Peter Roby ’79 appointed interim athletics director
Roby will face the challenge of rebuilding trust with student-athletes after the reinstatement of five teams and a full year of canceled athletic competition.
On Tuesday, Peter Roby ’79 assumed the role of the College’s interim athletics director, which he will serve as through June 2022. Roby, a varsity basketball player during his time at Dartmouth and athletics director at Northeastern University from 2007 to 2018, succeeded former athletics director Harry Sheehy, who announced his retirement earlier in February after months of controversy surrounding the elimination and eventual reinstatement of five varsity athletic teams.
“I was aware of the reinstatements and all of that, so I was familiar enough with it to have some context,” Roby said. “I was sad about the circumstances, but I was humbled and honored to be asked to serve my alma mater this way, and so I didn't hesitate to say that I was interested in and would be willing to talk with folks from the Board and [College President Phil Hanlon] some more about the possibility.”
Before assuming the role of athletic director, Roby dedicated five years of work to Northeastern’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society. The center was founded as a social justice organization that focuses on the intersection of athletics and social change, targeting topics such as gender equity, racism and discrimination.
Roby cited former Dartmouth basketball head coach Gary Walters as an inspiration to him, noting that Walters’s example ultimately motivated him to pursue a career in coaching. Throughout his career, Roby has sought to follow in the steps of Walters and use athletics to not only educate, but also to make an impact on social issues.
Northeastern deputy athletic director Regina Sullivan noted that Roby was a spokesperson for Jane Doe, an organization that provides support to victims of sexual violence in Massachusetts.
“He led a white ribbon campaign; it was one of the most powerful things I have seen in my athletics career,” Sullivan said. “To have the athletics director invite all of the male student-athletes and coaches to a women’s event and wear a white ribbon in support of sexual violence prevention and … women who are victims of violence was tremendously powerful. That’s just the kind of person that [Roby] is.”
Roby plans to continue his social justice and community work at Dartmouth, citing Dartmouth Peak Performance as a potential tool.
“DP2 is doing a lot of great [social justice] programming,” Roby said. “Mainly I want to support what DP2 has been about and also just on a daily basis through my own communication and what I think is important..”
In addition to these broader community goals, Roby hopes to hit the ground running in addressing the reinstatements of five varsity programs. He said he recognizes that some student-athletes hold negative views of the administration and plans to make amends with the student-athletes on the reinstated teams.
“It's about just trying to be as empathetic as you can to those teams that have been discontinued and then reinstated,” Roby said. “It's about trying to support them as best you can, trying to listen, making sure that all the voices have a chance to weigh in and then try to make the best decisions that you can.”
The Student Athlete Advisory Committee, which represents student-athletes in the athletic department, is hopeful that Roby will be able to connect with athletes despite the fraught circumstances.
“It is hard right now — given that a lot of athletes are not on campus — to have that open communication,” said SAAC president Nancy Curtis ’21. “Normally you see people walking through the hallways and conversations happen more naturally, but I think both SAAC and Roby will have to make more active attempts for that communication and to open those channels. From our end, we plan on doing that, and from what I have heard, he is planning on doing the same.”
Communication has been a focus of Roby’s throughout his career, having once served as the vice president of U.S. marketing at Reebok. Sullivan expressed her belief that Roby’s lengthy relationship with the College also bodes well for his ability to connect with student-athletes, coaches and staff.
Another challenge Roby immediately faces is the Ivy League’s recent cancellation of competition this spring. While Dartmouth will not be able to compete against other Ivy League schools, the Big Green may be permitted to play against local schools, depending on public health conditions. Roby held a virtual conference with athletic personnel before the announcement of the cancellation was made official in order to prepare coaches to discuss next steps with their athletes.
“This announcement is just the beginning of a lot of planning,” Roby said. “… We’re going to do everything in our power to see if we can put some competition together for our spring athletes. … If it doesn’t happen, it won’t be due to a lack of effort.”
While Roby has not spoken yet with other schools regarding spring competition, he mentioned the University of New Hampshire, the University of Vermont, the University of Massachusetts Lowell and Merrimack College as nearby schools that could potentially be interested in competition this spring.
Roby has many short-term priorities — including coaching searches for the reinstated teams and maintaining COVID-19 protocols — but in the long term, he hopes that with the right guidance, the department can return to normal.
“It’s been a busy first several days, but it's not anything that I didn't expect, and I feel that I am prepared for it after all my years of experience,” Roby said. “I'm just trying to stay focused on what's best for the student-athletes who need me to be working on their behalf.”