A Hillsdale couple is suing Eastern Michigan University for violating the Open Meetings Act when eliminating four athletic programs. Douglas and Mary Willer both have undergraduate and graduate degrees from EMU, are athletic boosters and Doug is a member of the Eastern Michigan University Athletics Hall of Fame after twice being named an All-American wrestler. Learn more in this conversation with the Willer's attorney.
The legal complaint filed in Washtenaw Circuit Court
Here is the response to the lawsuit from Eastern Michigan University with accompanying background information on the schools position.
“The lawsuit is without merit in all regards and we will vigorously defend the interests of the University,” said Geoff Larcom, executive director of media relations for the University. “The facts in this situation are clear. No violation of the Open Meetings Act occurred at our Board of Regents meeting because the decision to reduce varsity sports is an administrative decision and does not require approval of the Board of Regents. As such, the decision was not presented to the Regents for their approval.
“The Regents are neither required nor expected to make administrative decisions such as this. To the contrary, Board policies clearly indicate that such decisions are a University management function. This is not unique to Eastern. Other universities have similar policies.
“For this reason, the University believes there is no merit to the lawsuit, and plans a vigorous defense.”
As was stated previously, the administration’s decision to eliminate the four sports programs -- men’s swimming and diving, wrestling, women’s tennis and softball -- was extremely difficult. The student-athletes who participate in these sports are outstanding scholars and athletes who have given countless hours to positively represent Eastern.
The decision was timed (March 20, 2018) to ensure that the students affected had an opportunity to make plans about their futures should they wish to explore sports participation at another university. Several have already transferred.
Student-athletes affected by the decision who decide to stay at Eastern will continue to receive their athletic scholarships for as long as they remain students and retain their institutional eligibility.
The University considered many factors when making this decision, such as program cost, athletic facilities (current and essential future needs), and a comparison of sports sponsored by Mid-American Conference (MAC) schools.
Eastern Michigan previously offered 21 sports – more than any of its peer institutions in the MAC, each of which offers 16-19 sports. Needless to say, such a disparity is expensive and does not acknowledge present-day economic realities. The decision to eliminate four sports aligns Eastern with its MAC peers.
It should be noted that for men’s swimming and diving, the MAC only has two full MAC members, one of which is non-scholarship, and three affiliate members. Additionally, six MAC schools and 10 universities throughout Michigan have eliminated wrestling. The Chronicle of Higher Education, in a highly relevant story published March 29, 2018, reported:
“In choosing to eliminate teams like women’s tennis and men’s wrestling, Eastern Michigan is swimming with the tide. Over the course of the last decade, colleges’ athletics departments at all levels have dropped those and other sports in decline. The Chronicle reviewed participation data from the U.S. Department of Education to examine which sports were in the ascent and which have been commonly dropped. The data demonstrate how colleges are shifting their priorities to meet the evolving interests of potential students.”
Faculty and student groups have, for years, called on the University to reduce spending on Athletics. When fully implemented, these actions will reduce expenses by $2.4 million per year.
Various groups have graciously initiated fundraising efforts this spring to support the four sports programs. Although these efforts are well intentioned, the financial targets set by these groups are, respectfully, far below the amounts that would be needed to maintain these sports programs in perpetuity.
It’s very important to reiterate that the sports reductions have not occurred in a vacuum. They are part of an intensive University-wide effort to realign the general fund budget with the realities of today’s enrollment patterns and state funding while focusing on fostering growth in high-demand academic programs that serve students in today’s economy and job market.
Several other universities in recent weeks and over the last year have taken action to reduce the number of sports they offer for similar reasons.
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