The College of William & Mary’s Student Assembly passed a resolution in response to the university’s decision to cut seven sports programs permanently.
The recent For The Bold resolution was a “call for respect of W&M Values, transparency, and accountability,” and was sponsored by Conor Sokolowsky, Class of 2023 president and a member of the men’s swim team, one of the seven sports programs cut.
On Sept. 3, W&M President Katherine Rowe, Provost Peggy Agouris and Athletics Director Samantha Huge announced seven sports programs would be cut starting in the 2021-2022 year: Men’s and women’s gymnastics; men’s and women’s swimming; men’s indoor and outdoor track & field; and women’s volleyball.
In the weeks following the announcement, WYDaily learned the student athletes and their coaches were informed of the decision in a prepared statement from Huge via Zoom and parts of the open letter sent to the W&M community about the sports cuts was plagiarized from Stanford’s University open letter cutting several of its sports programs, too.
In response, Huge and Rowe released statements more than two weeks after the open letter, addressing the plagiarism with Huge noting she had “consulted” with Stanford and other universities.
Rowe said the letter “did not rise to William & Mary’s standards” and “this was a mistake.”
The student assembly outlined in the resolution a list of grievances, demands and a general timeline of W&M’s announcement to cut the sports programs and the actions following the decision.
The resolution demanded more transparency in decisions with input from students, donors, faculty and alumni, a live and recorded Q&A session, the seven sports team reinstated and lastly, the university to reevaluate the athletics department’s role — and long-term goals.
- June 16- The Board of Visitors had closed session about athletics department’s future.
- June 26- Huge told the Tribe Club and athletics department that no sports were going to be cut.
- Sept. 3- The university announced seven varsity sports teams would be cut, after athletes signed housing agreements and freshman lost a year of eligibility. The student athletes were told of the decision in a seven-minute Zoom call and the university’s announcement in the form of an “open letter” to the campus community had plagiarized sentences from Stanford University. The community did not receive any input regarding the decision either.
- Sept. 11- Huge told alumni at a meeting the decision to cut the programs was made before she was hired in 2017 to realign the athletics department, not just financial decision. She added W&M “wants athletics to assist in raising the profile of the institution.”
In addition, the resolution added the athletics department was a “corrosive work environment”– more than 75 staff members have left or were fired in the past three years out of the original 120.
The resolution also questioned the $1.6 million increase in three revenue sports compared to just $0.3 million invested in the other 20 varsity sports programs.
Other points in the resolution indicated neither the university administration or Huge would accept any money to keep the teams reinstated and Board of Visitors Rector John E. Littel had said “every program was given a target that was developed after an analysis of multi-year contributions by each sport and coaches, athletes, and alumni were actively engaged to help achieve these targets.”
“WHEREAS, the timeline of events as previously outlined could be interpreted by the William & Mary Honor Code and NCAA Division I Code of Ethics as a ‘presentation of false information with the intent to deceive’ on the part of the administration that ‘adversely affect[ed] the university community,'” according to the resolution. “Now, therefore, be it resolved, that the Student Assembly of the College of William and Mary: Vehemently opposes the manner in which this incredibly tumultuous decision was conveyed to student-athletes and finds it appalling that our long-standing concerns regarding transparency and increased communication have still not been addressed.”
The resolution had 1,377 signatures in “a matter of a few days” from students, student-athletes, faculty, staff and alumni before the BOV’s listening session on Sept. 23, Sokolowsky said.
He noted resolutions passed by the student assembly have the opportunity to be presented to the BOV by the SA’s president.
“It was also incredibly important for us,” he said. “I was definitely not the only one to write it but it was definitely the combined work of many people.”
The resolution was not opened to the general public or parents since the student assembly “really doesn’t represent them,” however “a lot of people” reached out to him with positive feedback and support.
But one resolution amendment didn’t make the cut: Calling for Huge’s immediate resignation.
“In order to make that argument, we would have to make a lot of ad hominem arguments,” Sokolowsky said, adding the assembly also did not want to distract the BOV from the resolution as a whole. “The rest of the W&M community is happy with the resolution…however a lot of them are very pissed off at our athletics director for the handing of the situation and her professionalism.”
The statement about the workplace environment was testimony from former coaches and staff and while Sokolowsky understands that there will be staff changes when a new athletics director is hired, he said he felt the turnover rate at W&M was “ridiculously high.”
“I’m not sure how much we can pin on her but under her leadership we have a seen a stark value in changes and values of the athletics department,” he said.
“She has been the face of it for us,” he added. “We do know Huge has a history of being at an institution for a few years and cutting teams,” he added. “The strong argument we could make for her removal is she doesn’t stand for the W&M values that we are not going to be a big revenue school for basketball and football.”
He said the decision and the fallout from the announcement is causing division in the W&M sports community because “a lot of people are blaming football and basketball.”
“There’s this animosity they feel towards football players and I’ve spoken to them and they feel it too,” Sokolowsky said. “That’s something students need to address being together on this and not further dividing our broken athletics department.”
Another issue that further divides the sports community is the argument the swim team’s GPA is higher than the football or basketball teams’ GPA but “in reality, we’ve had one black swimmer in the past five years” and “using diversity as an argument is just not applicable,” Sokolowsky noted.
When asked if the administration or the athletics department had reached out to Sokolowsky after the resolution and the BOV listening session, he said not directly to him, but he did receive the general emails from Rowe about the decision to appoint her assistant to review the athletics department communications and an “open dialogue” moving forward.
“So that’s a lot of fancy words,” he said. “That’s what we want to hear and now it’s just a matter of action and getting things done.”
As for the next steps for students, Sokolowsky was not sure.
“What is the next thing we can do?” he said. “Right now we have alumni, former coaches, parents working around the clock to try and support us–––how can we as students really contribute to reversing this decision?”
The resolution was read at the W&M BOV listening session on Wednesday where student athletes, alumni and other members of the college community shared their opinions about the decision to cut the programs and the way the university handled the news.
WYDaily asked W&M spokeswoman Suzanne Clavet in an email if the university had any comments about the student assembly’s resolution.
She did not immediately respond.
WYDaily reached out to Littel about the comments attributed to him in the resolution about the sports programs having to meet a certain “target” to help sustain the programs — several alumni had reached out to WYDaily — and asked if Littel could send documentation stating alumni, sports teams and students needed to raise money for the seven sports programs to avoid getting them cut as part of an initiative by the athletics department, the Board of Visitors or the university administration.
He sent the following in an email to a WYDaily reporter on Sept. 17:
“No, that is not quite accurate,” he wrote. “No sport was told that they had to raise a specific amount or the sport would be cut.”
“That is neither an appropriate nor fair way to run an athletics program,” he pointed out.
Littel referenced the 2015 Report on Competitive Excellence and the 2018 strategic review, noting both reports discussed the “long-term financial constraints of the athletics program” and “the need to significantly increase our funding to sustain some sports.”
“Those analyses, some of which preceded Samantha Huge’s hiring as Athletic Director, showed that we cannot financially sustain 23 sport programs at the Division I level,” Littel wrote. “Prior to this year, the Athletic Director found ways to make that work, but the financial crisis caused by the ongoing pandemic made it clear a decision was needed now.”
He said the university is “the smallest school in our athletic conference,” has “one of the lowest athletics spending per athlete,” and offers the most varsity sports.
“The strain of a program this large goes far beyond the specific finances of any individual team — it negatively affects each of the elements of our school’s athletics program (sports medicine, facilities, compliance, support personnel, etc) which support all teams,” he said.
Arthur H. Byrant, of Bailey Glasser LLP, a California-based law firm, representing the women’s varsity gymnastics, volleyball and swim teams, wrote a letter to Rowe, saying the firm was prepared to pursue a Title IX lawsuit if the sports programs were not reinstated.
The deadline for the university to respond to the potential lawsuit is Wednesday, Sept. 30.
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