‘Open dialogue’: W&M plans to discuss future of athletics; aims for transparency

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The College of William & Mary plans to have more open dialogues after the university announced seven sports varsity programs would be cut effective in the 2021-2022 academic year. (WYDaily/ Courtesy of Tribe Athletics)
The College of William & Mary plans to have more open dialogues after the university announced seven sports varsity programs would be cut effective in the 2021-2022 academic year. (WYDaily/ Courtesy of Tribe Athletics)

The College of William & Mary wants to start an open dialogue after the university announced the decision to cut seven varsity sports programs.

On Sept. 3, William & Mary decided to cut seven varsity sports programs: Men’s and women’s swimming, men’s and women’s gymnastics, men’s indoor and outdoor track and field, and volleyball.

The cuts would be effective for the 2021-2022 school year, which means 2020 would be the last year the athletes could compete.

Most sport seasons have been delayed this year due to coronavirus concerns.

Parts of the open letter announcing the decision to the cut the programs was copied with President Katherine Rowe, Provost Peggy Agouris and Athletics Director Samantha Huge pulling direct statements and paraphrasing sentences from Stanford University’s open letter announcing the cut of their sports teams.

The college community called out the university for plagiarizing the statement — the community cited the university’s Honor Code, which applies to faculty, staff and students, pointing out that per the code plagiarism is a form of cheating, a violation.

On Sept. 18, Huge released a statement stating she had “consulted with” the university and other colleges. A week later, Rowe released a statement calling the university’s announcement “did not rise to William & Mary’s standards” and appointed her assistant, Jim Goldern to “review Athletics communications practices.”

Moving forward

At the Sept. 25 Board of Visitors meeting, board members listened to the student athletes, staff and Williamsburg community about their concerns.

The following Friday, W&M Board of Visitors Rector John E. Littel and Rowe announced a path forward with an open dialogue defining “competitive excellence” and how athletics can be “financially sustained,” according to an announcement from the university.

“The board has confidence in this president and her team and have seen what they can accomplish,” Littel said. “I can’t promise you that we won’t make mistakes and I do not want to suggest that we have all of the answers, but please know our commitment is to this family and rebuilding that trust.”

Littel added he appreciates the community “called us out where you think we have not met the standards we cherish,” noting the board “owns what was a poor rollout of very difficult news.”

Rowe said more discussions are needed.

“Our first and most important task is to rebuild the trust of this community and to repair the distress we have caused our student athletes, families and alumni,” Rowe said at the BOV’s meeting. “We need to dig more deeply into the assumptions made in that plan about competitiveness and what that means in a Division I context for the community now.”

“We need to be open about possible disagreements that we have about that and finish this conversation by listening to all of the voices in our community – students, alumni, faculty and staff – recognizing that our starting place is Division I,” she added.

Huge said she is also committed to a “path forward” to restore the community’s trust.

W&M response

WYDaily asked W&M spokeswoman Suzanne Clavet when the open dialogue(s) would be scheduled, if the meetings would be virtual or in-person and why the university decided to have an open dialogue now instead of having a community discussion before W&M announced the decision to cut the seven sports programs.

“William & Mary is appreciative to all who have shared their own W&M story and why their experience as a student-athlete was so valuable,” she wrote in an email. “The value of and commitment to W&M Athletics is clear.”

“A key question we need to answer going forward is what does sustainable Division I athletics excellence mean at William & Mary,” she added.

She said W&M has gotten offers from the community to work with the university “through the challenges we face in a substantive way” and referenced Rowe’s statements to the BOV on Sept. 25 specifically the quote, “we are open to solutions that meaningfully and viably address those challenges.”  

Clavet wrote the university will “engage in that dialogue in the coming weeks” and public comment will be available.

“We anticipate announcing the details of those plans later this week,” she added.

The university is currently facing a potential Title IX lawsuit cutting the women’s varsity gymnastics, volleyball and swim teams.

Arthur H. Byrant, of Bailey Glasser LLP, a California-based law firm, is representing the women’s sports teams and noted in a letter to Rowe, the firm was prepared to pursue the lawsuit if the sports programs were not reinstated.

The deadline for Rowe and the university to respond is Wednesday.

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