Williams defends regency at senate hearing


HELENA, Mont. - In Helena Wednesday, the Senate Education and Cultural resources committee held a hearing for the confirmation of appointees to the Montana University System Board of Regents.

One of those appointees: Pat Williams, who made controversial comments to the national media last month.

Williams got national attention after he made a comment referring to some University of Montana football recruits as ‘thugs' in an interview with the New York Times. The article appeared the same time a high-profile rape case involving Griz quarterback Jordan Johnson, got underway.

As Williams stood in front of the committee Wednesday to make his case for confirmation, he briefly addressed the comments, saying he was asked to do so by committee members.

Williams told the committee and crowd full of Montanans that despite what some might think he didn't call the New York Times, a reporter called him.

"He asked me about six players who had been accused of assault, burglary, beatings, drug use, DUI and rape and I called them what I called them," Williams said. "Now some misunderstood the context of the story but I didn't write the story."

After Williams addressed his comments and focused on his qualifications, the public got a chance to speak to the committee.  First up, a line of about 15 people who spoke on Williams' behalf. Educators, UM students, former staff members from Williams' campaign all stood in support. Some addressing the ‘thug' comments, saying they were out of context others directing the focus to the qualifications and experience they said make Williams a good fit for the Board of Regents.

After 35 minutes of testimony Primary Sponsor Jim Peterson called for opponents. First out of the gate was former University of Montana Vice President Jim Foley. He told the committee he isn't for or against Williams but wanted to get his opinion across.

Foley worked for Williams when he served as a U.S. Representative.

"The statements made in there by my friend Pat in my judgment were callous and injurious; both to the citizens of this state and the thousands of student athletes and UM alumni around this country," said Foley. "In my view, none of it was necessary and the timing in my judgment made it a bit more harmful."

After Foley the committee heard from some opponents including Griz football fans, a former player's parent. They were concerned about the comments and the way they portrayed UM. The opponents said Williams should be held accountable for what he said in such a huge spotlight.

The committee likely won't vote on the confirmation for a day or two. Then it's up to the entire senate to make the final call with a vote.

Two other regents, both from Bozeman, also need to be approved. Joseph Theil is the current student regent. His term is set to expire June 30 of this year And Jeff Krauss. Krauss is currently Bozeman's Deputy Mayor and the Director of Finance and Administration at the Museum of the Rockies. His term expires February 1, 2015.

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