By Anand Venigalla
A petition that started on Change.org on Oct. 3 raises awareness about the impact the OneLIU announcement has on students. Natalie Hickman, a sophomore criminal justice major and basketball player, started the petition entitled, “Save all athletic teams and coaches who are getting cut or fired due to the LIU merge.”
As of 5 p.m. on Tuesday, the petition has received more than three thousand signatures.
The petition states, “All of us [are] left with no team to play on next year. The poor coaches however were told to find new jobs all in the matter of one morning. When we asked questions, no one seemed to have the answers and the people who made this decision that greatly affects our future were nowhere to be found.
Our highly successful teams that have brought countless numbers of victories for LIU didn’t seem to matter to the university anymore. Our lifestyle, all we’ve ever know was ripped from us and no one seemed to even fight for us, so we must fight for ourselves and our coaches who have put so much into each and every athletic program. I’m reaching out in hopes anyone can help or raise awareness about how absolutely horrible and disgusting this is. Please take the time to help all of us so we can continue to be student-athletes.”
President Kimberly Cline did not respond in time to The Pioneer’s inquiries about the petition.
The original goal was to reach 500 signatures. Now with students, family members, faculty and alumni signing, the new goal is five thousand. Hickman started the petition the day after the announcement of the athletic department merger.
“Our goal is to help raise awareness and show how many people are backing all the student athletes and coaches that have been affected. Hopefully if we can get enough supporter[s] we can find a better solution for everyone,” she said. “I came to Post to not only fulfill my dreams of being a college athlete but also because of my coach. She is so helpful, caring, and has everyone’s best interests at heart which can be rare to find in this highly competitive environment.”
Julia McCloe, a sophomore music theater student who is not a student athlete, believes the change to Division I will have negative consequences on academics and lead to further whitewashing of the university’s image.
“I think that because of this change other departments will continue to be further neglected. All of the money will continue to be poured into sports, rather than updating academic facilities,” she said. “This change tells me that Post’s priorities are only to have a good image and to make money. They don’t care how the students are affected by these changes, as long as it continues to look good to everyone outside of the university. That way, people will keep coming, and [administrators] at Post will benefit,” she added.
Ashley Melendez, a senior childhood education major and women’s softball team member, is upset about the change and the disastrous impact it could have on students and their work. Because she is graduating in May, the change will not impact her, yet she is concerned about her teammates.
“This is awful; the change is horrendous and selfish; my teammates now have to go through the whole process of getting recruited again, worrying about majors and credits, being transferred and things like that,” she said.
The move is “a complete fraud,” according to Michael Soupios, professor of political science and president of the faculty union. “This is about budgetary failure, not image enhancement. Students and coaches are being sacrificed to cover for enrollment shortfalls as were a large number of faculty this past spring,” he said. “Shame on the administration and on our Board of Trustees who tolerate such injustice,” he said. “Pretending there is no budgetary problem is an attempt to make the [administration] look good – these are the same thing. Think money, think politics, think smoke and mirrors.”
Dr. Joan Digby, director of the Honors College and an English professor for 50 years at Post, wrote to her fellow faculty members expressing her disappointment about the emotional impact of the change.
“How the university could, in the same year [as announcing the launch of the vet tech program and Veterinary College], decide to change its commitment to athletes is beyond me. I know that in the Honors College I will lose a significant number of students who cannot afford to take a degree at Post unless they are funded by athletic scholarships,” Digby said.
Digby further critiqued what she considers a great “sports fantasy” that was behind the new Division I push. “I love athletes, and I love the combination of athletes and Honors. I have played tennis for 40 years. I have written about my commitment to athletes in Honors in national journals, so please don’t think I am opposed to sports. But Division I sports is way beyond our financial grasp when we already have other costly academic programs and a Veterinary College in the works. I’m worried,” she wrote.
Digby encourages those affected to push back. “First the coaches kick the P.E. department out of Pratt. Outrageous. Now the coaches are themselves about to be fired. Also outrageous. There comes a time when we need to rise up against plans that are going to destroy us,” she said.
Dr. Barbara Fowles, professor and previous department chair of communication and film, shared stories of students’ suffering as a result of the change.
“I also have met with tearful students, who will, no doubt, want to transfer next year. One is a student from Sweden who arrived in the U.S. in September as a freshman to play women’s soccer. She is likely to be cut because of this move, since she is both young and small,” she said. She further noted the expenses that would be created from this OneLIU change. “Two cheerleaders in one of my classes told me that, because of the new colors, they have to replace their uniforms, which were new and which cost hundreds of dollars. They get no help with this expense. It’s outrageous and mean.”
Surprisingly, many football players, according to Fowles, have objected to the change. “They are sad for their athlete friends on other teams, and they feel quite sure they will be slaughtered in D. 1, while they are doing well now.”
Willie Hiatt, associate professor of Latin American history, sees the OneLIU change as indicative of Post’s failure. “The sense on campus is that this move was done purely to cut costs during a financial crisis. As I said in an email to colleagues, LIU is consolidating and retrenching in every area—faculty, staff, colleges, departments, programs, stipends, course releases, honors scholarships, High School Scholars, student services, SGA budgets, club budgets, department budgets, GAships, Promise, Pioneer newsprint, etc.—even as the administration is planning a costly vet school. Unfortunately for student-athletes, it was their turn to be downsized. It’s a real shame.”