When University President Mark Schlissel announced Athletic Director Dave Brandon’s resignation Friday, the press conference marked a turning point in a tumultuous semester regarding athletics for the University’s newly inaugurated president.
Schlissel delivered a set of prepared remarks in Regents Room of the Fleming Administration Building Friday morning.
“To our alumni and others in the Michigan family, I want you to know that we are working to establish the right balance between academics, the competitiveness of our athletic programs, their financial stability and the athletic traditions we hold dear,” he said. “To our students and student-athletes, I want you to know that the University of Michigan is behind you, always. To our fans, I want you to know that we value your support, your input, and your spirit. Recent events have only reinforced my belief that it is important to listen to and engage in dialogue with all of our stakeholders.”
Several University executive officers were also present, including Jerry May, the University’s vice president for development; Timothy Lynch, general counsel; Cynthia Wilbanks, vice president for government relations; and Lisa Rudgers, vice president for global communications.
Friday’s press conference occurred roughly 110 days into Schlissel’s term as president.
“I’ve been on the job for a little over three months, my first 100 days was sometime last week, and things were going absolutely great until I realized we have a football team who people pay a lot of attention to, and then it started going less great,” Schlissel said at a lunch with students from the LSA Honors Program Tuesday.
The University’s president has the sole responsibility to make personnel decisions about executive-level officers. Though presidents often consult with the University’s Board of Regents when making such decisions, the board does not have the unilateral authority to fire an athletic director.
However, Schlissel addressed the athletics controversy at the board’s October meeting, at which CSG President Bobby Dishell, a Public Policy senior, announced that an agreement had been reached with the Athletic Department to decrease student football ticket prices for next year.
“I was deeply disappointed in the department’s initial response in handling the situation,” Schlissel said. “We must be accountable for the facts with a response that is timely and takes responsibility for error. Without this we break trust with our stakeholders.”
In an interview with The Michigan Daily earlier this month, Schlissel said he does not discuss hiring or firing in public or in newspapers.
“One thing I like to do is be a little more thoughtful and reflective,” he said. “People get very excited and they jump to conclusions. Sometimes the conclusions are right and sometimes they’re not and I really feel that my job is to learn as much as I can and about circumstances I’m responsible for … deal with things that have immediacy to them, like player safety, but the bigger issues of how we can make our athletics program more connected to our undergraduate students, to our alums, that’s a longer-term problem.”
Even before the controversy surrounding sophomore quarterback Shane Morris’ concussion in the Sept. 27 football game against Minnesota, Schlissel has been vocal about his vision for the relationship between athletics and academics at the University. Schlissel, the former Brown University provost, was appointed by the University’s Board of Regents in January.
“What I want to be sure of is that athletics exist in an appropriate balance with everything else the University does,” Schlissel said in a July press conference. “Athletics isn’t part of the mission statement of the University. We’re an academic institution, so I want to work on the appropriate balance between athletics and academics.”
In early October, Associate Athletic Director Dave Ablauf said Brandon meets with Schlissel every other week and described the two as having a “a good working relationship.”
For Schlissel, the most important piece of the Athletic Department is the experience of student-athletes.
“I want to make sure the student-athletes get benefits from their program,” Schlissel said in an interview with the Daily in September. “I want to make sure our athletics program operates with unquestioned integrity, with a focus on the athletes and the experience the student-athletes are having.”
In that meeting, the regents voted against a proposal to allow fireworks in Michigan Stadium this season. Despite having unanimously approved the use of fireworks on two previous occasions, the regents publicly debated the proposal for more than 20 minutes.
Regents Mark Bernstein (D–Ann Arbor), Julia Darlow (D–Ann Arbor) and Denise Ilitch (D–Bingham Farms) opposed both proposals and Regents Andrea Fischer Newman (R–Ann Arbor) and Andrew Richner (R–Grosse Pointe Park) cast votes of approval.
Regent Kathy White (D–Ann Arbor) was absent from the vote due to a commitment with the U.S. Army Reserve, and Regent Shauna Ryder Diggs (D–Ann Arbor) voted in favor of one fireworks proposal but not the other.