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By Gary Brown
More than two dozen faculty athletics representatives from Division III schools rallied around their need to be more involved in leadership roles during the second Division III Faculty Athletics Representatives Institute Oct. 14-16 in Indianapolis.
Faculty reps at the institute heard from NCAA Vice President of Communications Bob Williams about leading the discussion on intercollegiate athletics both locally and nationally.
While Williams said he and his communications staff at the NCAA national office spend a lot of time managing the headline-grabbing issues surrounding Division I schools, faculty at Division III institutions can help tell the more positive stories that occur regularly at their schools.
“The discussion on athletics happens every day at your campuses,” Williams said. “That’s where opinions are formed and in many ways where the public is informed about what you do. The actual discussion happens where you’re at.”
Participants appeared eager to help. Williams told them to become ambassadors for the Division III message, and the broader message for intercollegiate athletics overall.
“The unfair assumption is that all student-athletes are like the elite level players who may not be in college to get an education,” Williams told them. “But your story is the more common one in terms of what the student-athlete experience is all about. I don’t hear that story enough, even on your campuses.”
In the Q&A that followed, participants noted that faculty members are uniquely positioned to advocate for Division III.
“People in this room can honestly say that our actions are in the best interests of student-athletes,” one member said.
Williams agreed, adding, “Few people know more about the student-athlete experience than the faculty.”
Division III started the institute as a two-year pilot last year to provide a professional-development resource for FARs. Over the two years of the program, FARs representing almost every Division III conference have attended.
In addition to assessing their own leadership styles and exchanging ideas about the role of the FAR at Division III campuses, participants at this year’s institute also engaged about their involvement at the local, regional and national levels. A panel composed of Wells College President Lisa Marsh Ryerson, Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference Commissioner Chris Ragsdale, Wilmington College (Ohio) Athletics Director Terry Rupert and former Emory swimmer and six-time NCAA champion Liz Horvat helped FARs better understand their value regarding athletics oversight and administration.
Among the more basic takeaways from the panel discussion included:
But beyond those rudimentary requirements, FARs at the session also talked about how to make their involvement more far-reaching.
During the panel discussion, for example, several FARs shared ideas that resonated with participants and panelists alike.
One from Chris Walker at Redlands involved a “representative” approach that enabled members from other curricula besides his to contribute to the athletics/faculty relationship. Walker said while he is the only person designated as the official NCAA FAR, that doesn’t preclude other faculty from meeting regularly, sharing ideas and addressing issues from different perspectives.
Another idea from Christine de Denus, the FAR at Hobart/William Smith Colleges, incorporates a “fellows program” that pairs athletics teams with faculty members to form lasting and meaningful relationships among students, professors and coaches.
While the program is not necessarily unique to Hobart/William Smith, de Denus was able to relate firsthand how it was successful on her campus.
“What’s good about the program is that you really get to know your students as student-athletes in addition to the student-scholar you’re accustomed to knowing,” she said.
Christine de Denus
Established at Hobart/William Smith in 2006, the fellows provide academic advice and connect student-athletes to other faculty and resources within the campus community.
“Even though I consider myself knowledgeable and supportive of athletics, I learn so much when I go to practice or when I talk to student-athletes in my office – or when I’m walking across campus and hear, ‘Hey, Professor de Denus,’ and I don’t even have them in a class. But it’s because of that basketball relationship that they know me and acknowledge me,” she said.
“It’s a new bond that faculty members share with students as athletes. We stress that we’re all about the whole person in education, but as faculty members we often interact with student-athletes only on academic terms or in some extracurricular activity, but not athletics.”
Participants at the FAR Institute acknowledged that the success of such a program could vary among campuses. One of the FARs said the fellows program had a limited effect when it was attempted at her school. Still, others took copious notes during de Denus’ description.
In addition to that type of programming, other discussion during the panel presentation centered on establishing trusting relationships with athletics directors and maintaining meaningful connections at the conference level. Both of those areas covered each end of the spectrum. The conference issue, for example, ranged from FARs having voting responsibilities (as is the case at the Heartland Conference) to other FARs feeling disengaged when it comes to conference matters.
But while it was clear that the FAR “experience” varied by institution and conference, the chance to convene and share best practices was beneficial.
An appreciative President Ryerson said at the end of the presentation in fact that “I’ve taken away more good ideas from this session than I brought to it!”
The program is modeled after the Division II Institute, which was conducted for the seventh consecutive year at the same time as Division III’s. The Division III Presidents Council will receive a recommendation from the Strategic Planning and Finance Committee regarding whether to continue the program early next year as part of the normal budget planning process. If feedback from participants is any indication, odds are favorable for an extended lifespan.
Lorrie Clemo, the FAR at Oswego State and one of the primary organizers of the Institute along with Dennis Leighton from the University of New England, said it serves as a valuable professional development tool that isn’t practical to include as part of other FAR gatherings.
“We began talking several years ago about what was effective and what wasn’t in planning the FARA fall forum,” Clemo said. “We liked the orientation sessions, which is a big portion of the fall forum. We also liked spending time on legislative proposals. But what we thought was missing was the chance for FAR professional development. We found that the Institute could focus more on development and leadership.”
Lynne Kaplan from Kaplan and Associates helps design and facilitate the curriculum. Kaplan, who has more than 25 years of experience in the field of organizational development, has designed leadership training for NCAA student-athletes at both the national and divisional levels.