From the Daily: AD search must include students

Thursday, December 3, 2015 - 9:52pm

The University confirmed Wednesday that the search for a permanent athletic director has begun and that interim Athletic Director Jim Hackett does not wish to be considered for the position. For better or worse, the University’s reputation is intertwined with athletic success, affecting all community members, including student-athletes, student-fans and even students who don’t care about athletics. Following the disastrous tenure of former Athletic Director Dave Brandon and a remarkable past 13 months with Hackett as interim Athletic Director, the University must be diligent in finding an applicant who’s committed to not only maintaining Hackett’s success, but also to increasing diversity and promoting inclusion in the Athletic Department. Furthermore, the University must keep in mind students from across campus — not just ones who are passionate about sports — to ensure all perspectives are taken into account in the search for a new athletic director.

The University cannot afford to hire another Dave Brandon. Despite his ties to the University as an alum and former regent, Brandon’s mismanagement of multiple situations outweighed any of the positive contributions he made as Athletic Director. Brandon’s mishandling of quarterback Shane Morris’ concussion — which included a press release sent at 1 a.m. and statements that contradicted former football coach Brady Hoke — was abysmal. During Brandon’s tenure, former football kicker Brendan Gibbons was allowed to play a game on Nov. 23, 2013 after being found responsible for a 2009 sexual misconduct allegation by the Office of Student Conflict Resolution on Nov. 20, 2013; a change to the Student Sexual Misconduct Policy in 2011 allowed the incident to be investigated by the Office of Institutional Equity, which resulted in Gibbons’ “permanent separation” from the University. Brandon also reportedly wrote denigrating e-mails to alumni, neglected to involve students in numerous important decisions regarding athletics and raised student ticket prices to astronomically high levels. Ultimately, under his leadership, the Athletic Department became more about the bottom line than heart and tradition.

Enter Jim Hackett, the Athletic Department’s soul doctor. Hackett became the interim Athletic Director in October 2014, heading a department in disarray. In his first decisions as director, Hackett fired an unsatisfactory football coach, hired the dream coach the Michigan fan base wanted and orchestrated a $169 million deal with Nike. Growing up in an atmosphere that promoted deep respect for coaching and sports, Hackett has routinely supported all athletes and coaches throughout the past year. In an open letter after Michigan's last-second loss to Michigan State on Oct. 17, Hackett condemned the violent comments directed at Michigan punter Blake O’Neill, who made a mistake in the last play of the game. Hackett’s demeanor and attitude about the job is admirable. Continuing this culture of respect, financial success and understanding of tradition is an imperative task for the next athletic director.

In a conference call with local media outlets Wednesday, University President Mark Schlissel said, “I’m looking for the best person for the job. It is a $151 million enterprise. It’s a complex enterprise that requires somebody with business accounting and leadership skills and experience.” These skills, along with an understanding of college athletic departments, which Schlissel also mentioned as a criterium, should be the baseline requirements.

The new athletic director must have an unwavering commitment to increasing diversity and inclusion at the University. The Athletic Department has immense influence in steering campus culture and should feel a responsibility in providing students of all backgrounds with a full University experience. This begins by making student tickets more affordable. Earlier this year, a need-based reduced price ticket program for football, basketball and hockey was implemented for students who receive Pell grants. The new athletic director should work to expand this program to include more low-income students, not for just those on Pell grants. Furthermore, student discounts at M-Den locations should be implemented to allow every student to show school spirit affordably.

Currently, the search committee consists of six indviduals, including a coach, a current and former student-athlete, a faculty representative, a member of Schlissel’s special counsel, the University's chief financial officer and the current medical director at Renown Rehabilitation Center in Reno, Nev. Though Schlissel and Hackett said during the conference call they will make it a priority to seek student opinions, it should be done formally in open forums or meetings. In these forums, there must be a deliberate effort to include students of all backgrounds.