Senate Assembly discusses athletic department, bids farewell to Ortega

Monday, April 16, 2018 - 8:57pm

Warde Manuel speaks about the athletics program at the Senate Assembly meeting in Palmer Commons Monday.

Warde Manuel speaks about the athletics program at the Senate Assembly meeting in Palmer Commons Monday. Buy this photo
Natsume Ono/Daily

At the final Senate Assembly meeting of the 2017-2018 school year, Athletic Director Warde Manuel presented closing thoughts about the winter sports season, and Chair Robert Ortega closed out his last Senate Assembly meeting as chair of the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs.

Manuel began his presentation by mentioning the 529 student-athletes honored in the Academic Celebration. Student-athletes honor earned a grade point average of 3.0 or higher or had two consecutive semesters of a 3.0 or higher. He also mentioned the University of Michigan had the most All-Big Ten students, and congratulated Public Health student Erin Finn and Rackham student PJ Ransford, the two University Big Ten Medal of Honor winners.

He said the University had three teams in the final four teams for men’s basketball, hockey, and field hockey. Wrestling also finished fourth in the country, which was one of their highest finishes in years.

Manuel thanked faculty for all they do for student-athletes, and the student body at large.

“Those who are students who also participate in athletics learn and get a tremendous education because of what you do,” he said. “I stand before you as a proud undergrad and graduate of the University of Michigan, so I love what you all do as faculty, and we will continue to take a lot of pride in great students who come here who also help us produce on the field of play.”

The first to ask Manuel a question was Ortega, who asked about safety in the athletic program. In his response, Manuel focused on concussions as a leading issue in terms of safety for student-athletes. He referenced multiple programs in place, such as “medical spotters” in the press box who are constantly on the lookout during football games for potential concussions. He also mentioned the Exercise and Sports Science Initiative, which pools funds together to have different proposals from faculty presented to study things related to these safety issues. Manuel discussed ways in which the game could also be changed to avoid these risks.

“We’re also talking constantly about how to improve the game to, in my words, ‘Take the head out of football,’ which I know is hard to do — I’m a former football player,” Manuel said. “But what I mean by that is that I’m not trying to use my head to hit you. I’m trying to avoid using my head to hit by using my shoulder or my chest.”

Tim Utter, a librarian at the University, asked Manuel about sexual assault policies that may be in place within the athletic department.

“What about in terms of what’s happening around the country in terms of sexual assault? Have we changed policies or started to do things differently in terms of that?” Utter asked.

Manuel discussed the sexual assault training that is in place for the student-athletes, where the Office of Institutional Equity and outside consultants are brought in to train the students. He also discussed the increase in faculty training that has arisen because of what happened with Larry Nassar, a former USA Gymnastics docter, at Michigan State University.

“We did a lot of retraining with our staff, in particular (with) our head coaches, around reporting, because that was such a big thing that came out of the Michigan State case … the possible lack of reporting,” Manuel said. “So we brought OIE back in to talk about the right way to handle situations, the right way to convey that to students when they come in to talk to you, how to document so that it can be taken care of.”

Many members of SACUA asked Manuel about how to handle student-athletes who appear to be falling asleep in class, or using their phones during class. Manuel said the athletic department has multiple nutritionists who harp upon the importance of nutrition and getting rest and sleep, and stressed the importance of faculty members treating student-athletes like they would any other student.

“If they’re behaving that way in your class, treat them how you would treat any student,” Manuel said. “Don’t treat them any different because they’re student-athletes. Please don’t. Please. From a standpoint of expectations, they have the same expectations as any other student. If you kick other students out of your class because they're sleeping, kick him out! Kick her out! Don’t treat them any different!”

In response to a question about gender equality in the department, Manuel responded he thought the department was in pretty good shape, but not perfect. He mentioned there are male coaches for women’s sports, but that there were no women’s coaches for men’s sports, and it was something they needed to get better at.

After Manuel left, Ortega closed out the meeting by showing a video that is going to be released in the next year to promote Faculty Senate and increase faculty involvement.

“I want to thank you all for your attendance,” Ortega said, as he ended his final Senate Assembly behind the podium.