in a lawsuit filed by three women who say they were sexually assaulted by football athletes in 2001.
One of the women's attorneys told Hoffman the vulgar term had been used by a football player to describe teammate Katie Hnida (search). The attorney asked Hoffman whether she thought the term was "a filthy and vile word."
Hoffman replied it was a "swear word" and that its meaning depended on the circumstances in which it was used, according to a copy of the deposition released by the school.
Asked if it could ever be used in a polite context, Hoffman replied: "Yes, I've actually heard it used as a term of endearment."
Hoffman defended her answer Tuesday in a meeting with Durango Herald reporters and editors, but said she should have phrased it differently.
"I was immediately sorry I said it," she said.
Hoffman began to cry at one point in the discussion at the Herald and left the room briefly to compose herself, the newspaper reported.
University spokeswoman Michele Ames said Hoffman knows the word has "negative connotations" but it did not in its original use centuries ago.
"Because she is a medieval scholar, she is also aware of the long history of the word dating back to at least Chaucer," Ames said. English writer Geoffrey Chaucer (search) lived in the late 1300s and used the word in "The Canterbury Tales."
The comments recalled football coach Gary Barnett's ill-fated description of Hnida in February after she told Sports Illustrated she had been raped by a teammate in 2000.
Barnett called Hnida an "awful" player as he answered questions from reporters about her time on the team. He was suspended shortly afterward by Hoffman, who said his comments about Hnida and another woman accusing an athlete of rape had left her stunned.
Regent Jim Martin called Hoffman's comments "more outrageous" because they were made under oath by the university's top leader.
"I'm embarrassed for the university, I'm embarrassed for her and, quite frankly, it shocks the sense of human decency," Martin said. "She needs to give an immediate apology."
Hoffman has consistently drawn praise from regents and other university observers during the recruiting scandal, which included allegations that football athletes assaulted nine women during boozed-up parties. No criminal charges have ever been filed, but the school made sweeping changes to its athletics program.
It was another deposition that plunged the school into scandal earlier this year. Boulder County District Attorney Mary Keenan accused the school of using sex and alcohol to entice recruits to the Boulder campus.
An independent commission appointed by the regents concluded some players used sex and alcohol to entertain recruits, but no coach or school official knowingly sanctioned the practice.
Still pending are federal lawsuits that accuse Colorado of failing to protect women under federal Title IX law, which guarantees equal access to an education. The suits seek unspecified damages.