Running Toward the Future
New DSU president Harry Lee Williams has never stopped moving forward.
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Students, especially, seem optimistic. “We were all excited about Dr. Williams becoming president,” says Kathleen Charlot, president of the Student Government Association. “Him being younger, we felt he brought a fresh perspective to the office.”
In contrast to Sessoms, who, Charlot says, “was not involved too much in student activities,” Williams maintains a presence around campus. “He’s interested in student government, he goes to all the basketball games, and he even eats in the cafeteria,” she says. “He’s not standoffish at all. He has an open-door policy.”
Dr. Samuel Hoff, George Washington Distinguished Professor of History and Political Science at DSU, calls the blizzards that hit the East Coast in January and February an apt metaphor for Williams’ first days in office. Like every college administrator, Williams faced major budget difficulties. Looking for places to cut expenditures, the former jock turned to the school’s somewhat bloated athletics budget. He eliminated the women’s equestrian team and men’s tennis team, beginning next season. That decision created a storm of its own.
Cutting the equestrian team resulted in a campus protest and a lawsuit by team members. (DSU will honor their scholarships, though it is not required to do so.) A second suit, filed by a Canadian teenager who had signed a letter of intent with DSU, claimed Title IX discrimination against female athletes. Seeking class-action status for her suit, she alleged that after being promised an equestrian scholarship, she learned through a Facebook posting that her sport had been scrapped. Because of the late notice, she claimed she couldn’t obtain a full scholarship at another Division I school. Williams has since reinstated the team for another year.
Equestrian represents about $500,000 and men’s tennis accounts for nearly $200,000 of the athletics budget, which for 2009-10 was about $12 million—about $4 million above the average among Mid-Eastern Athletic Association schools.
“Our goal is to bring that down and take those resources and put them into academic areas,” says Williams. “My commitment to the faculty is that I will do everything in my power to protect the academic core. That’s what we’re all about. Everything else supports academics.”
Hoff, who chaired an NCAA committee that studied gender equality in athletics, strongly disagrees with the decision to eliminate the equestrian team. “I don’t think the president had complete information to make what would have been a wise decision,” he says.
Cutting women’s equestrian and men’s tennis “is not a wash,” Hoff says. “One, there’s a lot more women on the women’s team [than men on men’s tennis]. Secondly, the sport itself was created to deal with deficiencies in the gender equity area. And thirdly, the vast majority of the equestrian team are Caucasian, so the team helped to emphasize the diversity of the campus.” The predominantly white makeup of the team, Hoff says, also raises the specter of reverse racism on a campus that is 78 percent African-American.
The equestrian team, added five years ago, was one of only 23 in the country. With its demise, Hoff says, “We’re back to square one on a really important part of accreditation and athletics.” He also notes that among the school’s 15 sports, only equestrian and women’s bowling are “on the precipice of competing for a national championship, with all the positives that accrue from the publicity and visibility” of that achievement.
Though termination of the equestrian team is a sticking point with him, Hoff says, “It’s early in [Williams’] tenure, and I try to give folks the benefit of the doubt.”
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