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By Gary Brown
The Division III Presidents Council clarified its expectation for presidential leadership during its August 12 meeting by sponsoring legislation for the 2011 Convention that will emphasize the Council’s future focus on the division’s strategic direction.
The two proposals Council members endorsed would more clearly delineate strategic and operational responsibilities within the governance structure by giving more legislative authority to the Management Council and adding to or creating new groups to shape the division’s future agenda.
Council members agreed to sponsor the following as Convention legislation for January:
The Council also agreed to establish a joint subcommittee of the Presidents and Management Councils to determine which broader concepts warrant review by the Presidents Council.
“That group will establish objective review guidelines that focus on clear, fundamental tenets of the Division III philosophy statement and set the proper framework for identifying issues that warrant the Presidents Council’s attention,” said Presidents Council chair Jim Harris of Widener University.
Membership on the subcommittee would likely include the two presidents serving on the Management Council, as well as the athletics direct reports identified in the second proposal (assuming it is implemented), in addition to select presidents from the Presidents Council.
Harris noted that the concepts had already been vetted through parts of the governance structure since the 2010 Convention, and even before when white papers were developed in 2008 (one specifically on presidential leadership) in the wake of the division’s restructuring discussions.
In addition to the legislative proposals, the Presidents Council also formally endorsed a new policy initiative that establishes “a clear expectation” for conferences to demonstrate presidential leadership.
Harris said that means the presidential bodies within Division III conferences are expected to exist, and convene regularly on the broader, more strategic issues concerning the division in a manner that best suits them. The Council did not mandate how such meetings would take place or how frequently they must occur, though it is expected that they be formal and occur regularly. Each conference also is expected to identify a president or chancellor who will serve as a contact for the Presidents Council.
Harris added that the issue of leadership is relevant, given the division’s unanimous vote at the 2010 Convention on legislation that specifies in the Division III philosophy statement the expectation for presidential leadership and authority over intercollegiate athletics at the campus, conference and national governance levels.
The issue of how that leadership should manifest itself at the conference level gained traction in April when the Presidents Council noted that despite the current legislative requirement for conference presidential oversight, it appears anecdotally that presidents may not actively lead a few of the conferences. A survey in fact revealed that at least six conferences do not conduct presidential meetings at all. Presidential attendance at the NCAA Convention and participation in the Presidents and Chancellors Advisory Group also is spotty for some leagues.
Council members considered incenting those conferences to exhibit leadership activity by offering stipends for presidential meetings via the conference grant program. But the Division III Strategic Planning and Finance Committee and the Division III Management Council at their recent meetings said they preferred that the Presidents Council instead communicate a “clear expectation” for such involvement rather than offering a financial carrot.
The Presidents Council agreed that it was not in the division’s best interests to provide financial incentives to support an activity that already is expected through the constitutional requirement for presidential authority at the conference level and already occurs regularly in most conferences.
Harris said he would re-engage conferences about their commitment to appoint a representative to the division’s Presidents and Chancellors Advisory Group, which meets annually in August and at the Convention. While that group has become more involved in the division’s strategic initiatives, not all conferences have taken advantage of appointing a representative.
He also said he and staff would provide conferences with examples and best practices regarding how other conferences go about implementing presidential leadership. Presidents Council members will follow up with personal appeals to individual presidents at relevant conferences.
“While I will be reaching out broadly, the Presidents Council members are going to reach out to their colleagues, as well, because they think this is important for the future of the division,” Harris said.
Harris said that if the “clear expectation” approach does not produce the desired results within the next couple of years, more stringent action could be taken, such as sanctions that could include loss of membership benefits (for example, conference grant funding).
“We are going to monitor conference representation on the advisory group and presidential attendance at the NCAA Convention, among other things,” he said. “We’re at a stage in the evolution of Division III – especially now that we have developed and are activating the identity campaign – that presidential leadership is no longer aspirational but imperative. We intend to drive that message uniformly to all our constituents.”
The Division III Presidents Council also became energized during a report summarizing a Management Council and Student-Athlete Advisory Committee discussion on transgender issues.
The SAAC had identified that phenomenon as a priority but noted that it may not be garnering the attention from the NCAA governance structure that it deserves.
The Presidents Council agreed, with members calling for the issue to move along at a faster pace, since many institutions at this point would be unprepared should they be confronted with a case on their campus.
Council members felt strongly enough to recommend that the matter be referred to the NCAA Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports, and the Committee on Women’s Athletics for both groups to establish a timeline in which the NCAA would develop a formal policy on transgendered student-athlete eligibility.
The current NCAA position regarding transgender student-athletes recommends that institutions use the gender classification that student-athletes have from their state (such as a driver’s license, tax documents or voter registration) in the eligibility certification process.
In their discussion about the matter with the Management Council, Division III SAAC members said they would support the NCAA pursuing a more formal policy to ensure the well-being of transgender student-athletes. While they recognized the importance of having a policy in place to address competitive equity, their main concern was student-athlete well-being.
Some of the Presidents Council members noted that it was difficult for the transgender issue to rise as a priority for many campuses when other gender and diversity issues (gender equity and homophobia, for example) are more prevalent, but they agreed that transgender student-athletes – while not many in number – should be included in campus-based discussions of establishing inclusive environments.
“Division III seeks to continue to be a model of inclusiveness, and therefore we encourage the entire Association to move more quickly on this issue,” Harris said.
In other action at the Division III Presidents Council meeting on August 12, members: