To the editor,
An odd illogic characterizes decisions made by Ohio University over the last few months: great numbers of departmental staff and faculty have been laid off, with devastating effects on academic curricula. Meanwhile coaches and athletic administrators remain untouched and their programs flourish.
The most recent example of the university’s prioritizing athletics over the academic mission appears in recent announcements about which university programs will welcome students back to campus this fall. Because of a wise concern for student and faculty safety, most classes will not start in person until at least October. But the university has announced that athletes in ten sports are eligible to return to campus in Phase One, “due to specialized facility and training requirements” (https://www.ohio.edu/coronavirus/phase-1-students).
There is another puzzling aspect of the decision to include athletes in the Phase One return. On August 8—over two weeks ago now—the Mid-America athletic conference (MAC), to which Ohio University belongs, was the first athletic conference to cancel the fall 2020 football season, ahead even of the Big Ten. MAC Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher explained the decision this way: “There are simply too many unknowns to put our student-athletes into situations that are not clearly understood . . . . It’s not the easy decision, but it was the right decision.” He went on to say that “the decision to postpone all fall sports was unanimous” (www.cbssports.com/college-football/news/).
If the MAC has canceled all fall sports, why is Ohio University allowing athletes to return to campus while restricting most of their fellow students to on-line classes until at least October? OU has announced that because of COVID-19 it is allowing the return only of students whose work necessitates face-to-face contact. But surely athletics are not more necessary than the university’s academic programs, and most sports do not require face-to-face contact. Are athletes at less risk on campus than non-athletes, or do athletes deserve less protection than other students? As the various sports that might justify a return to campus have been canceled for the fall, why do students who engage in those sports need to be in Athens right now? What facility and training requirements justify risking their health?
Including student athletes in the Phase One return to campus is one more poor decision in a long string of poor decisions. OU appears to have forgotten its mission and values.
Emeritus Professor of English, OU