Timeline of alleged entanglements between DePaul’s athletics department, Title IX office

Patsy Newitt | The DePaulia

1974-1978 – Jean Lenti Ponsetto attends DePaul, playing for DePaul women’s basketball, tennis, softball and volleyball teams

1978 – Lenti Ponsetto is named first assistant women’s basketball coach

Jan. 1980 – Eugene Lenti, Lenti Ponsetto’s brother, is named DePaul’s head softball coach

July 1, 2002 – Lenti Ponsetto is named DePaul’s director of athletics, after having spent seven years as the senior associate director, 12 years as the associate director and two as an assistant director

2005 – Dr. Jenny Conviser starts working at DePaul as a sports psychologist

2009 – Lenti gets 1,000th win after being inducted to the NFCA Hall of Fame the year before

2010Kathryn Statz, the current director of gender equity (formerly known as Title IX coordinator), is promoted from the associate director of athletics to Lenti Ponsetto’s senior associate athletics director

2015 – DePaul created Title IX office, now called Office of Gender Equity

  • Karen Tamburro, former supervisory attorney for the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, is appointed as coordinator

2016 – DePaul signs naming rights agreement with Wintrust Bank, where Lenti’s wife — and former DePaul softball player — Kandace Lenti is an Executive Vice President. One of her marquee Chicago clients is DePaul University   

2016Lawsuit Allegations:

  • Conviser said she first became aware of concerns involving Lenti in 2016 when she allegedly heard that the coach was regularly using profane language to abuse his players
  • Conviser said she reported the allegations, in line with her role as a mandated reporter, but Sue Walsh, DePaul’s director of sports medicine, and Statz took no steps to independently investigate the coach, instead directing Conviser to meet with Lenti 
  • The suit said Conviser held the meetings with Lenti and his coaching staff, “focusing on proper communication with athletes consistent with Title IX to avoid abusive conduct, and addressing how to cultivate a collaborative and healthy environment of respect between staff and student athletes”
  • Conviser alleges she reported the events of these meetings to Walsh and Statz, but neither followed up with Conviser nor investigated Lenti’s behavior – a violation of Title IX protocols. Conviser also said it was her understanding that Lenti Ponsetto, the athletic director and Lenti’s sister, was aware of the charges
  • The suit said neither DePaul’s Title IX coordinator, General Counsel’s Office nor the Board of Trustees followed up with Conviser regarding the reports

2017 – The first publicly reported Preventing Sexual Violence in Higher Education Act Annual Report, released in 2017, found 71 reports of sexual violence to the Title IX coordinator and 22 anonymous reports in 2016

June 2017 – Former DePaul student files a lawsuit against ex-professor and DePaul for sexual coercion 

June 2017 – The lawsuit alleges that Conviser reached out to Walsh and Statz again to discuss how DePaul could increase student-body awareness, particularly among student-athletes, of available mental health resources on campus, which fell on “deaf ears” and “no substantive response”

Dec. 2017Lawsuit Allegations:

  • Conviser said she called another meeting in December 2017, this time with Lenti Ponsetto, to discuss the status of student mental health resources and services at DePaul
  • Allegedly, Walsh and Dr. Jill Hollembeak, current senior associate athletics director and deputy Title IX coordinator for athletics, were also in attendance
  • At this meeting, Conviser said she discussed generalized mental health issues fostered by university student-athletes and focused the meeting on instances that had been reported to her of emotional abuse at the hands of Lenti
  • Alleged reports included “student-athletes being ignored, excluded, teased, yelled at, addressed with profanity, criticized and/or called derogatory names”
  • The suit said Conviser, in front of Lenti Ponsetto, said Lenti’s abusive behavior “centered on his recruiting the most vulnerable student-athletes from single-parent households, impoverished homes, and some of whom exhibited low self-esteem, depression and/or suffered from abusive childhoods”
  • Conviser said the instances discussed were met with silence and denial by all in attendance

2017 – Conviser’s four-year contract was renewed, according to the lawsuit

2018 – The second Preventing Sexual Violence in Higher Education Act Annual Report, released in 2018, found 60 reports of sexual violence to the Title IX coordinator in 2017

2018Lawsuit Allegations:

  • Conviser said her team received credible information from a student-athlete patient on Lenti’s softball team that reported Lenti had punched in the face his female associate head coach 
  • The patient reported the incident to the Title IX Office after Conviser’s colleagues counseled the patient
  • DePaul’s Title IX Office opened an “independent and confidential investigation” into Lenti’s conduct, according to the lawsuit
  • DePaul’s Title IX investigator then allegedly improperly disclosed the student-athlete’s identity to the rest of her softball teammates — a breach of ethics and NCAA and Title IX rules – resulting in the patient suffering retribution and retaliation from teammates who blamed her for getting Lenti “in trouble”

June 2018 – Lenti retires abruptly after 37 years at DePaul

June 2018According to the lawsuit, DePaul fires the rest of Lenti’s coaching staff, including the associate head coach that Lenti allegedly assaulted

2018 – Tamburro, who served during Lenti’s investigation, leaves role as Title IX Coordinator 

2018 – Conviser’s four-year contract is terminated three years early, which she said was a few weeks after the student reported the incident to the Title IX Office

Sept. 2018Jessica Landis assumes role as director of gender equity, formerly Title IX coordinator 

2019 –  The Preventing Sexual Violence in Higher Education Act Annual Report, released in 2019, found 72 reports of sexual violence to the Title IX coordinator, 33 anonymous reports and only seven investigations in 2018

2019 – Lenti leaves retirement and is hired as an assistant coach at Auburn University

April 2019The DePaulia reports that a student sought help with the Title IX office was blamed for sexual assault after using illicit substances

May 2019 – Landis leaves role as director of gender equity 

Sept. 9, 2019 – Ann M. Skiffington appointed director of gender equity 

Jan. 23, 2020  – Skiffington leaves role as the director of gender equity

2020 – Statz, who served as the senior associate athletic director during the time of the investigation, is promoted to director of gender equity after working as an investigator for the office for one year

April 15, 2020 – Conviser and Ascend Consultation in Health Care, LLC, file a lawsuit against DePaul, claiming that DePaul’s leadership and the Title IX office are “conflicted and terminally under the sway of its lucrative Athletics department, with an improper revolving door and/or dual-hatted relationship between and among it, the Title IX and General Counsel’s Offices” 

As previously reported by The DePaulia, the lawsuit alleges DePaul enacted a five-step plan to sweep the abuse under the rug:

  • The university let Lenti “slip out the back door” and retire with a good reputation and his pension likely intact, which allowed Lenti to resurface and obtain a position at Auburn University. The suit also states that there is no record of DePaul informing Auburn of the complaints against Lenti and the university did not properly report the incident to the U.S. Center for SafeSport as required
  • Fired the rest of Lenti’s coaching staff, including the alleged victim of his physical abuse
  • Terminated Conviser’s contract with the university, repudiated their contract with her company Ascend and stopped referring patients to her
  • Defamed Conviser and damaged her reputation by falsely reporting that she discouraged athletes in her care from reporting instances of abuse. Conviser also accuses the university of “gaslighting” her by accusing her of “getting her facts wrong”
  • Protected the athletics department by covering up an “out-of-control coaching culture where star coaches abuse their power of trust over student-athletes and inflict harm on them, knowing that they will not be held accountable by the University”

April 16, 2020Lenti Ponsetto tells The DePaulia:

“I still have time on my contract at the University. I think I’ve had a long and prosperous tenure at DePaul. I’m probably one of the administrators around the country who’s spent the most time on NCAA committees that is still active, and I think it’s because of the expertise I have. So, I think DePaul recognizes that.”

“When it’s appropriate for President Esteban and I to talk about that, we will.”