Last week college sports fans in Connecticut were roiled by some startling news. The University of Hartford has been privately considering a move from NCAA Division I to Division III. Grappling with the financial implications of the COVID-19 pandemic, the University commissioned a “feasibility study” from the consulting company CarrSports. The confidential report concluded that the “current Division I-funding model is not viable and cannot achieve the goal of becoming more self-sustaining.”
When it was leaked to the press, outrage ensued. Journalists and alumni proclaimed that the University was failing its student athletes and coaches. One sports writer even demanded the resignation of President Gregory Woodward.
As faculty members, we’re concerned about the outrage surrounding the leaking of this report. Many of these public conversations missed an important point: the University of Hartford needs to build a sustainable funding model that provides all of its students with the resources they’ll need to succeed within and beyond the classroom. We can’t do that when we’re losing $13 million a year by staying in Division I.
One third of private colleges in the United States were at high risk financially pre-covid. Hartford is not alone in examining potential cuts to sports amidst the fall-out from the pandemic. In fact, more than 230 Division I teams were cut in the past year. This is a potential nightmare for student athletes, which is concerning, because as their professors, we are their biggest fans. But we are fighting not just for the student athletes, but for all of our students. We are fighting for the viability of our educational institution so that we can continue serving students, period.
Student athletes at the University of Hartford are an amazing group. We do not get the kind of student athletes that you hear horror stories about: pampered and guaranteed passing grades despite performance. We get the kind of students who are as serious about their academics as they are their sports. They are a joy to teach and often raise the bar in classes, pushing the academic performance of the rest of the class.
But as teachers and mentors, we also care about the success of our students serving in the military, first generation co-eds, international, and non-traditional students balancing multiple jobs or raising kids. Many students need a great deal of support to produce college-level work. These are the students we think of when we consider $13 million in losses each year. Whether teaching in the classroom or directing programs, we frequently advocate for more unique programming, student research experience, better facilities, opportunities to study abroad, support to enable experiential learning, and greater access to the tools that can help students succeed.
While assessing our relevance as a Division I school may seem odd coming in the wake of the Hawks’ first trip to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, it is not a new discussion at the University of Hartford. We have heard this brought up in faculty meetings and public discussions about the University’s budget since 2008. The faculty have repeatedly asked that we honestly assess the costs and benefits of our division one status.
That the University is tuition-driven is not news. Our economic struggles predate our current president’s administration. They have been a constant during our time at UHart. What appears to have changed is that the pandemic has forced all institutions to ask hard questions that could be avoided or ignored in the past.
All Hawks are worthy of our support: not just our gifted student athletes.
Amanda Freeman is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology an Criminal Justice at the University of Hartford. Katharine Owens is a Professor in the Department of Politics, Economics, and International Studies. Rachel Walker is an Assistant Professor in the Department of History.