College cuts swim, diving teams

by Jessica Spradling | 11/26/02 6:00am

Hundreds of chanting students protested the elimination of Dartmouth's swimming and diving teams at the houses of Dean of the College James Larimore and College President James Wright late last night. Administrators announced the cuts -- which become effective at the end of the winter season -- yesterday morning.

Notified only an hour before information on the cuts was released to the public, team members and coaches were shocked and dismayed by the news.

Athletes and non-athletes alike expressed their outrage last night at the lack of communication between the administration and the student body. One student said, "This is our school and we have no voice."

As part of the overall budget reductions across the College, the athletic department faces a nearly 2.5 percent reduction in its $10.8 million budget. Fifty-three Dartmouth men and women are currently on the swimming and diving team, representing about 5 percent of the total population of varsity student-athletes.

The athletic department decided to eliminate the aquatic teams as opposed to spreading its $260,000 budget reduction across all athletic teams, a measure administrators said hasn't worked well in the past.

After a day of long meetings, the swim teams, along with the 2003 Class Council, scrambled to organize a rally in the Collis Center at 11:30 p.m. yesterday.

At the gathering, many students voiced complaints not only about the team eliminations, but about their frustration at what they felt was the administration's refusal to listen to student opinions. Members of Student Assembly and Palaeopitus said that despite College Provost Barry Scherr's and Wright's promises of greater communication between students and administration on budget cuts, students had been totally unaware of cuts to the swim team.

Another student at the rally added that the administration was "totally divorced from what the students want."

After several impassioned speeches, including one by Student Body Vice President Julia Hildreth '05, Miles Harrigan '03 led the crowd of students across campus to Larimore's house, where they were met by several cruisers from the Hanover Police. After Larimore did not appear, the crowd moved to Wright's Webester Avenue mansion, where their shouts also received no response.

As the students marched across campus, the original crowd from Collis was joined by students who heard their cheering, or were brought by friends who had run back to their dorms. At its peak, the crowd was at least 300 strong.

The student demonstration was colorful, and included singing the alma matter as well as cheers such as, "Down with Jim -- let us swim" as well as "Wright is wrong."

Despite the fact that he had "tremendous regard" for the swim teams, College President James Wright said early yesterday evening that across the board budget cuts in the athletic department compromised the quality of programs the College was able to offer.

Because of this, Wright said that he "totally supported" the decision made by Athletic Director Joann Harper to cut the swimming and diving teams.

Larimore said that cutting the swimming and diving teams was a last resort after two years of cutbacks in the athletic department. Larimore said he "felt that in the current situation there had been enough problems encountered with the across-the-board approach" to athletic cuts.

Larimore met with swimmers for over three hours yesterday afternoon to discuss the elimination of their program.

"From the conversations I had with the students and their parents today this is a just a time where we need to be patient with one another and recognize that people are hurting from this. I wish there had been some other way to approach this, but now we have to focus on how to help people deal with the disappointment and anger they're feeling," Larimore said.

Student Body President Janos Marton '04 said earlier on Monday that he was "extremely disappointed" with the abruptness of the "renegade budget cut" that came before the January date that Provost Scherr had promised to disclose the itemized budget cuts to the Student Assembly.

Marton hoped that in the event that students were unsuccessful in reinstating the swim team the Assembly and the student body could help build a club swimming program that could maintain the current level competition. Marton suggested using a model similar to what the club rugby teams have done, with active fund raising and rigorous practice schedules.

Larimore said he would also support a club swimming program, but noted it may be awhile before swimmers are even emotionally ready to consider it.

In a press release, the College explained that the swimming and diving teams were being cut not only because of the $212,000 annual expense of supporting the teams, but also the $20-$25 million upgrade that Dartmouth's Karl Michael Pool is in need of to be competitive with other Division I swimming facilities.

According to Larimore, all other athletic cuts will be minimal and not very visible -- even to campus athletes. They will include spending less on travel and trying to increase revenue through ticket sales.

Eliminating the swim team will not only displace the 53 student athletes, but three coaching positions will be permanently eliminated after the coaches' current contracts expire in June 2003. As with other proposed layoffs, the coaches will receive a severance package and will be assisted in finding new employment. Current Dartmouth men's swim coach Jim Wilson has been with the college for nearly a decade.

The team cuts will also affect the admittance of prospective swimmers and divers for the Dartmouth Class of 2007 who have already applied early-decision.

The cuts came without warning to either team members or coaches. Kemper Diehl '06, a member of the men's swim team, said at first he thought that it was a joke.

"I was completely surprised and I was really angry," Diehl added.

According to Diehl, this puts the younger swimmers -- particularly freshmen and sophomores -- in an awkward position, having to choose between their passion and the college they love.

Mia Yocco '03, the co-captain of the women's swim team, said of today's announcement, "It breaks my heart in every single way." Yocco descriped her team as feeling "invalidated," "disposable," "betrayed" and "disrespected."

Yocco added that this had, "completely changed her view of Dartmouth College."

Men's swimming co-captain Paul Schned '03 said that it had been an emotional day for everybody in the swimming program, but that he was trying to help his team to stay "as positive as possible."

Diehl said he is considering transferring to another school to continue swimming. "It's definitely on my mind but I don't know if I'm going to do that. I want to stay at Dartmouth; I love this place already. I feel like I've put down roots but maybe I'll explore those options."

Though Larimore stood by the athletic department's decision, he understood the emotions of the swimmers and divers saying, "there is no way to appropriately estimate exactly how devastating this is to them."

Yocco said that the rest of the student body, both fellow athletes and non-athletes alike, had been nothing but supportive of the swimmers. Yocco said she herself had received over 300 email messages of support today from fellow students, some of whom she didn't even know.

The swimming and diving team is going to do their best to challenge the administration's decision to cut their program. "We are not taking that for answer. We know that our chances aren't good, but we know there is a chance," Yocco said.

Dartmouth's swim team is a long standing tradition at the college, and has been present on campus since the beginning of official Ivy League swimming competitions nearly 70 years.

While the teams are known for having some of the highest average grade point averages of any Division I team, Dartmouth's swimmers have not historically been extremely competitive.

Explaining why the aquatic programs were cut, a College press release noted that, "We have been unable to stay competitive in swimming, and believe that success could not be attained without a significant infusion of new resources."

The Big Green men have not enjoyed a single victory in the Eastern Intercollegiate Swimming League, which was founded in 1962. The team has also never won a regular season Ivy League championships -- competition started in 1936.

More recently the men's finished 3-9 in the 2000-2001 season, but Coach Jim Wilson stressed that the team was young and had a lot of potential for future success.

Women's swimming has also never won an Ivy League Championship since the women's competitions began in 1977.

"We aren't number one in the Ivy League, but we still love swimming," Yocco said. Dartmouth is now the only Ivy League school without a varsity swimming and diving program.

The Undergraduate Financial Committee decided to postpone disclosing its budget, which it had planned to release today. Though the UFC is completely separate from the dean of the college and the athletic department, a source close to the UFC told The Dartmouth that the UFC had postponed their announcement so as not to cause student outcry over funds received by other less popular campus organizations while the swim team is being eliminated.

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