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story.lead_photo.caption The bell tower at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith and former student Tyler Williams are shown in these file photos.

An internal review found no "substantial" evidence of racial discrimination by a University of Arkansas at Fort Smith coach, the school's top administrator said in an email sent Wednesday to all students and staff and faculty members.

A former player, who is black, had said he was dismissed from the men's basketball team after Coach Jim Boone expressed disapproval of his dreadlocks, a complaint that gained wide attention on social media.

"Today, the University of Arkansas Fort Smith EEO Officer sent formal letters to the former student and to the head coach which state that she did not find substantial evidence to support the claim of race discrimination; however, the process revealed a need for better communications when addressing a sensitive matter, particularly when raised by a student," Chancellor Terisa Riley said in the email.

Riley said the university "will not condone or allow" any policies or procedures to "dictate the hair styles or hair lengths for its student athletes," and that the campus of about 6,500 students will hire a director of diversity and inclusion.

Tyler Williams, 22, now a student at Southern Nazarene University in Oklahoma, spoke out publicly last week about comments made by Boone. Williams said last week that Boone never ordered him to change his hair -- which photos show is cut short on the sides and pulled back, with a low-profile top -- but said Boone's remarks caused him to feel "devalued and disrespected."

Neither Williams nor Boone, who is white, responded Wednesday to requests for comment.

Last week, an attorney for Boone had said Williams "all along" wanted to transfer and that "unless he could show his transfer was the result of being mistreated by the coaching staff or being 'run off,' the NCAA rules would prohibit him playing basketball at another school" in the year after leaving UAFS.

Williams, an honor roll student, had previously transferred to UAFS from another school for the 2018-19 season, when he was the UAFS Lions' second-leading scorer.

Rachel Putman, a UAFS spokeswoman, declined to provide details about the investigation.

But Putman did respond when asked if the investigation determined whether Williams voluntarily left the team or was dismissed.

"This was not the purpose or scope of the investigation," Putman said in an email.

No interim action had been taken against Boone after the university began reviewing the complaint approximately three weeks ago, Putman had said previously.

Boone's attorney, Tom Mars, last week had denied discrimination by the coach. Mars, known for his work on cases involving collegiate athletics, in an email called Boone's attitude "admittedly old-school" but said Boone -- a head coach for 33 seasons -- would have the same "attitude" about hair if the player was Larry Bird, an NBA legend who is white.

Williams said last week that Boone, hired in April by UAFS, "did say it had nothing to do with race, but deep down, if you really look at it, it has everything to do with race."

Williams did not respond on Wednesday to a social media request for comment and his parents did not respond to a phone message and an email sent Wednesday seeking comment.

In a four-page letter addressed to the university, the family had cited "Boone's dismissal of Tyler from the program" and also stated that "Boone's action of policing black hair is a form of pervasive racism and bias."

The letter was posted on social media on Sept. 1 on the account of a person describing herself as a UAFS student. The Williams family later gave a copy of the letter to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

The family in the letter referred to an audio recording of a meeting they had with Boone, and Putman confirmed last week that the recording was a part of the university's investigation.

Boone earns a salary with base pay of $90,000 yearly to coach UAFS, along with "fringe benefits for housing and utilities," according to his appointment letter, released by the school under the state's public disclosure law.

Riley, in the email, said she had met over the past week with students on the UAFS men's basketball team and leaders of the campus's Black Student Association.

"I respect all of these students for their leadership and desire to improve the university," Riley said in the email.

A campus forum co-sponsored by the Black Student Association, the university's athletics department and others will be held Tuesday , Riley stated in the email, with the goal to discuss racial issues and "action steps" for the university. Black students made up about 4% of the student population last year, or 249 out of 6,531 undergraduates, according to UAFS data.

Karissa Cole, 20, president of the UAFS Black Student Association, said in an email the conversation with Riley "felt very real and raw," and praised Riley, who took over as chancellor in July after arriving from Texas A&M University-Kingsville.

Riley "truly wanted to do anything she could to help heal the hurt we are feeling on campus," said Cole, a senior from Lavaca.

"We understand the reasoning for the outcome of this investigation and we hope that our discussion forum will bring an opportunity for the campus and community to find the closure they need," Cole said.

Metro on 09/12/2019

Print Headline: Bias claim against UAFS coach lacks evidence, review finds

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