The University of Richmond board members were greeted Thursday on the third floor of the Tyler Haynes Commons by wraps, pasta salad, chips, brownies and about 50 students holding signs in support of reinstating the men's track and field and soccer programs.
The Board of Trustees members, who made the decision in September to cut the two programs in favor of adding a men's lacrosse team, will meet again tomorrow, where board member Bobby Ukrop will present a case for the teams' reinstatement, said soccer alumnus Bret Myers.
Track members originally decided to stage Thursday's protest when a source, who does not want his or her name shared, told the runners where and when the luncheon was taking place, said Kyle Ragan, a senior on the track team.
Matthew Groff, a sophomore track member, thought the demonstration went better than expected, he said.
"We didn't know how many people were going to come out," he said. "We were just planning on having some members of the team, then we stuck it out on Facebook, and some overwhelming support showed up."
Those students who did show up initially ran into trouble with university police officers.
"Starting off, we were just in the area outside of the Commons, and the police told us that we had to be inside," Ragan said. "Then we realized that a majority of the board members had gone upstairs already, so we wanted to move up to just peacefully stand outside. When we got up there, we were told that we were not allowed to be up on the third floor."
Groff said: "The officers said, 'Listen, if you guys don't leave here, we're enforcing the law here, and we'll be forced to arrest you.' That certainly rubbed me the wrong way. There's no way you can arrest students for congregating in the student commons. There are student organization meeting rooms up here, and they wouldn't even allow us to simply sit there in one of those rooms."
The police cited university administration as the decision-maker for their actions, Ragan said, but did not identify who within the administration.
"Eventually, the members of the student government talked with them, and they allowed us to come up to the third floor, and we just stood there quietly and peacefully," Ragan said.
The protesters stood there for about 30 minutes, as board members came in and grabbed their food, before dispersing.
Groff said, "I think a main goal today was stemming from the remarks by President [Edward] Ayers and the administration that this decision had the support of the faculty and university, and we just wanted to come out here today and show that simply isn't the case."
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Myers, in association with The Carry the Flag Coalition and S.O.S. (Save Our Sports) Committee, released results of an anonymous survey of 92 university faculty members that further refutes Ayers's claim.
"We tried to do this [survey] publicly, but that was blocked by the administration," Myers said.
The survey showed that 74 percent of faculty disagreed with the reconfiguration and that 87 percent would endorse an alternative reconfiguration that kept soccer and track, while adding lacrosse and women's crew. Faculty polled included about 30 percent of all Arts and Sciences members and nearly 100 percent of all Jepson School of Leadership members, Myers said.
The Carry the Flag Coalition members also began fundraising two weeks ago and have already raised about $3 million from about 275 donors, only one of which is anonymous, Myers said. All donations are contingent on the reinstatement of soccer and track and can be made in annual installments during a 10-year period, according to the coalition's website.
"It's not only been soccer and track alumni," Myers said. "It's been alumni of other sports and even friends outside of the university. It's really heartwarming to see we have a lot of support.
"It's certainly significant in terms of endowment. Imagine if we had a longer period of time."
More non-athlete support has come from the Richmond College Student Government Association (RCSGA). Arguing that students were left out of the reconfiguration decision, RCSGA sent "A Resolution Regarding Student Involvement in Decision-Making at the University of Richmond" to Ayers and other board members at the end of October.
That resolution was coupled with a letter more explicitly describing what RCSGA members wanted from the administrators, but that letter was kept confidential until Wednesday.
"We were hoping to build trust necessary with the administration through confidential dialogue," said Harry Lambert, a freshman senator who wrote the resolution and letter while working closely with senior president Evan Harris.
The letter presents four main requests. First, RCSGA members requested that the administration release all non-confidential information regarding decisions, such as the sports reconfiguration, onto a website for all interested parties to view. Second, they requested that every administrative committee have a student representative. Third, they asked that RCSGA and WCGA members be consulted before any decision impacting more than 300 students was made.
Lastly, and most importantly according to Lambert, RCSGA members requested that two students be included on the Board of Trustees, offering RCSGA and WCGA presidents as a possibility.
"We don't want to take away focus from the other three proposals, but if we only get one out of this, we really want two students in that room when decisions are being made," Lambert said. "Theoretically, if the board was operating in the manner in which we originally assumed, any decision that came before the final board, where there were no student representatives, would first originate in a committee with students. With the track and soccer situation, that didn't happen.
"If we have two representatives in the executive committee, where all the final decisions are made, that would kind of act as a net, so before it was made final, it would have some sort of student touch."
Lambert and the rest of RCSGA decided to make the letter public after receiving responses from Ayers and Charles A. Ledsinger Jr., rector of the board, the day before Thanksgiving break, Lambert said.
"I read [the responses] through once, and I thought, wait a minute, this can't be right," Lambert said. "They don't even talk about our proposals. They don't even reference them. I went back and read them again -- hadn't changed. And I sat there and said, 'This is ridiculous.'
"Not only are they going to [continue] to make decisions without us, [but] they're not even going to talk to us about making changes to the system. I did respect [Ledsinger's] letter more than Ayers' because [Ledsinger] essentially said, 'No.' Ayers just carried on about why the decision was made. What I wanted was why our proposals didn't work."
All letters, including RCSGA's responses to Ayers and Ledsinger, were sent out in an email to all Richmond College students. The language in the response letters was more confrontational, Lambert said, and not all RCSGA members approved them.
"I felt that I couldn't have gone back and been taken seriously if I hadn't been a little bit more aggressive because we were so heavily rebuffed the first time with very complimentary and soft language," he said.
"The time has passed for being nice, being diplomatic. It's time for both sides to sit down and engage in an honest dialogue because there are a lot of students, myself included, who are frustrated at the university's leadership. I think if the university wants to work in good faith with the students in the future, it needs to take this seriously now, because it will only get worse if they don't."
Lambert feels bad for Ayers, who is at the center of scrutiny for this decision, he said.
"I personally feel that he's the person that's just been thrown out as the person to explain this decision to the university community," he said. "He's done a [bad] job of doing it, though."
Lambert, who's only been at Richmond since August, heard that Ayers was fairly well liked before this, he said.
"I don't think that will ever return," he said. I think this decision has jaded a lot of students, myself included, but I don't necessarily think [Ayers] needs to be fired immediately. I know there are people pushing for it.
"I think he's done a number of things that have been very positive for the university. That said, he may want to start thinking about an exit plan. I think he's what I would call damaged goods. His reputation has been tainted. If the board goes back on its original decision, he's going to look mighty foolish."
Myers is one of the people pushing for Ayers' removal.
"Richmond has a code of ethics," he said, "and when you look at the language that's in that code, some of it clearly has been breached."
Myers sees Friday's re-vote as a critical point in the campaign, he said.
"We've encouraged the current athletes to stick around and wait, so if we can't get reinstatement on Friday, that's certainly going to kill the [soccer] program, at least for the time being," he said.
Ragan and Groff said the track team would continue fighting no matter what decision was made on Friday. All the freshmen have made the decision to stay at Richmond and help the cross country team regardless, Groff said.
Contact staff writer David Weissman at email@example.com
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