Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Public participation: calls to save swim and dive, advocacy for sister survivors

December 30, 2020
<p>A screenshot from the Dec. 18, 2020, MSU Board of Trustees meeting.</p>

A screenshot from the Dec. 18, 2020, MSU Board of Trustees meeting.

At the Michigan State Board of Trustees meeting Friday, Dec. 18, the swim team, advocates for sister survivors, and College of Veterinary Medicine representatives spoke during public participation, the last opportunity to address the board directly and publicly before the new year.

Swim Team

The university announced in October that they would no longer fund the swim and dive program after the 2020-2021 school year. 

Jack Hiss, a sophomore on the swimming and diving team spoke about the size of the pool and how it is within NCAA regulations.

“To my understanding, it was made apparent to this Board of Trustees that our pool was deemed ineligible for NCAA standards, but I want to assure you that it is within the guidelines of 25 yards,” he said. 

The university said the decision to cut the program was partially based on the pool not meeting the size requirements for Olympic competition. President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. said that there was an error in the initial announcement and that the pool does meet NCAA standards.

“If you have swimmers that are swimming in NCAA in yards but if they’re competing for Olympics and they want to have that training capacity then it's … helpful in recruiting if they have a pool that meets Olympic standards,” Stanley said.

The swim and diving team were told that the administration has been thinking about cutting the program for five years. 

“As the facilities in the IM West had renovations done to our scoreboard and locker room areas just only two years ago, then why were we told the thought of cutting the swimming and diving team has been in the works for five plus years?" Hiss said. "Why do renovations there if you thought you would cut the team?”

Travis Nitkiewicz, another sophomore swim team member, said that the MSU athletic council was not involved in the decision to cut the program. He referenced the Athletic Council Consitution's 12th duty, which states that the council will "Determine what sports shall be part of the intercollegiate athletic program."

“Not once this year or last year was cutting an athletic program discussed at an athletic council meeting,” he said.

MSU athletics expects a $30 million shortfall due to the pandemic. While the entire athletic department underwent budget reductions, the swimming and diving team was the only program that the university discontinued. The MSU administration and Athletic Department are hopeful that this decision will prevent the school from having to cut other programs in the future. 

MSU will continue to fulfill scholarships for swimmers who want to finish their undergraduate career at the university. They will also provide assistance to athletes who want to transfer to another university. Coaches contracts will be honored until June 30, 2021. 

Sister Survivors

Some students express their anger with Trustee Brianna Scott during the public participation portion of the meeting. Trustee Scott and Joel Ferguson drew attention from the media after they bought a building in downtown Muskegon, Michigan, in September. Many believe that Scott is the reason why there was no independent investigation of university’s actions regarding Larry Nassar's sex abuse. 

“Trustee Scott sold out survivors, she sold out Michigan State students and faculty alike and she told out the entire Spartan community at large," Emily Trudder said. "She had the audacity to accuse survivors of benefiting financially from an independent investigation to look into this institution's handling of the Nassar abuse while she has been cutting back end deals to enrich herself with the Muskegon deal."

“I am beyond frustrated with the lack of leadership and transparency from this board,” Shannon Hill said. “... It seems as though Trustee Scott is intent on using her role on this board as a personal playground for her own financial gain.”

Kaleigh Hodges addressed Chair Diane Byrum for her actions following the incident. Byrum appointed Scott to run the Survivors Healing Fund, but survivors have not received compensation. She also said survivors have not been able to file their claims.

“Corruption is skyrocketing, and, despite all of this, Diane Byrum has continuously failed to protect survivors," Hodges said. "She has repeatedly worked to undermine survivors struggling to heal from the immense trauma they have endured."

Founder of Parents of Sisters Survivors Engage (POSSE) Valerie Von Frank also spoke to the board. She referenced the survivors who asked for answers in August and October and received no responses.

“We still, four months later, have not heard your final answer," she said. "We’ve had to ask over and over again for you to honor your public promises. ... The case of what happened at this institution is not settled. An internal investigation is not a substitute for outside eyes."

Without warning, Von Frank was cut off at the three-minute mark of her public participation. Trustee Scott concluded public participation, and Stanley gave his report and continued the meeting. 

Veterinary Medicine

Veterinary medicine graduate students in the class of 2023 and 2024 are asking for a 30% tuition reduction. Nate Vandentop initially brought up the issue to the Board of Trustees Meeting on Oct. 2 after receiving signatures on a petition he created.

“Learning veterinary medicine is such a hands-on experience that we cannot see how putting our in-person instruction can at all be reconciled with the same tuition expenses as before,” Vandentop said.

Lauren Phillip, a first-year veterinary medicine student and secretary of class of 2024 in the College of Veterinary Medicine spoke about how the pandemic is impacting students.

“The fact that we value a quality education does not mean that we should have to endure further personal, financial and mental hardships along with trying to maintain a grade to be successful," she said.

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