Nearly five hours of public meeting, and still four sports were cut from the University of New Mexico Athletics Department Friday.
The decision at the special Boards of Regents meeting was in many ways similar to the contentious July 19 meeting, eliminating men and womens skiing, beach volleyball and men’s soccer, but kept diving.
The meeting was called after the Office of the Attorney General (NMAG) said the meeting in July “violated” the state’s Open Meetings Act according to a letter sent to the University last week by the NMAG threatening legal action if another meeting was not held.
The University responded earlier this week, stating it did not violate OMA, but would hold another meeting.
Diving swam, didn’t sink
The board voted 6-1 that the diving portion of swimming and diving — which consists of women only — will not be cut. The elimination of the program was part of the original joint proposal by UNM President Garnett Stokes and Athletics Director Eddie Nuñez passed in July.
The proposal, according to the University, addresses the financial struggles of the beleaguered department, Title IX compliance and Mountain West Conference membership.
Student Regent Garrett Adcock, as well as other regents, spent 10 minutes grilling Nuñez on why diving was being phased out. The discussion covered facilities, budgetary concerns and future participants in the diving program. At one point, regents asked if it removing diving would “hamstring” the swimming team, because of how their competitions are scored.
While not quite clear, Nuñez seemed to argue that putting more resources into swimming would make them more competitive.
Adcock responded with one of the more dramatic moments of the meeting: “Mr. Chair, I’m sorry, but that’s just not a good enough explanation for me,” he said, then motioned to amend the plan.
Diving team junior Natasha Dark told the Daily Lobo she burst into tears when the board voted, saying she was “shocked,” because she thought the diving team might get lost in the crowd of larger sports.
“I am forever grateful that (Adcock) spoke out on our behalf at the end of the meeting,” Dark said in a message after the meeting. “Obviously I am still very upset for the other teams. I am going to continue to fight for them and do everything in my power to save them.”
Friday’s meeting started tentatively. BOR President Robert Doughty and Stokes took painstaking efforts to ensure people signed up for public remarks and took copies of the agenda, meaning nothing was said until ten minutes after the meeting was called to order.
Public comment raged on for three hours, punctuated with cheers after most of the 46 speakers. After a ten-minute break, deliberation meandered across topics for nearly two hours. One woman was ejected from the ballroom during the BOR’s discussion.
State legislators from both sides of the aisle urged the regents to table their decision until the legislative session. This mirrored pleas on Thursday from the Albuquerque mayor and gubernatorial hopefuls to put the fate of athletics in the Legislature’s hands.
The Director of Financial Operations for Academic Affairs, Nicole Dopson, spoke about plans Rep. Patricia Lundstrom (D-Gallup) offered to UNM. Stokes clarified these proposals were not formal, they were done in a discussion over breakfast and were reviewed by her budget team.
Dopson said one plan adds to the reoccurring deficit by $2.3 million dollars and said none of the three plans addressed Title IX concerns.
Title IX Considerations
Title IX dominated the conversation Friday, but its future consequences are unclear.
The federal provision “protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive Federal financial assistance.”
Title IX is the basis of possible future lawsuits, according to the volleyball team. The Daily Lobo will write more on this topic as it develops.
Regent Brasher at one point read the federal statute aloud, and asked generally to the room, “I’d like someone just to comment on that.”
When Doughty looked to Nuñez, he responded, “I’m the wrong person — I can’t comment on federal law.”
It was reported Aug. 16 that UNM’s Title IX coordinator Heather Cowen’s last day was Friday, Aug. 17. Her replacement Sara Cliffe does not start her interim position until Monday.
After the meeting, the Daily Lobo asked Stokes if there had been anyone in attendance willing to speak for Title IX in Cowen’s stead.
“I don’t think there were any questions that were asked about Title IX that required our Title IX Coordinator to respond,” Stokes said.
Associated Students of UNM President Becka Myers said that ASUNM will evaluate their options in moving forward after the emotional ups and downs of the meeting.
“It’s a little bit of mixed feelings. I am so happy and I am almost very emotional because diving got reinstated,” Myers said. “But, I’m also extremely upset and frustrated that after all of that, that the remaining sports still were cut. And it did feel that it was lip service yet again.”
When asked about the criticisms to the process involving student voices regarding the cuts, Nuñez said that it was a difficult because what started out as financial management of Athletics quickly turned into cutting sports, acknowledging there is room for improvement in discussions.
“I think at that point maybe there could have been some more dialogue,” he said.
The Daily Lobo asked Nuñez if he would do anything differently throughout the whole process.
“No,” he said. “I did everything I could possibly do, in the time that I had. I think you’re never happy with the situation that we’re facing.”
Danielle Prokop is the multimedia editor for the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ProkopDani.