LOCK HAVEN — Lock Haven University Friday released an extended statement relative to an ongoing review of the school’s athletic program. Specifically the statement takes issue with a letter to the editor which appeared in the Lock Haven Express on Thursday of this week; that letter from two LHU alums and school foundation board members takes strong issue with the administration’s handling of the matters pertaining to its athletic review. The LHU statement is printed in its entirety below:
Setting the Record Straight
“The mission of the LHU Foundation is to generate and manage resources for the benefit of Lock Haven University and its students. One of the primary responsibilities of the board of directors is to, “serve as an effective university spokesperson in the community.” The recent actions of Ron Bowes and Jim Whaley, both of whom serve on the LHU Foundation Board of Directors, are in direct conflict with the mission of the LHU Foundation, its “Statement of Values and Code of Conduct,” and their “Primary Duties as Individual Directors.”
“A recent Letter to the Editor, penned by the pair on Thursday, March 9, 2017 and appearing in The Lock Haven Express, contains false information, perversion of facts, and intentionally malevolent claims. As a result, it is necessary to set the record straight.
“Lock Haven University, along with many other State System institutions, is facing severe budget deficits and enrollment declines. This is a fact. It is unfortunate that when faced with these challenges the inclination of many of the most outspoken voices has been to deny that reality and pretend that our financial crisis does not exist. Encouraging rumors and distorting facts neither changes nor addresses the issues we face. Only careful and deliberate leadership can do that. Thus, it is the responsibility of University leadership to evaluate our current situation, analyze trends and data, and make prudent decisions concerning the future of the institution.
“It is the responsibility of key stakeholders to trust the established processes for decision making, to support and stay focused on the core mission of the University, and to continue to promote the University they care about.
“The letter states, “As with any financial endeavor, investment is negatively impacted by uncertainty.” Perpetuating hysteria, giving further credence to untruths, and maligning a decision-making process still in progress will have a far more detrimental effect on the University’s current and future stability than the alleged damage they claim.
“The authors of Wednesday’s letter would do well to remember that trust and confidence in a brand is eroded when agents supposedly working on behalf of the institution instead seek to advance their own special interests over those of the University and its students.
“The President of the University, the Chair of the Council of Trustees, and the Interim Executive Director of the Foundation have all had phone conversations in recent weeks with Mr. Whaley about the issues he writes about, negating his claim that there has been no response to his previous message.
“The writers also claim, “LHU Cross Country and Track & Field have the largest number of giving alumni and currently fund over $250,000 in foundation scholarships.” In 2016, $9,500 in scholarship dollars was awarded for track and field and cross-country. The combined total of Cross Country and Track & Field donations over the past five years does not even amount to $250,000. This is not to disparage these important contributions; but facts matter. Let us be clear: every donor and every contribution is significant to the University and vital to the students served. To imply, however, that a particular sport is more important than another as a result of its alumni involvement or bottom line disgraces the efforts of our students, coaches, and alumni.
“In addition, the letter claims that much of the Capital Campaign donations are pledges. Fund development by its very nature is built on pledges. A pledge is a contract and once executed is a living, legal document. As long as the institution is following donor intent, the pledge or commitment must be honored.
“Donations made through the LHU Foundation may be used solely to fund student scholarships and enhancements. Donations made to the LHU Foundation cannot and do not fund athletics operating budgets. Seventy percent of the cost of athletics is funded by students, through the Student Auxiliary Services (SAS). A direct correlation exists between the total number of students enrolled and the total dollars that SAS can collect in fees. A decline in students means a decline in athletics operational funding, as well as other clubs and organizations supported by the SAS. We simply cannot make up the shortfall for athletic operations, which has already been reduced by $304,000. APSCUF has suggested, in their proposal, to assess up to an additional $100 per student activity fee to support athletics. The LHU Council of Trustees remains concerned about raising fees to students, as do the members of the SAS Board.
“Lock Haven University is not alone in its financial outlook. The entire PASSHE system is embarking on a process to evaluate the financial solvency of our universities. Lock Haven University is well-prepared for the future, but must make tough decisions and address head-on the current financial crisis in a manner that allows the institution to remain solvent.
“Since 2005, LHU has experienced significant enrollment decline. In the coming year the University will be facing a $4,749,474 deficit and, absent making the hard decisions, those deficits will continue to rise into 2021. This is not a shortcoming in institutional operation or effectiveness, or a failure to plan. It reflects a national environment driven by steep regional declines in demographic of high school graduates, increased competition for that declining population, and a shifting focus on the purpose of post-secondary education. Lock Haven University is preparing the University for this changing environment by streamlining our operation and focusing on programs that will attract new enrollments.
“As to transparency, in 2014—more than three years ago—the University began discussing with the coaches both the current and projected financial situation. University leadership solicited input from the coaches on ways to reduce spending and meet Title IX compliance. Throughout that three year process, the coaches made no suggestions to address or attempt to solve the looming problems. Late last year, after enrollment continued to decrease and several major cuts were made to the athletics’ department budget, which took each team’s operating expenses down to bare bones, the coaches were informed that the only thing left to cut were programs. It was at that point that the coaches began to meet with the Director of Athletics.
“The process for conducting these discussions is not for the administration, or alumni, or the Foundation, to decide. It is subject to bargaining and is set forth in the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University (APSCUF) and the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) collective bargaining agreement. The University has followed in good faith all the provisions of that agreement. The administration provided to the coaches’ union a proposal that identified the proposed realignment of the athletic department. The record shows that administration allowed for ample opportunity for the coaches to meet and propose other options that would reduce costs and comply with Title IX requirements to maintain both competiveness and proportionality. In keeping with the collective bargaining agreement, these discussions were to take place internally, and only with the members of the coaches union. The University administration adhered strictly to the terms of the agreement.
“In the letter, the writers further claim that university administrators, in a closed door meeting, threatened and suspended a student for violating LHU athletics’ media policy. The fact is, the student did violate the long-standing media policy when she spoke to a blogger with false claims and accusations. The student was never suspended and she competed alongside her team in their conference meet. There were two meetings; the first the student brought a faculty representative and in the second her coach participated in the meeting.
“Lock Haven University places the utmost value on the first amendment rights of our students. 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. That being said, as direct representatives of the University, our student-athletes are held to a high-standard of conduct that is spelled out in the student-athlete handbook. A long-standing media policy exists requiring all interviews of student athletes, coaches, and athletic administrators to be coordinated through the Sports Information Office. Our policies are aligned with those of other NCAA institutions across the country. A refusal to comply with this policy must result in consequences. Participating in athletics at LHU is a privilege—one our student-athletes take on with pride, but also with a responsibility to positively reflect the university they represent.
“Just as Lock Haven University is not alone in facing the current enrollment and financial crisis, the department of athletics is also facing difficult budget reductions. All areas of the University have undergone rigorous review and reductions in programs and staff. As an institution of higher education our first responsibility is to educate students and prepare them for their professional lives. Our athletic programs enjoy a distinguished legacy—in shaping our institutional identity and positively influencing the lives of students. That legacy is not diminished even in the face of difficult and unpopular decisions that must be made in order to move the University through tough financial times to achieve excellence in all that we do.
“To suggest that a solution to the athletics budget crisis may be found in reducing our students’ academic opportunities through the elimination of a college and dean is at once breathtakingly shortsighted, misguided, and driven solely by the emotions of the current moment.
“We must look beyond our current situation, understand our responsibility to act wisely to secure a bright future, and protect our core mission of providing a competitive array of academic offering for our students. We have reduced academic programs strategically and now must do the same with athletics. To do otherwise would be to succumb to the pressures of temporary solutions, self-interest, and uninformed opinions.
“As has been widely publicized, our current athletic realignment proposal is not limited to budgetary pressures. The University must be in compliance with Title IX. Under federal Title IX requirements, the University must offer an equal opportunity to play sports to both men and women or lose federal funding. We are working diligently with the Department Of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) to remain in compliance with Title IX requirements. Therefore, the administration will make no decision that could jeopardize our Title IX status.
“The pending decision concerning the future of LHU athletics has been undertaken with responsibility and care by those charged with charting the course of the institution’s future and guarding its ability to remain a community of learning, growth, and development for the students it serves. The proposal presented to the coaches’ union was considered and supported by evidence.
“The recommendations made by the athletic administration to the president in the final proposal were based on the following:
• Examining all Pennsylvania Schools Athletic Conference (PSAC) as well as institutions within the East and Midwest school’s enrollment, number of athletic programs, total number of student athletes, current programs as well as those eliminated over the past five years.
• Discussions with several institution administrators regarding budget cuts and program eliminations.
• Men’s Indoor and Outdoor Track and Field were proposed to be eliminated first, largely due to the way these programs are structured. NCAA and the OCR record Track and Field and Cross Country as three separate programs with three different budgets, yet involving the same students. There is no evidence to suggest that reducing one, or two, of the three negatively impacts the other or the women’s programs.
“The University has conducted the decision making process transparently. Members of LHU administration have met with student-athletes, members of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), coaches, and local media regarding the proposal and our current fiscal challenges. As a public university, LHU’s first commitment is to its students and preserving the opportunities available to them. We will not be deterred by the circulation of malicious and misguided rumors. Our promise to our students will continue to focus on our core mission which helps guide our decisions as we work to protect the future of the University with pride, transparency, and understanding.”