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Members want diverse voices in DI Governance

Representation for all – including student-athletes – at all levels in the new structure was a key issue expressed at Thursday’s Division I Governance Dialogue

By Michelle Brutlag Hosick

Representation for all – including student-athletes – at all levels in the new structure was a key desire expressed at Thursday’s Division I Governance Dialogue.

Members told the steering committee guiding the restructuring conversations that a more open and collaborative process giving voice to all different demographics should be a priority. Providing a greater role for athletics directors was another recurring idea that garnered support among the athletics directors in the room.

“Only one group spends 365 days a year, 24 hours a day on this enterprise, and we should be included in the leadership,” said Debbie Yow, athletics director at North Carolina State University. The comment received enthusiastic applause, and the steering committee acknowledged the popularity of the sentiment, pledging to give athletics directors leadership roles in any new structure and process.

The Dialogue took place before a dynamic crowd, which engaged in real time via the Twitter hashtag #D1Talk in a meeting that was open to the media. 

The steering committee members also shared with the assembled members their hopes for the restructuring.

“I hope we use these words to describe the future of governance – nimble, strategic, collaborative, transparent,” said Kansas State President Kirk Schulz, a member of the steering committee. “I expect, when we get to the end of this, to be in a place that’s better than where we are today … We will meet the needs of the entire Division I membership, not just a particular set of schools.”

The conversations will continue Friday.

The dialogue, which brought together representatives from nearly every school in Division I, was the culmination of more than a year of work defining the division’s core values; identifying the flaws and strengths of the current structure, culture and processes; and building a new model based on core values and capitalizing on strengths.

Division I members spent time discussing the information and a proposed model developed by a steering committee. That group was composed of seven members of the Board of Directors, who asked questions and offered critiques.

The steering committee, led by Board chair Nathan Hatch, president at Wake Forest University, presented what it called “headlines” from its proposed model, focused on continued presidential control and oversight, greater practitioner engagement and consultation, a more strategic board, areas of both autonomy and shared governance, and a more streamlined and agile decision-making process.

Members zeroed in on representation as a key question they had of the steering committee: Where will different types of people be able to influence the process? Who will be in the room when decisions are made? And how will those people be chosen?

The presidents outlined a model that would include a nomination process with vetting for candidates based on experience and competence rather than affiliation, a strong council that makes the rules and policy decisions for the division guided by a strategic board that sets the priorities for the division.

In a discussion about the core values of the division, members repeatedly articulated a desire to emphasize the integration of athletics into the higher education system and the need to highlight how athletics participation is, in and of itself, an educational experience.

“Education in intercollegiate athletics (is vital),” said Christian Spears, deputy athletics director at Northern Illinois University. “We need to (emphasize in our core values) the value of competition, the leadership lessons, and how participation promotes student career success long term.”

Participants were encouraged to use their small groups to discuss possible changes to address the questions raised at Thursday’s Dialogue.

The steering committee closed the day by thanking those who had participated and assuring members that the feedback was crucial.

“The straw man worked. It has generated really productive and open conversation,” said Southern Illinois University-Carbondale President Rita Cheng, a member of the steering committee. “There are things we didn’t address fully or we haven’t communicated the way we wanted to. These are starting points for further conversation.”

The discussions continue at 8 a.m. Friday, and even after the close of the Dialogue, the steering committee will continue to accept feedback from members in pursuit of a better governance model.