U-M Regents' Meeting Update/Athletics (October 22, 2020)

Thank you, President Schlissel.

I want to begin by sharing how pleased I am to report that since the start of classes on September 1st, we have had only 9 positive COVID cases on campus and only two of those individuals had close contact with others on campus. Surely, this is a result of being the only public university in the state that is a commuter campus without its own campus housing facilities, hence we were able to skew our curricular offerings to heavily remote this semester, with only 8% of courses on campus. This is important because many of our students travel and interact across multiple counties, sharing or sequestering their public health characteristics, as the case maybe.

On another very positive note, after months of engaging with hundreds of faculty, staff and students; conversing with invited, innovative and nationally accomplished higher-ed leaders; discussing ideas regarding our future in town halls and listening sessions; listening to feedback provided by our Faculty and Staff Senates and Student Government; and reviewing ideas submitted through a “think big” request for ideas, while navigating a global pandemic, we have arrived at our first set of initiatives that will guide our work for the coming years. 

Earlier this week, I shared a communication with the campus community outlining our initiatives, all geared toward our ultimate goal of student success. Among the centerpieces of our strategy is a redevelopment and restructuring of our financial aid strategy moving more toward a need-based philosophy to better emphasize accessibility. I am very excited to go forward with our plan with continued input and guidance from our campus community. 

I am aware there are several speakers in the public comment portion of today’s meeting who wish to address our decision made last month to cancel sports in the winter semester with the caveat of re-evaluating our decision in February and potentially resuming competition, conditioning and practice on our campus in March. I want to take a moment to share and contextualize the process and thinking that led to our decision.

UM-Dearborn participates in the Wolverine Hoosier Athletic Conference of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, the NAIA. About 4% of our student population or 350 Dearborn student-athletes participate in 16 sports. As a point of reference, the other members of our conference are private institutions, offer on-campus, university owned housing, and average about 43% student-athletes.

As I noted earlier, we do not have university-owned housing in Dearborn. Many of our students live throughout the metro Detroit area and commute to school, to jobs and other locations throughout the region. When we developed our fall 2020 academic plans our goal was to minimize on-campus activity, hence only 8% of classes were offered on campus. No co-curricular activities including sports were allowed on campus. 

Consistent with our overall plan to keep students, faculty, and staff safe, on June 22 we canceled our intercollegiate activities and competitions including sports occurring in the fall semester and announced that we would make a decision about the winter semester and sports by October 1. It should be noted that after our decision about fall sports, the NAIA moved all fall sports to the spring. We announced the decision regarding winter sports on September 30, again making the decision early to allow our student-athletes, coaches and staff to prepare and plan appropriately. We also announced that we will maintain all athletic scholarships during this unfortunate time.

I know sports and competition are important. I played sports, all my children were student-athletes, and I coached AAU basketball for years. I have a deep appreciation and respect for the time our student-athletes invest in their sports, their studies and our university. To be sure, athletics teach discipline, sacrifice, perseverance, leadership, and of course, team work. Our coaches at UM-Dearborn foster those values, all of which are valuable life skills. Our decision regarding winter semester sports was very difficult and not taken lightly. This decision was the subject of many emotionally-wrenching senior leadership discussions and driven by the objectives of health and safety, fairness and consistency.

Our fall teaching plan has our campus being 100% remote after Thanksgiving. No one will be allowed on campus, except essential personnel. Our winter semester plan continues this remote status until March 1. Other factors that led to, or further support, our decision include: 

First - We do not have the medical supervision, testing, cleaning/disinfecting services, and sequestration/quarantining facilities that would be necessary to safely mount athletic programs protective of our students, staff and local communities.

Second - Infection rates are rising steeply in Michigan and even more so in Indiana and Ohio where some of our WHAC conference competitions would be. In fact, this past week saw the highest reported number of daily cases in all three states, since the beginning of the pandemic.

Third -  As the Great One, Wayne Gretzky, once noted you want to skate to where the puck is going, not to where it has been.

We have kept a continuous eye on data, decisions, and trends - we felt that we knew where the puck was going. 

Our prescient conclusions were indeed ahead of the curve. And ahead of many schools who are now starting to make similar decisions. Since the UM-Dearborn decision, NESCAC (e.g. Amherst, Middlebury, Williams) and NCAC (e.g. Oberlin, Kenyon, Dennison), two powerhouse NCAA DIII conferences, cancelled their winter seasons, as have a number of other individual institutions.

We are always and continuously reflecting on, and considering our decisions, in light of new or changing information. But in this case, our decisions have only been reaffirmed by many universities across the nation.

Finally - The NCAA Division I Council extended eligibility for student-athletes by one year seemingly in anticipation of a major disruption to the winter season.

The actions we have taken regarding sports were difficult but are, in the best interest of protecting the health and well-being of our students, faculty, staff and community. We will reassess the situation in the early part of 2021 and I sincerely hope we can resume play, return to full in-person classes and restore all normal aspects of our lives. I do want to thank all our athletes and their coaches for their commitment, passion and pride to their studies, sport and university, and I look forward to the day when we can all watch them safely return and compete in the maize and blue.

Go Blue and Go Dearborn!

Office of the Chancellor

1070 - Administration Building
4901 Evergreen Road
Dearborn, MI 48128
View on Map
Phone: 313-593-5500
Fax: 313-593-5204