Athletics announcement dominates discussion
ATHENS, Ohio (Jan. 26, 2007) -- Concerns about the recent athletics decision dominated the second Ohio University Town Hall meeting, which opened to a standing-room-only audience of more than 300 faculty members, staff and students. Hard questions about budgets and shared governance also took center stage.
This was the second town meeting that Ohio University President Roderick J. McDavis has hosted, with the goal of encouraging frank dialogue among all members of the Ohio University community.
It was no surprise that many of the questions called for deeper explanations of yesterday's announcement that men's indoor and outdoor track and field, men's swimming and diving, and women's lacrosse will no longer be offered as varsity sport programs.
Athletes, easily a third of the audience, struggled with emotion through questions about whether the decision was necessary and why it came with no apparent warning. One athlete asked, "Why would we hire an expensive coach and redesign offices rather than cut four teams." Another asked why no student leaders were involved or informed about the cuts. "I feel the administration was not up front with people."
Athletic Director Kirby Hocutt took time to detail the complexities behind Title IX compliance and football financing. Throughout the event, Hocutt and McDavis reiterated their sympathy. "As a former member of the track team, I looked at this every possible way not to come to this conclusion. ...(Hocutt) had a tough decision. I had a tough decision," McDavis said.
Worries about the university's budget -- including whether layoffs were possible and if employees could see raises -- were on many minds. McDavis discussed the forces that influence budget outcomes, including enrollment, retention, state allocations and tuition caps.
"Every year is very unique from a fiscal perspective," he told the audience.
"If there's any theme of the day, it's that we're trying to become more fiscally responsible," he added. "You will see that on a go-forward basis."
McDavis and other administrators also promised more transparency, not just in the budget process but in all university decision-making.
Shared governance was the third strong theme of the day. "Why do so many decisions take people by surprise?" one student asked.
McDavis listed the growing number of opportunities for members of the campus community to help craft decisions that affect them. He discussed committees that the administration has convened on issues ranging from faculty compensation and student general fees to quarters versus semesters. He also told attendees he meets monthly with each leadership group on campus to gather input.
"We're trying to listen with much more of an open ear. When we make decisions as a group, we make better decisions," he said.
Several participants, even those with concerns about recent events, expressed gratitude for the president's willingness to hold an open forum. "I support you. I'm glad that you've been candid and haven't hidden behind statements," one participant said.
Other topics of the day included:
- Campus and community safety
- Commitment to a broad definition of diversity
- Training for information technology staff
- No-cost performance space for the School of Music
- Faculty compensation
- Academic quality in recruiting
- Free speech "zones"
- Fees for Halloween
- Plans for the former Baker Center
- Ohio University's reputation
One lighter moment in the day came when the president fielded a question about his role and how he could perform it better. He laughed ("not at the question") and admitted he is "far from perfect."
He was serious, though, about taking responsibility for the entire university and forging a decision-making process that "elevates the institution to a higher level of excellence."
"I get up every day and try to make the best decisions…I try to learn every day."
Watch Outlook next week for a link to an online video of the event. The next Town Hall will take place from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Tuesday, April 17.
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