BY STEPHANIE STEINBERG
Daily Staff Reporter
Published April 14, 2009
Correction appended: An earlier version of this article made it unclear that the Athletic Department funded the $12 million construction of the center. It has since been clarified.
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It’s Thursday night at 6:45 p.m., and the Ross Academic Center is empty. The only sounds come from the soft pattering of feet on the tile and occasional whispers from a pair of students studying in the lobby. A few people occupy the dozens of study rooms while six students are using the 75 available computers in the computer lab. But these students aren’t just students — they’re athletes, and they’re the only students allowed to use the building.
The Ross Academic Center opened in January 2006. The University, with Athletic Department funds, built the $12 million, 38,000 square-foot facility to serve as a study place for the roughly 750 varsity student-athletes on campus.
When University officials opened the center, they spoke of allowing all students to use it. Yet students who are not athletes — but want a quiet place to work — are turned away. The sign posted on the front door reads: “This facility is reserved for student-athletes. All visitors must be accompanied by a student-athlete and sign in at the reception desk. Thank you.”
Michael Stevenson, executive associate director of athletics, said the center is reserved for student-athletes. However, he said regular students are allowed to enter if they are working on a course project with an athlete or if they are taking a course that is taught in the building.
Though there is no written policy prohibiting regular students from using the facility, Stevenson said if regular students wanted to study in the building they would not be allowed. He explains there is not enough space for the athletes let alone the entire student body.
“It’s so crowded by 750 student-athletes that we don’t have enough computers and computer stations and study space to accommodate student-athletes the way the building is being used,” he said.
University spokeswoman Kelly Cunningham said the building was designed for varsity student-athletes so they could have a place to study.
“From what I understand, they are full to capacity,” she said.
However, at 7:30 p.m. there were only a dozen athletes in the computer lab, study rooms remained unoccupied and there was plenty of open seating in the center’s lobby.
Cunningham said there is no policy that states athletes are or are not allowed to have their own separate academic facility. She cited other University students with private access to buildings such as the gymnasium in the Ross School of Business for Business students and some computer labs on North Campus for Engineering students.
Cunningham said these facilities were “created to meet the needs of the community.”
However, in October 2001 the NCAA established a rule that stated student-athletes must integrate with the student body, and institutions may not form residences halls specifically for athletes.
Christopher Radford, National Collegiate Athletic Association assistant director of public and media relations, said there are no rules or regulations stating that the University is violating NCAA policy by granting student-athletes their own private building.
“It’s a University issue,” Radford said.
He added that the “NCAA doesn’t govern at that level.”
In an article in The Michigan Daily in January 2006, Joe Roberson, former University athletic director, said the Ross Academic Center isolates student-athletes from the rest of the student body.
"The University went to the Supreme Court arguing that diversity was a very important component of education in the affirmative action case," Roberson said.