Some alumni of the athletics department have expressed significant concerns regarding the opacity of the search process for a new athletic director.
From the moment Athletic Director M. Dianne Murphy announced that she would resign at the end of the academic year, a swirl of rumors about the search have filled the voids left by what some athletics alumni consider to be a lack of transparency on the part of the University.
While University President Lee Bollinger told Spectator in December that he hopes to appoint a new athletic director by the beginning of the semester, no other details about the search process have been released. The University declined to comment on the search process.
Trustee Emeritus Ed Botwinick, CC '56, SEAS '58, who played on the football team six decades ago, has long been a major donor to the athletics department, the football team, and the School of Engineering and Applied Science. He said that it is in the University's best interest to keep the students, alumni, and fans up to date on the status of the search.
"There's a hell of a lot of probable misinformation floating around," Botwinick said. "It's no big deal to say, 'We're using a search committee, here's who's heading it, here's who's on it, we're making progress, and we expect to announce the results in a week, a month, or whatever.'"
He added that it is the right of the fans to be updated on the search.
"I think I'm entitled to know, as a concerned and interested alum, regardless of whether I'm a major donor or not," he said.
Jake Novak, CC '92, through his blog, CULions, has long been critical of the way business is handled by the athletics department, and has called for transparency from the administration three times in the last two weeks.
In a CULions post published on Wednesday, Novak wrote that alumni and fans would like to see weekly updates on the hiring process for a new athletic director and football coach, and the publication of an executive summary of consultant Rick Taylor's review of the football program.
"Rick Taylor didn't do his report for free. That means university funds, provided by donors like us, paid for it. We deserve to see at least an executive summary of the report," Novak wrote in the post. "If the administration is unable or unwilling to provide the above, it should at least explain why."
"It becomes problematic because the less they want to tell everyone, the more it seems like they're trying to pull one over on us," Novak said in an interview with Spectator.
Additionally, Novak has highlighted numerous other schools that have made the general details of their hiring processes available to the public, including Ivy foe Princeton, which hired Mollie Marcoux as its athletic director in April 2014. During the process, Princeton held open forums to address the concerns and weigh the opinions of students, faculty, and alumni.
Most of the alumni Spectator interviewed do not feel it is the Bollinger administration's responsibility to tell them who the athletic director candidates are, considering the likelihood that most currently hold positions at other schools or organizations.
However, the majority of alumni interviewed feel that information regarding the makeup of the committee leading the search for the new athletic director, the progress that has been made in narrowing down the number of candidates, and a loose timeline should be made public.
But to some, the lack of information is nothing new.
"The alumni have issues because there hasn't been any transparency in the past, so this isn't necessarily a change in course," Des Werthman, CC '93, said. Werthman was named to the Columbia Athletics Hall of Fame two years ago, but wrote a letter to the school in November of 2013 requesting his name be removed following former head coach Pete Mangurian's first 0-10 season with the football team.
“The alumni have issues because there hasn't been any transparency in the past, so this isn't necessarily a change in course.” — Des Werthman, CC '93.
Despite the fact that many of the most vocally upset athletics alumni are former football players, some recent decisions made by the current administration have upset alumni of other programs. For example, cross country and track alumni clamored over the lack of information that came along with the hiring of Dan Ireland to replace former head coach Willy Wood, who led the men's cross country team to an Ivy League championship just over a year ago.
"A lot of people were upset about the way that that happened, and they felt like they were kind of frozen out of the process and that things weren't that clear," cross country and track alumnus Erison Hurtault, CC '07, said. "I don't know how true any of that is, but I would say that most of us would probably just want to see a very upfront, clear, open search."
Contrary to the opinions of many alumni, some are happy to give the search committee the space needed to operate.
Marcellus Wiley, CC '97, saw immense athletic success upon graduating from Columbia. The former NFL All-Pro defensive end and current ESPN broadcaster said that people need to realize that they lack the perspective that the search committee will have. To Wiley, the hiring decision needs to be measured and well-reasoned.
"Leading with you heart can get you in the wrong place," Wiley said. "So I respectfully defer to those in that position, but I'm also suggesting to those in that same position that you weigh all the proper variables for what they are."
Wiley said that some degree of transparency would benefit all parties, but understands the need for not allowing too many opinions to flood the process.
"You can't have too many chefs in the kitchen, so there should be a limit to how much we know," he said.
Although little information has been divulged, many are happy with the decision to bring in Taylor, who has previously seen success as both an athletic director and a consultant, to help the Lions get back on track.
"He had a candid approach, and he was very insightful as to what he wanted to do and what he saw as the obstacles and the opportunities," said football alumnus Greg Abbruzzese, CC '92, who was part of a group of football alumni that sat down with Taylor on Dec. 3. "So, if that's an indication of how they're going to vet the next football coach, that's a great step. If that's the direction of how they want to vet the next athletics director, then that's a great step."
But at the end of the day, while many are skeptical, some alumni are ready to sit back and withhold judgment until the situation plays out.
"You would not believe the circle of wagons taking place among the football alumni," football alumnus Matt Sodl, CC '88, said. "And I think there is a lot of support to want to get behind this program with the right direction in place. It just needs to take its time."
Kelly Reller contributed reporting.
Graphics by Jenna Beers (Athletics alumni requests) and Emma Volk (Light Blue alumni interviewed) Photos from Spectator archives (Abbruzzese, Hurtault, Sodl, Werthman, and Wiley), courtesy of Jake Novak (Novak), and courtesy of Ed Botwinick (Botwinick).