The first "Campus Conversations" event of the spring 2017 semester, scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 15, will focus on the topic of athletics.
The event, which is hosted by Faculty Senate, will be held in the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center Rotunda, and will run from 4-5 p.m.
President Marc Johnson, Provost Kevin Carman and Athletics Director Doug Knuth will be on hand to discuss the topic and receive questions from the audience. Faculty Senate Chair Fred Harris will serve as moderator.
The discussion regarding athletics and its role for the University comes at an opportune time. The Wolf Pack recently hired a new football coach in Jay Norvell. The men's basketball team leads the Mountain West Conference and has an overall record of 18-4. Olympic sports such as women's swimming and diving (which features nationally competitive athletes in several events, most notably in diving) are also excelling.
At the same time, Wolf Pack athletics, which is not a member of one of the so-called "Power 5" conferences, faces ongoing challenges regarding budget and facilities upgrades in what one national sports columnist termed, "the escalating national arms race that is intercollegiate athletics."
In recent months, however, there have been promising developments on these fronts for the University. Former Wolf Pack star and current NBA player Ramon Sessions donated $1 million to the University over the summer towards the development of a basketball practice facility. The Ramon Sessions Basketball Performance Center will be housed in what is currently Lombardi Recreation Center. With the opening of the E. L. Wiegand Fitness Center set for mid-February, Lombardi will be renovated and converted into this new state-of-the-art facility.
In addition to a discussion regarding the future of Wolf Pack athletics, Harris said he hopes the discussion will also touch on the work done by the University Athletics Committee (UAC), a jointly appointed committee from the President and Faculty Senate. The UAC informs, reports to, and makes recommendations to both the University and Faculty Senate. Its primary charge is to monitor the University's athletics program, ensuring that it meets the highest standards of the NCAA. Nancy Markee, a longtime faculty member in the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources, is chair of the 2016-2017 UAC.
Later this spring, the UAC will issue its annual report on a number of Faculty Senate charges, including reviewing and making recommendations for the hiring processes for coaches, assistant coaches and other athletic department employees; explore funding and programmatic needs which are compatible with a robust intramural sports program; study the demands on student-athletes' time; assess compliance and existing protocols for student-athlete concussions.
"The work of the UAC is instrumental to a more seamless integration and sense of collaboration of the mission of athletics and the mission of the institution," Harris said. "It's important work. My hope is that people who attend Campus Conversations on Feb. 15 will not only have a chance to entertain all of the perspectives we often have regarding intercollegiate athletics, but also come away with a better understanding of the many of the mechanisms which are in place to ensure that there is frequent communication and information shared and a common vision between athletics and the University as a whole. If there are ways these mechanisms can be improved, I certainly hope people will share their ideas on Feb. 15."