Tuesday, June 6, 2023

W&M avoids Title IX lawsuit without reinstating cut sports; ‘open dialogue’ slated

The College of William & Mary may have avoided at Title IX lawsuit by announcing their plans to add more roster slots on women's sports teams and reducing roster slots on men's teams for the 2021-2022 athletic season. (WYDaily/ Courtesy of Tribe Athletics)
William & Mary may have avoided a Title IX lawsuit by announcing their plans to add more roster slots on women’s sports teams and reducing roster slots on men’s teams for the 2021-2022 season. (WYDaily/ Courtesy of Tribe Athletics)

The College of William & Mary had received a letter threatening a Title IX lawsuit after cutting seven varsity sports teams effective next year.

Arthur H. Bryant of Bailey & Glasser LLP, who represents the women’s gymnastics, volleyball and swim teams told W&M President Katherine Rowe in a letter on Sept. 23, the cutting of these sports team would be in violation of Title IX and to reinstate the teams or face a potential lawsuit.

The university’s deadline to respond to his letter was Sept. 30.

WYDaily obtained the letter W&M sent to Bryant through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The letter from W&M attorney Carrie Nee stated the decision to cut the sports programs was necessary to make sure athletic opportunities for men and women were “substantially proportionate.”

While the identified challenges and timeline for solutions remain unchanged, this process will open discussion to include exploration of an alternative path forward for William & Mary Athletics,” she said of the sports cuts and the open dialogue.

“As you noted, the reduction of sports alone will not accomplish the goal of Title IX compliance,” Nee added. “In preparation for the 2021-22 academic year, William & Mary is implementing a series of changes to enhance the opportunities offered through its remaining women’s sports programs.”

Some of those changes include adding eight athletes to the women’s lacrosse team, 11 to the women’s indoor and outdoor track teams and “moderate increases” to the following women’s sports teams: women’s basketball, field hockey and golf.

Nee attached the chart below to the letter sent to Bryant which does not show any of the seven programs being reinstated as all the programs were marked with zero available roster sports in the 2021-2022 academic year.

Carrie Nee, university counsel for the College of William & Mary attached the chart to a letter sent to Arthur H. Bryant, in reference to a letter about a potential Title IX lawsuit against the university. (WYDaily/ Courtesy of the College of William & Mary)
Carrie Nee, university counsel for the College of William & Mary attached the chart to a letter sent to Arthur H. Bryant, in reference to a letter about a potential Title IX lawsuit against the university. (WYDaily/ Courtesy of the College of William & Mary)

“Taking into account the full scope of changes to William & Mary’s sports offerings for the 2021-22 academic year, the university will provide 56.81% of its athletic opportunities to women,” she wrote. “This offering is substantially proportionate to the undergraduate enrollment rate for women which was 58.07% for the 2019-20 academic year.”

In addition, Nee wrote some men’s programs will have “reductions,” including the football team and the university will manage its “scholarship distribution process.”

“Although preliminary data indicate that there will be no significant movement in the enrollment rate for the 2020-21 year, William & Mary is prepared to make further participation adjustments if needed to achieve Title IX compliance,” Nee added.

She offered Bryant the chance to discuss the letter further. You can read the full letter here.

Open dialogue

Two days later, the university sent out a campus wide email from W&M Athletics Director Samantha Huge about the next steps.

“Along with many others at William & Mary, I have heard clearly the concerns expressed by members of our community regarding the future of W&M Athletics,” she wrote. “I will fully deliver on the goals that Rector Littel and President Rowe have outlined and am particularly committed to the student-athletes, coaches and alumni of the seven affected programs.”

Huge wrote that throughout the month of October, the athletics department will have an open dialogue which includes meeting with the student athlete representatives from the seven sports team that were cut, and the Tribe Club Executive members.

The discussion will include finances and evaluating “prospective financial scenarios with a completion date by Nov. 1 “which is the early signing period for letters of intent,” Huge noted.

Huge also announced virtual, moderated sessions on Oct. 8 at 7 p.m. where the athletics director would listen to the community’s “different ideas” about athletics.

“We also want to offer an opportunity to understand the many facets of our athletics budget and projections,” she added. “Our goals during these events will be to engage as many diverse perspectives as possible, share information openly, and listen to and reflect on the opinions that are expressed — all as a means of finding a viable path forward.”

“It will take our entire William & Mary community coming together to find innovative solutions to the issues we must resolve, and I look forward to the opportunity to work with each of you in the coming weeks.”

University spokeswoman Suzanne Clavet wrote in an email the virtual moderated sessions are open to both the college community and the public.

“As director Huge announced in her message this morning, questions or comments are to be submitted in advance and she and others will address as many as they can during the event,” she wrote, adding the questions can be submitted through the athletics website.

The event will be virtual and not similar to the town hall last year after Tribe Athletics men’s basketball coach Tony Shaver was fired.

Clavet said the other moderated sessions will be announced “in coming days” and people who want to send comments or questions can email askwmathletics@wm.edu or use the comment link on the W&M Athletics site.

Sports cuts

On Sept. 3, W&M announced in an open letter it would cut the men’s swimming, gymnastics and outdoor and indoor track teams as well as the women’s swimming, volleyball and gymnastics teams.

The open letter, signed by Huge, Rowe and W&M Provost Peggy Agouris showed parts of the letter were plagiarized, with some sentences copied verbatim and others paraphrased from the Stanford University’s open letter in July announcing the university’s sports cuts.

Both Huge and Rowe released statements about the letter, six days apart, which Huge admitting she had consulted with Stanford University and Rowe calling it “a mistake” and that the letter “did not rise to William & Mary’s standards.”

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?

It’s unclear why the university plagiarized Stanford’s open letter and Agouris did not release her own statement about the plagiarism.

On Sept. 23, the W&M Board of Visitors had a “listening session” in response to the plagiarism and the backlash from the college community, including student-athletes, faculty and college alumni. The student assembly’s For the Bold Resolution was read to the board, which called for transparency about the decision to cut the sports teams, accountability for the way the administration shared the news with the athletes — in a seven-minute Zoom call — and how the university planned to move forward.

WYDaily reached to Frances Bell, graduate worker in the university’s history department and member of the W&M Workers Union, regarding the plagiarism: Should the administration be held accountable for violating the university’s Honor Code about plagiarism?

“I mean I think that basically our main position on this is we are still focused on the workers that are affected and we don’t support anyone losing their job during the pandemic,” she said.

When asked if the union planned on discussing the plagiarism, Bell reiterated the union’s focus was on the workers affected by the cuts.

She encouraged faculty members affected by the administration’s decision to reach out to the union by contacting  wmworkersunion@gmail.com or via their social media pages on Facebook and Twitter.


Julia Marsigliano
Julia Marsiglianohttp://wydaily.com
Julia Marsigliano is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She covers everything on the Peninsula from local government and law enforcement agencies to family-run businesses and weather updates. Before WYDaily, she covered Hampton and Newport News for WYDaily’s sister publication, HNNDaily before both publications merged in December 2018. Julia was born in Tokyo, Japan and moved to Long Island, New York in 2001. A true New Yorker, she loves pizza, bagels and good Chinese food. Send comments, tips and other tidbits to julia@localvoicemedia.com. You can follow her on Twitter at @jmarsigliano

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