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At meeting, SACUA discusses Big House Big Heart charity run cancellation

By Austen Hufford, Daily Staff Reporter
Published December 10, 2012

University faculty members aired their grievances over the University Athletic Department’s decision to cancel the Big Heart Big House run at Monday’s meeting of the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs.

SACUA chair Kimberlee Kearfott, an engineering professor, said at the meeting that she met with University Athletic Director David Brandon on Monday morning to discuss the decision. Kearfott said Brandon told her the cancellation of the race was based on concerns about the race’s sponsor, Champions for Charity, and did not reflect broader policy changes.

“The change was not made for financial reasons because they did receive fees for use of the stadium,” Kearfott said. “There were risks associated with that specific individual vendor that played into the decision.”

Brandon told the 1290 WLBY radio station last week that the Athletic Department withdrew from the race because a University-sponsored race could bring more revenue for charities.

“If we can get more money routed to the charities because there isn’t a profit motive, we’re always going to prefer to go that route,” he said in an interview with the station.

Other SACUA members agreed with Kearfott and Brandon that the Athletic Department was right to question Champion for Charity’s motives.

“It is a private company that runs things for charities,” Engineering Prof. Robert Ziff, a SACUA member, said at the meeting. “There might be another side to this story we’re not hearing.

Last week, Andrea Highfield, owner of Champions for Charity, told The Michigan Daily that the business has brought in $3.5 million for charity over the six years it organized the race. Registrants for the run pay a fee ranging from $32 to $39 and must pay a $3.25 processing charge to enter. Portions of the proceeds go to non-profits such as the C.S. Mott Children’s and Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital.

Champions for Charity could not be reached for comment Monday.

Kearfott called the decision “well-considered” but said the University did not do a good job announcing it.

“The handling of the announcement could have been better done,” she said.

She said because this was a single decision and not a policy change it did not need to be brought in front of the Advisory Board on Intercollegiate Athletics, a committee devoted to providing advice to the athletic director.

At last week’s SACUA meeting, members of ABIA and SACUA expressed concern that Brandon failed to consult ABIA when the University approved the addition of the University of Maryland and Rutgers University to the Big Ten Conference.

To ease the ABIA’s concerns that it has not been consulted on important University decisions, Brandon also agreed to meet with SACUA regularly, Kearfott said.

“We can work on improving the relationship between faculty governance and athletics,” she said.

After reading the bylaws and learning more about the Big Ten’s procedures, Kearfott also said some of the anger at Brandon was misplaced because the decision to add new members is actually at the discretion of the Big Ten’s Council of Presidents and Chancellors, which includes University President Mary Sue Coleman and the leaders of the other universities in the conference, not the Athletic Department.

Other SACUA members were quick to note that if Coleman was responsible for the decision, she also had the responsibility discuss the changes with the ABIA.

“In theory, (Coleman) should have consulted with the ABIA,” Medical School Prof. Charles Kooperman, a SACUA member, said.


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