A professor on the Purdue University Senate Athletic Affairs Committee resigned from her position following the Big Ten's announcement that a football season will be played, a reversal of the conference's prior decision to cancel games amid fears of the coronavirus's spread.
“This is not an effort to crusade or condemn intercollegiate athletics,” said Stacy Holden, a history professor and member of the AAC. “I really admire student-athletes, I admire what Mike Bobinski has done, but this is a very complicated situation and it’s not one that I can just hear about on ESPN and then be part of a committee that seems to endorse, without being consulted, a policy that goes against or seemingly undermines campus policy.”
Holden referenced the Protect Purdue Pledge, which all students were required to sign before returning to campus. She said its two main guidelines, mask wearing and social distancing, cannot be upheld while on the football field.
“They put in a lot of new policies just for football players, but that gives leave to 600 students not to follow what I understand to be campus-wide guidelines," she said, referencing that this week's decision sets a precedent for other athletic seasons to take place this year.
Her resignation was prompted by a lack of a useful role for faculty in the decision-making process for resuming football this season. Holden said senate representatives on the committee were not consulted on the decision, nor informed in advance of its announcement.
This is not unusual, said Jessica Huber, chair of the AAC.
“We are not charged with decisions about individual sports,” she said, “outside of ensuring that the schedules do not impact the academic success of student athletes.”
Nevertheless, Holden said she could not serve on the committee, which she said would signify her support for the season, without having taken part in the decision.
“So maybe it needs to be in the hands of administrative, legal, medical experts who are consulting with Mike Bobinski and his team," she said. "And if that is the case, let it be clear. I don’t want to sit and say, ‘Yes, in terms of faculty, I can endorse this.’
“I can’t necessarily endorse it.”
Holden referenced a comment from Bobinski, Purdue athletics director, that faculty cannot be consulted on everything, which she said she understood.
The AAC, Holden said, typically meets about three times a semester. It discusses relevant issues to student-athletes such as their learning experience and life on and off the field. She cited a 2017 collegiate recruiting scandal as one such issue, saying the committee focused on maintaining morale within the University’s athletes.
Holden was appointed to the committee three years ago by the University Senate due to her desire to work with multi-faceted students and show them that there is so much more to college life than the specific purpose for which they came.
“I’ve worked with some amazing student-athletes,” she said. “They’re disciplined, they’re engaged, they’re here for a reason. I really respect that. I wanted to be in a position where I could help student-athletes discover themselves both on and off the field.”
With Wednesday’s decision to reinstate a football season, Holden said she felt that she wasn’t able to serve an active role in helping student-athletes.
“I didn’t want to (nod) my head and say, ‘Yes, yes, yes, yes,’ to everything and have things explained to me when really I had no role to play,” she said.
This is only the most recent of incidents in which faculty has felt the University has not included them in decision-making, with concerns raised over the summer that Purdue was not consulting their voices in its reopening processes.
A series of three surveys sent to Purdue faculty, staff and graduate students by the University Senate over the summer showed the majority had consistent levels of apprehension about returning to campus, with 68% of staff reporting high levels of stress and anxiety regarding reopening campus in the first survey sent in June. According to a final report of the survey results, over 58% of faculty reported that these stress levels had increased since the initial survey.
“I felt that I was put in a position where it became very clear to me that I really had no role at this time,” Holden said. “And because I felt that I was being given no real, useful role, that my role by default became just being in a position to seem to support this policy that undermines campus policy.
“And really I just wasn’t comfortable doing that.”