Posted by: gdevi | March 14, 2017

LHU Athletics Administration- Response Letter

Here is Lisette’s response to the VPUR Rodney Jenkins aka “the president” of LHU and his letter to the Express last week maligning the capital campaign co-chairs Jim Whaley and Ron Bowes and their letter in which they asked the trustees to investigate the athletics decisions. Thank you, Lisette, for writing this. I hope the greater public will understand what is happening with LHU Athletics.

http://www.lockhaven.com/opinion/letters-to-the-editor/2017/03/response-to-setting-the-record-straight/

Response to ‘Setting the record straight’

LISETTE SCHILLIG, Lock Haven

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
MAR 14, 2017

In their March 9 letter to readers of The Express, Ron Bowes and Jim Whaley, co-chairs of Lock Haven University Foundation’s Capital Campaign, expressed their concerns about “the future livelihood of Lock Haven University,” specifically as it follows from actions pertaining to the Athletics program. In that letter, they expressed concern about a female student-athlete being “allegedly threatened in a closed-door meeting, where she was not allowed to have her coach present or have any representation at the meeting” and that she “was accused of violation of media policy for expressing her thoughts.” They also noted that “she was unduly stressed” by the process. It is that portion of the letter that I am writing to address.

The vice president of university relations (or the President) refutes these claims, stating that “the student brought a faculty representative” to one of two meetings, and that “the student did violate the long-standing media policy.” (I say “or” only because the faculty received an email late Friday afternoon with the same “Setting the record straight” message that appeared in this weekend’s issue of The Express.

The message the faculty received had a “From” line indicating the message was from the President of the university. I understand that the byline of the same message appearing in The Express was that of the Vice President of University Relations.)

I happened to be the faculty representative who accompanied the student to the referenced meeting. So let me say this: The student-athlete came to me expressly for support and to ask me if I would accompany her to a meeting that she otherwise was expected to attend with no such representation. When the meeting was called, the student was told by the Athletics Director that she could bring a teammate – the team captain – to the meeting, but that a faculty representative outside of athletics was not necessary, even though the student indicated she would like such a representative to accompany her. She asked for this specifically because she was uncomfortable attending a meeting with the athletics administration without someone outside of Athletics with her. She was told by the athletics director that he and the associate director of athletics are also faculty members, and as such, no additional faculty member was necessary. Presumably, the directors thought their also being faculty members was sufficient to allay her anxiety.

When the student-athlete came to me, it was very clear she was distressed and anxious to go alone to the meeting, or to go with only another team member.

Ron Bowes and Jim Whaley were quite accurate in their saying the student was “unduly stressed.” The student read the meeting set-up as anyone would. Who wouldn’t be “unduly stressed?” No student should be put in that position to feel like s/he was walking into some kind of inquisition without anyone to serve as a witness and as support. That is why the student conveyed to the athletics director that she was uncomfortable with the meeting as it was arranged. Telling a student that another student-athlete is allowed to come, but that no one else can (or “is necessary”) is a violation of the student-athlete’s rights. Telling the student that the Director and Associate Director are also faculty is hardly reassuring in this situation. The student wasn’t stupid. She understood quite well that the role the two directors would be playing was AS directors of the Athletics program.

Regarding the violation of the media policy: I do not believe the student-athlete violated the “long-standing policy.”

The “long-standing policy” that I am aware of is actually titled the “Social Networking Policy,” and the spirit of this policy is about the use of social media. As I read this policy, it is intended to help protect student-athletes from, say, posting something like personal information on Facebook that could put them in harm’s way, or posting something that is offensive or self-incriminating. One of the tenets of this policy reads: “I must refrain from posting offensive or inappropriate pictures and/or comments including but not limited to derogatory language about any member of the NCAA community[.]”

What seemed to concern the athletics directors at the meeting, however, was the fact that the student-athlete had not signed a very recently added policy titled the “Student-Athletes and the Media” policy. This new (repeat, new) policy states: “As a LHU student-athlete, I understand I am not permitted to speak to the media without prior approval from the LHU Sports Information Director or Director of Athletics.” As we know, the student-athlete–all student-athletes–were expected to sign this new policy. Some who are aware of this policy have referred to it as “a gag order.” That is how I read it. I see it very clearly as a gag order. It IS a gag order. It is distinctly different from “Social Networking Policy,” if that is indeed the “long-standing policy” referred to in the letter by the Vice President of University Relations (VPUR) or the President. This new media policy is the one the student-athlete in question refused to sign.

One has to wonder why this new media policy was even instituted. Why suddenly were student-athletes presented with it, and told they had to sign it by a certain date and time? One is hard pressed not to at least see the timing as curious.

The student-athlete I accompanied expressed very clear reasons to the Athletics directors why she felt she could not sign it, and at one point in the meeting, the Athletics Director told the student-athlete he understood her reasons and felt they were justified. And yet, the student was still told there would be “consequences” if the policy was not signed. The “consequences,” the student-athlete clearly understood, had to do with her being allowed to continue in her sport, and also her being allowed to participate in the PSAC championship. As the student-athlete clearly expressed after an exhausting 2+ hour meeting, all she wanted to do was continue her sport. It is why she came to Lock Haven University, she told the Athletic directors, so she could pursue her studies and continue as an athlete. The previous PASSHE institution she was enrolled at had discontinued the sport. So she came to LHU. She couldn’t believe her sport was, once again, under threat of being discontinued. For those who have expressed concern that cutting sports programs will mean students going elsewhere, this student-athlete’s experience is testament to that fear being real and legitimate.

I’ll say one more thing. This student-athlete, who indeed felt unduly and unfairly stressed by this whole situation, is an incredibly impressive student. She is a model student who is committed to her sport and excels academically. Throughout this whole process, and certainly as I witnessed at the meeting, she acted with the utmost poise, integrity, and respect.

The VPUR or the President indicated in his letter that “Creating an atmosphere of free and open discussion is a hallmark of university life. The university has never, and will never, limit the legal rights of our students to speak openly and honestly.”

I can only wonder what the student-athlete might be thinking and feeling in reading that description. I know as a faculty member, I can only voice my concerns to faculty at large through an APSCUF listserv. Our ability to send @faculty emails was taken away some time ago.

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