WUOMFM

EMU students, athletes, confront president over school’s decision to cut four sports teams

Mar 27, 2018

Students march into Welch Hall to hand seven demands to EMU President James Smith Tuesday.
Credit Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

About 100 students rallied in the rain Tuesday afternoon, marched up to the second floor of Welch Hall, and confronted the president of Eastern Michigan University.

They made seven demands. They want EMU to find ways to keep four sports teams the school plans to cut next school year to save money. The cuts announced last week are part of a larger effort to close a budget deficit.

The students want administrators to take pay cuts, leave the Mid-American Conference, and more than anything, and get student and community input in major cost cutting decisions.

EMU President James Smith met the angry crowd in the hallway. They asked if he’d take a pay cut to help cover the school’s deficit.

“I’d certainly be willing to talk to the regents about that,” Smith said.

“That’s not a yes or no answer! Answer the question!” students shouted.

Students confront EMU President James Smith (left) in the hallway outside his office Tuesday.
Credit Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

“I’m not going to answer any questions until I review it, no, no,” Smith responded before students drowned him out with chants of “Chop from the top! Chop from the top!”

Would he be willing to sell the president’s residency, the crowd asked?

“Do I think that there’s an opportunity to sell the house for a good investment? If there is I’d support it,” Smith said. “I wouldn’t sell it below it below market value just to sell it. I think we would want to have a good investment from it.”

As for leaving the MAC athletic conference, Smith warned there is a fee associated with that.

“There’s a penalty,” Smith said, “$2.5 to $3.5 million that we have to pay back to the conference if we leave.”

“How much would we save?” EMU senior Faith Williams asked.

“It's more than that? I don’t know that off the top of my head,” Smith said.

“Are you sure another league would take us? I don’t know the answer to that. I don’t know,” Smith added.

Williams was not impressed by Smith’s response. She’s not a student athlete but not all seven demands have to do with athletics. One calls for “substantive responses to anti-black racism and hiring staff to fill all vacant positions that provide critical services to students” to boost student retention.

“We have a list of demands that specifically look at anti-blackness and racism and instead (Smith) incorporated it really passively in his commission,” Williams said.

After the confrontation with Smith, a group of swimmers hung around outside Welch Hall.

The women’s swim team is not supposed to be cut, but they’re still very upset about the men’s team.

“We practice at the same time. We all go out together. We all study together. We all hang out with each other,” Rebecca Winnert, a junior, said of the men and women on the swim team.

She says they all banded together on social media to oppose the cut and started a gofundme page to save the men’s swim team.

A group of EMU wrestlers pose for a photo at the rally Tuesday.
Credit Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

“My teammates are my family. They’re everything to me. I don’t really have much outside of swim so for this to happen I mean that’s just about my whole life going down the drain right there,” said Ricky Perez, another junior.

He says he definitely would not have chosen to go to EMU if it didn’t have a swim team.

Perez and other juniors, like Jake Tyson, have to make a decision to stay and take a chance there is no swim team next school year, or try to find another college team to join.

“At this point, I’m not sure I’d want to swim for another team after being a part of this, so they really put us juniors in a difficult position,” Tyson said.

EMU finished 2nd this year, but has won 34 titles previously.

“When teams are getting cut that’s as successful as this one, no one’s safe, you know?” Tyson said.