Lawsuit against W&M may be in the horizon over women’s sports programs cut; Rowe apologizes for copied letter, saying it was a ‘mistake’

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(WYDaily/ Courtesy of Tribe Athletics)

William & Mary may be facing a Title IX lawsuit after the university announced its decision to cut seven varsity sports programs.

Arthur H. Byrant, of Bailey Glasser LLP, a law firm based in California, wrote a letter to W&M President Katherine Rowe on Wednesday, stating the women’s varsity gymnastics, volleyball and swim teams hired him to stop the teams from being cut by the university.

The law firm was prepared to “pursue a class action lawsuit” against the university for “depriving women athletes and potential athletics of equal opportunities, athletic financial aid, and treatment.”

See the full letter below.

On Sept. 3, William & Mary announced the university would cut seven varsity sport programs starting next year in the 2021-2022 academic year: Men’s and women’s swimming, men’s and women’s gymnastics, men’s indoor and outdoor track and field, and volleyball.

The open letter, which was signed by Rowe, W&M Athletics Director Samantha Huge and University Provost Peggy Agouris, showed similarities and direct quotes written verbatim to the July 8 open letter from Stanford University.

RELATED STORY: Plagiarizing parts of Stanford U’s letter: Students, staff subject to the Honor Code. So, what happens to W&M’s athletics director?

In the letter to Rowe on Wednesday, Byrant noted he previously represented the women’s basketball team in 1991 when the college announced the team would be cut.

He wants to meet with Rowe or the school’s attorneys to discuss the law.

“It is my hope that William & Mary, in its wisdom, will decide to preserve the women’s gymnastics, swimming, and volleyball teams and avoid being sued,” he wrote.

Bryant added he wanted Rowe to provide documentation that show cutting of the women and men’s sports teams is in line with Title IX compliance.

“If it is true, we, of course, have no basis to file suit,” Byrant wrote. “But, according to all the information we have seen, including information William & Mary has submitted to the U.S. government, it is not true.”

The deadline for Rowe and the university to respond is Sept. 30.

Rowe had also released a statement Wednesday about the open letter which announced the university’s decision to cut seven varsity sports programs effective next year.

Rowe’s statement came six days after Huge released a statement about the open letter which noted the university had “consulted” with Stanford University.

So why did Rowe wait to release a statement about the controversy and verbatim sentences copied from Stanford University’s open letter even though Rowe, and Agouris signed off on the Sept. 3 open letter to the community.

Why not release a joint statement instead?

Rowe’s statement

Katherine Rowe has been elected as William & Mary's first female president. (Courtesy photo/Stephen Salpukas/William & Mary)
W&M President Katherine Rowe .(Courtesy photo/Stephen Salpukas/William & Mary)

In her statement to the college community, Rowe referred to Huge’s previous letter on Sept. 18 multiple times saying the open letter announcing that seven sports team would be cut from the university did not “rise to William & Mary’s standards” and “this was a mistake.”

“Despite good intentions – in part because of the effort to seek best models for sharing difficult decisions – the communications process ultimately broke down,” Rowe wrote.

She noted “many” athletics departments who cut sports “share freely with one another” and W&M consulted with them to “ensure the utmost clarity and compassion in communicating very distressing news.”

“That said, words representing William & Mary should come from William & Mary,” Rowe said. “As president, I am accountable for the review process that should have ensured this.”

“As the leader of our learning and research community, it is my responsibility to make certain this situation does not occur again.”

Rowe reiterated Huge’s statement about integrity being “paramount for the success of the university as a whole” and added she spoke with Huge, noting the athletics director’s top priority “needs to be restoring trust.”

Jim Golden, senior counselor to Rowe, will “help guide strategic communications in Athletics,” working with Huge to review and improve how the Athletics department communicates to address the community’s concerns, Rowe wrote.

“My overarching goal for the whole of this very painful Athletics decision is that we move through it in a way that is respectful towards those most closely affected,” Rowe noted. “Though we fell short of this aspiration this time, we remain fully committed to it going forward.”

W&M response

Suzanne Clavet, spokeswoman for the university, wrote in an email W&M understands the “concerns raised” about the open letter.

“The university takes seriously the integrity of this institution as well as the trust and respect it holds in our community,” Clavet wrote. “They have been directly addressed in a statement last week by the athletic director and one this week by the president.“

“Each has acknowledged the communications related to the recent announcement of team reductions in athletics did not meet William & Mary’s standards and affirmed the expectations of our community.”

WYDaily reached out to W&M athletics spokesman Pete Clawson for comment. He sent WYDaily a statement from university communications, the same statement Clavet had sent previously.

It’s unclear why Rowe released a statement about the open letter on Wednesday and neither Clavet nor Clawson elaborated further.

In the university’s Honor Code violations section, plagiarism is listed as a form of cheating defined as the “intent to deceive” and phrasing others ideas or information “as if they were one’s own without giving appropriate credit.”

The honor code states one’s honor is “their most cherished attribute” and applies to both students and faculty members.

Agouris has yet to release a statement about the letter.

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