Personnel problems plague Athletic Department

By Andy Coghlan

Former and current employees of the University’s Physical Education and Athletics Department leveled charges of mismanagement in the department, which they say is plagued by personnel problems as well as financial and administrative blunders.

These whistle-blowers mentioned several incidents to the Maroon which they felt were indicative of carelessness on the part of department administrators resulting in wasteful spending, a hostile workplace for some employees, and broken maximum occupancy laws.

Moreover, these sources argued that the athletics department places a secondary emphasis on its physical education responsibilities, despite the fact that most undergraduates are required to take at least one of these courses.

According to Alyssa Wright, athletic facilities manager since September 2000, the department’s handling of an incident report she filed last June highlights problems with the department’s treatment of personnel.

Wright was involved in an argument with a prominent member of the athletics department, whose name is being withheld because of University confidentiality policies. According to Wright, the incident revolved around the recent Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision that banned the phrase “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance.

As Wright tells it, she expressed her support for the measure, which drew a rebuke from a colleague who “took three steps towards me, stuck his finger in my face, and said ‘You need to study the Constitution, little girl.'”

Wright filed an incident report immediately. However, she claims that her complaint did not receive attention from department administrators. According to Wright, when she repeated her grievance to a prominent athletics department administrator, she was not taken seriously. Wright maintains that the person she sought help from responded by asking her “‘What do you want me to do about it?’ [This person] completely blew me off,” she said.

“It’s not that I wanted to make a huge deal out of [the incident],” Wright explained. “The problem is that no one did anything about it.”

Frustrated by the lack of attention her complaint received within the athletics department, Wright took her case to Lori Orr, manager of human resources services and employer and labor relations for the University.

Orr refused to comment on the incident, citing confidentiality concerns of her department. Athletics department administrators also refused to comment for the same reasons.

Wright, along with former athletics department employee and fourth-year in the College Cathy Chung, stressed that her own experience was not an isolated incident. According to Chung, “[this was] just another drop in the bucket. These sorts of things don’t mean a whole lot on their own, but there are so many examples of poor management that taken together are a serious problem.”

Wright and Chung also asserted that the hiring practices of the athletics department reflect an understanding of undergraduate physical education as superficial exercise sessions, rather than meaningful classes meant to enrich the lives of the students.

An athletics department employee, who wished not to be named, seconded this argument. This source pointed out that, for the most part, varsity coaches teach the required undergraduate physical education classes. According to this source, while the coaches who teach physical education are capable of directing an hour-long workout, they do not have advanced training in teaching fitness. Several department staffers, however, do have the requisite training.

“One of the teachers has a master’s in architecture, another has a master’s in history. I know of one phys-ed teacher who does not have a master’s, period,” she said.

According to this source, the phys-ed teachers’ lack of expert training means that the classes they teach will not be anything more than isolated periods of exercise.

“These courses get people a good workout, but if I were a student paying close to $40,000 a year, I would want more than that. I would want to know how these exercise sessions could affect my whole lifestyle,” she said.

Responding to criticism of physical education hiring practices, director of athletics Tom Weingarter pointed out that several coaches who teach have specialized in their respective areas. In addition, he pointed out that there are a wide variety of certifications available to athletic trainers and that no single certification should be seen as paramount.

“There are a variety of certifying agencies for a number of physical activities, with varying degrees of importance,” he said.

In addition to personnel problems, Chung and Wright also raised concerns about seating capacity at basketball games in the Henry Crown Field House. They believe that athletic department administrators regularly ignore the lawful maximum occupancy of 1,260 people, posted on the gym’s second floor where men’s and women’s varsity basketball games are played.

According to the athletics department’s sports information office, capacity at regular basketball games is listed at 1,500 people and extra seating can accommodate up to 1,650 people for NCAA tournament play.

Asked to comment on the substantial apparent discrepancy between maximum lawful occupancy and basketball attendance capacity figures, Weingartner expressed surprise.

“Those capacities sound right to me. We have had NCAA events when we have had [1,600 people], obviously when Bill Clinton came to speak [June 1999] we had a lot more.

We have never understood [lawful maximum occupancy codes] to pertain to seating at a basketball game,” he said. Weingartner withheld further comment on the subject, pending further investigation.

Another incident that athletics department sources claim illustrates mismanagement within the department revolves around the recently purchased athletic department truck. The Dodge Ram 2500 was purchased this past year to replace an older-model truck.

According to Alfredo Devila, an athletics department employee who drives the truck, the new model is inferior to the old truck in terms of payload capacity. “Soccer goals, bleachers, tables, water coolers, lockers–the new truck can’t carry all these things, but the old one could,” Devila said.

While it lacks the bed space of the old truck, Devila pointed out that the new model has several features the old one lacked, though none of them are practical for the day-to-day tasks the truck is used for.

“It has four-wheel drive, a tow package, a hitch package–we don’t need this stuff,” he said.

Devila maintained that the purchase of the new truck was motivated by cosmetic concerns, designed to boost the profile of the athletics department while practical matters took second billing.

According to Devila, the old athletics department truck only had about 15,000 miles on it and is currently being used elsewhere on campus.

Weingartner was startled when he was told of Devila’s worries. “This is the first I’ve heard about concerns about the truck purchase,” he said. Weingartner said that he would withhold comment on the issue until he could study Devila’s assertions concerning payload and mileage.