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Students protest reconfiguration at Board of Trustees luncheon

Published: December 6, 2012, 7:44 pm ET
David Weissman /The Collegian
Students stood quietly against the back wall holding "Bring Back Track" and "Save Spider Soccer" signs while Board of Trustees members came out of their conference room to get lunch.
Online Editor

The University of Richmond board members were greeted Thursday on the third floor of the Tyler Haynes Commons by wraps, pasta salad, chips, brownies and about 50 students holding signs in support of reinstating the men’s track and field and soccer programs.

The Board of Trustees members, who made the decision in September to cut the two programs in favor of adding a men’s lacrosse team, will meet again tomorrow, where board member Bobby Ukrop will present a case for the teams’ reinstatement, said soccer alumnus Bret Myers.

Track members originally decided to stage Thursday’s protest when a source, who does not want his or her name shared, told the runners where and when the luncheon was taking place, said Kyle Ragan, a senior on the track team.

Matthew Groff, a sophomore track member, thought the demonstration went better than expected, he said.

“We didn’t know how many people were going to come out,” he said. “We were just planning on having some members of the team, then we stuck it out on Facebook, and some overwhelming support showed up.”

Those students who did show up initially ran into trouble with university police officers.

“Starting off, we were just in the area outside of the Commons, and the police told us that we had to be inside,” Ragan said. “Then we realized that a majority of the board members had gone upstairs already, so we wanted to move up to just peacefully stand outside. When we got up there, we were told that we were not allowed to be up on the third floor.”

Groff said: “The officers said, ‘Listen, if you guys don’t leave here, we’re enforcing the law here, and we’ll be forced to arrest you.’ That certainly rubbed me the wrong way. There’s no way you can arrest students for congregating in the student commons. There are student organization meeting rooms up here, and they wouldn’t even allow us to simply sit there in one of those rooms.”

The police cited university administration as the decision-maker for their actions, Ragan said, but did not identify who within the administration.

“Eventually, the members of the student government talked with them, and they allowed us to come up to the third floor, and we just stood there quietly and peacefully,” Ragan said.

The protesters stood there for about 30 minutes, as board members came in and grabbed their food, before dispersing.

Groff said, “I think a main goal today was stemming from the remarks by President [Edward] Ayers and the administration that this decision had the support of the faculty and university, and we just wanted to come out here today and show that simply isn’t the case.”

Myers, in association with The Carry the Flag Coalition and S.O.S. (Save Our Sports) Committee, released results of an anonymous survey of 92 university faculty members that further refutes Ayers’s claim.

“We tried to do this [survey] publicly, but that was blocked by the administration,” Myers said.

The survey showed that 74 percent of faculty disagreed with the reconfiguration and that 87 percent would endorse an alternative reconfiguration that kept soccer and track, while adding lacrosse and women’s crew. Faculty polled included about 30 percent of all Arts and Sciences members and nearly 100 percent of all Jepson School of Leadership members, Myers said.

The Carry the Flag Coalition members also began fundraising two weeks ago and have already raised about $3 million from about 275 donors, only one of which is anonymous, Myers said. All donations are contingent on the reinstatement of soccer and track and can be made in annual installments during a 10-year period, according to the coalition’s website.

“It’s not only been soccer and track alumni,” Myers said. “It’s been alumni of other sports and even friends outside of the university. It’s really heartwarming to see we have a lot of support.

“It’s certainly significant in terms of endowment. Imagine if we had a longer period of time.”

More non-athlete support has come from the Richmond College Student Government Association (RCSGA). Arguing that students were left out of the reconfiguration decision, RCSGA sent “A Resolution Regarding Student Involvement in Decision-Making at the University of Richmond” to Ayers and other board members at the end of October.

That resolution was coupled with a letter more explicitly describing what RCSGA members wanted from the administrators, but that letter was kept confidential until Wednesday.

“We were hoping to build trust necessary with the administration through confidential dialogue,” said Harry Lambert, a freshman senator who wrote the resolution and letter while working closely with senior president Evan Harris.

The letter presents four main requests. First, RCSGA members requested that the administration release all non-confidential information regarding decisions, such as the sports reconfiguration, onto a website for all interested parties to view. Second, they requested that every administrative committee have a student representative. Third, they asked that RCSGA and WCGA members be consulted before any decision impacting more than 300 students was made.

Lastly, and most importantly according to Lambert, RCSGA members requested that two students be included on the Board of Trustees, offering RCSGA and WCGA presidents as a possibility.

“We don’t want to take away focus from the other three proposals, but if we only get one out of this, we really want two students in that room when decisions are being made,” Lambert said. “Theoretically, if the board was operating in the manner in which we originally assumed, any decision that came before the final board, where there were no student representatives, would first originate in a committee with students. With the track and soccer situation, that didn’t happen.

“If we have two representatives in the executive committee, where all the final decisions are made, that would kind of act as a net, so before it was made final, it would have some sort of student touch.”

Lambert and the rest of RCSGA decided to make the letter public after receiving responses from Ayers and Charles A. Ledsinger Jr., rector of the board, the day before Thanksgiving break, Lambert said.

“I read [the responses] through once, and I thought, wait a minute, this can’t be right,” Lambert said. “They don’t even talk about our proposals. They don’t even reference them. I went back and read them again — hadn’t changed. And I sat there and said, ‘This is ridiculous.’

“Not only are they going to [continue] to make decisions without us, [but] they’re not even going to talk to us about making changes to the system. I did respect [Ledsinger’s] letter more than Ayers’ because [Ledsinger] essentially said, ‘No.’ Ayers just carried on about why the decision was made. What I wanted was why our proposals didn’t work.”

All letters, including RCSGA’s responses to Ayers and Ledsinger, were sent out in an email to all Richmond College students. The language in the response letters was more confrontational, Lambert said, and not all RCSGA members approved them.

“I felt that I couldn’t have gone back and been taken seriously if I hadn’t been a little bit more aggressive because we were so heavily rebuffed the first time with very complimentary and soft language,” he said.

“The time has passed for being nice, being diplomatic. It’s time for both sides to sit down and engage in an honest dialogue because there are a lot of students, myself included, who are frustrated at the university’s leadership. I think if the university wants to work in good faith with the students in the future, it needs to take this seriously now, because it will only get worse if they don’t.”

Lambert feels bad for Ayers, who is at the center of scrutiny for this decision, he said.

“I personally feel that he’s the person that’s just been thrown out as the person to explain this decision to the university community,” he said. “He’s done a [bad] job of doing it, though.”

Lambert, who’s only been at Richmond since August, heard that Ayers was fairly well liked before this, he said.

“I don’t think that will ever return,” he said. I think this decision has jaded a lot of students, myself included, but I don’t necessarily think [Ayers] needs to be fired immediately. I know there are people pushing for it.

“I think he’s done a number of things that have been very positive for the university. That said, he may want to start thinking about an exit plan. I think he’s what I would call damaged goods. His reputation has been tainted. If the board goes back on its original decision, he’s going to look mighty foolish.”

Myers is one of the people pushing for Ayers’ removal.

“Richmond has a code of ethics,” he said, “and when you look at the language that’s in that code, some of it clearly has been breached.”

Myers sees Friday’s re-vote as a critical point in the campaign, he said.

“We’ve encouraged the current athletes to stick around and wait, so if we can’t get reinstatement on Friday, that’s certainly going to kill the [soccer] program, at least for the time being,” he said.

Ragan and Groff said the track team would continue fighting no matter what decision was made on Friday. All the freshmen have made the decision to stay at Richmond and help the cross country team regardless, Groff said.

Contact staff writer David Weissman at david.weissman@richmond.edu

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  • A

    Wait!?!?! There are student representatives on the Board of Trustees.

  • Fhockey

    Wow! Wondering if U of R will still be 5th on the list of happiest campuses. ( although, as parents we were reminded that the school doesnt REALLY place much value on those crazy little lists). Possibly not, but prospective students do……

  • http://www.facebook.com/rbonner Ryan Bonner

    Police threatened to arrest a bunch of students holding signs? Very nice.

    • Jeter

      and not surprising…the URPD doesn’t know how to do anything…

  • Susan Jameson

    There WERE student representatives on the BOT but they were removed during Cooper’s tenure. Surprise, surprise. In the picture above are staff members, not members of the BOT. I hope the students will keep pushing to have their voices heard.
    All of the administrators involved in this underhanded, backroom deal should be asked to resign. Their actions are not in keeping with a university built on a foundation of honesty and openness.

    • Spider 13

      No, there are student reps currently on the board. I know several.

      • Senator

        I think clarification is needed. There are student representatives who sit on the board’s “standing committees”. These committees merely review and propose–they don’t decide. All decisions are taken by the executive committee of the board–aka the full board itself. There are no students in that room. The reason RCSGA is asking for student-trustees is because the track/soccer decision slipped by all of our reps in the committees–because no standing committee considered it. Instead, the decision was suggested by an “ad-hoc” committee with no student reps. Does that help you better understand our reasoning?

  • sadspideralum

    U of R should be drooling to have $3+ million in donations. Advancement offices often spend years trying to woo donors and find the “hook” that will interest a donor to give to the School. Looks like you found your hook….lets see if the School is smart enough to keep the interest of the soccer and track supporters or throw them in the trash again.

  • Student

    I’m sorry that you think students are “whining” when they are merely voicing their concerns.
    I’m sorry that you place “club sports” above the identity of this university.
    But most of all, I’m sorry you view giving students a voice in this university is an “entitlement”. If you were a true “Spider for life”, then you would want this university to be the best it could possibly be. Think about it.

    • Rachel Smith

      If club sports were good enough, then why weren’t they good enough for lacrosse? Hmmm? Double standard? So you poor, diverse groups of students should just suck it up and be satisfied with club status while we rich Wall Streeters come in and throw around our money to fulfill the whims of our kids – getting the administration to bow down to us because we don’t have any influence in the Ivy’s where our colleagues’ kids go to school as legacies. Sadly, Spiderforlife, you are a Spider for Life. I’m sure you and your Wall Street buddies are all yucking it up – but not in the smoke-filled rooms of the insiders who went to Ivy League Schools. The chip on your shoulder is showing.

  • Frank

    The bigger issue here is UR police saying they were told to arrest students who had peaceably assembled in the commons. If the students were not being disorderly, they had every right to be there. And if the university administration ordered the police to arrest students, then there is something seriously wrong with how it’s running the university.

  • Jon ’80

    If you had wanted your protest to get real horse power you should have just helped yourselves to the Turstee’s lunch until nothing was left. That would have gotten their attention a whole lot better that lame signs. By the way have any of you protesters been to a men’s lacrosse game? It is so much more fun that watching soccer or Track. You really ought to support the Lacrosse team and help make it a successful sport in the future. U of R draws kids from all the same regions that supply students to Duke and UVA and Hopkins and Wake Forrest and UNC. This is a natural progression and all you guys and girls are progressives aren’t you. So come on get behind the Lacrosse program and really have some fun!

    • Has more courtesy than Jon ’80

      You know why they didn’t help themselves to the food? Courtesy and Respect. Something you clearly seem to be lacking.

    • Ray Troy

      You, sir, are a perfect example of how lax bros will further degrade our campus culture.

    • UR Runner

      I can speak on behalf of the entire running family here at UR when I say that we do indeed support the men’s lacrosse team coming up. We haven’t and still don’t have any issue with them and we are happy for their newfound opportunity. Our issue lies in the board room and those who are going against the values this university is supposedly based on. Our issue lies with the lack of transparency, legitimate reasoning, and student involvement.

  • Unite UR

    I think it would be really beneficial if you could write a letter to the Collegian expressing the dissatisfaction of the alums in all this!

  • Disgruntled Alumni

    Just another (in a very long line) example of Richmond’s over bearing administration (and its joke of a police force) harassing students and degrading the quality of student life. And they wonder why there is no school spirit.