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University of Hartford supporters can't let 'The Big Lie' fool them

Intellectual humility: a character trait, through acknowledging new evidence and changing circumstances, heralding this radical notion that being factually informed leads to better decision making.

And so this is a modest proposal to University of Hartford loyalists who approve of dropping athletics from Division I to D-III: Absorb the following facts and perhaps allow intellectual humility to end your support for President Greg Woodward's bought-and-paid-for charade.

Intercepted e-mails from Woodward to a university professor last week depicted Hartford's potential move as something loosely translated into The Big Lie. In Woodward's words, as he pandered to a subordinate, "be a faculty member with smart opinions on a more equitable experience for all your students, wellness, health, etc. It will be a part of the puzzle that needs to be said, and you can let me and the spin doctors do the numbers."

Let the record show that while university academia favors division — athletics are overvalued and at the root of the university's fiscal woes — men's basketball coach John Gallagher spent a week on ESPN and CBS recently practicing inclusion, hugging custodians and promoting UHart as "the neighborhood."

Consider the aforementioned in light of the following:

Dr. Michael Gargano, the CEO of the Education Think Tank and former Provost and Senior Vice President of the Connecticut State College and University System, studied three charts recently from the University of Hartford's Institutional Effectiveness Factbook. The numbers illustrate a steady decline in applications and enrollment during Woodward's tenure.

"Since President Woodward assumed the presidency at the University of Hartford, overall undergraduate enrollment has declined by 554 students," Dr. Gargano found. "Applying an averaged tuition rate to the student decline indicates that lost student enrollment resulted in less revenue around $19 million. I suspect the overall decrease in net revenue is much worse, as the university discounts tuition upwards of 45 percent.

"President Woodward is right, the University of Hartford is in a financial crisis, but of his doing on his watch. His decision to use intercollegiate athletics as the poster child ignores the budget crisis that rest with his senior leadership team. The Department of Athletics did not create the university fiscal crisis."

Colleges across the country face fiscal challenges. Many college administrators have chimed in to your humble narrator recently applauding Woodward's idea about Div. III, but bristle at his tactics.

Example: Woodward is happy to "spin doctor" numbers in support of the swan dive to Div. III. Except that sources at nearby Div. III conferences (GNAC, NEWMAC, CCC, NESCAC) have neither heard from nor would accept Hartford as a new member for varying reasons. This just in: Good leadership does not advocate change unless other landing spots have been thoroughly researched.

Woodward commissioned a recent study by CarrSports — specifically naming athletics as responsible for Hartford's fiscal difficulties — to perhaps deflect more applicable darts aimed at the shortcomings of his regime. The study, whose findings were described by one college administrator as "establishing the conclusion first and then making the numbers fit," was a sham.

"If your athletic budget is only around $14.5 million a year, and you plan on cutting that budget even more, and your goal is to achieve an additional level of financial self-sufficiency despite operating in a high cost market and with a basketball arena that only sits about 4,000 ... you almost don't even need the rest of the study," wrote Matt Brown, publisher of Extra Points, a newsletter covering the landscape of college sports. "Anybody with a cursory understanding of college athletic finances would know that there's no way to make that math add up."

Woodward is perhaps unaware of what's coming for Hartford based on men's basketball's rainbow ride to the NCAA Tournament last month. Sarah Tuohy, an athletics advancement officer at the University of Evansville, was at North Carolina at the time she researched the impact of NCAA tournament appearances at mid-majors.

Tuohy studied donation and attendance data from 153 mid-majors who made the NCAA men's tournament at least once during 2004-05 to 2013-14. Her conclusion: "After a school appeared in the NCAA tournament, universities saw on average a 6.8 to 10.24 percent increase in total donations and athletic-restricted donations." 

She did not find much of a bump in attendance.

Tuohy's research is consistent with what's already happened at Hartford. During the university's "Day of Giving" on March 12, athletics alone produced $148,595 in donations — and that was a day before men's basketball won the conference tournament. Had they waited a day, donations might have become exponential.

Two Hartford English professors wrote an op-ed in The Day last week condemning the attention paid to athletics while, in their view, the university's finances swirl the bowl.

"Year after year, faculty and staff spend time and energy trying to attract and retain the best students hoping that they will come to Hartford to work with faculty whose salaries rank near the bottom among other institutions in the state," wrote professors Bryan Sinche and William Major. "It turns out that all of us (students, faculty, and staff alike) have been subsidizing an athletic department that generates no revenue and basketball coaches whose salaries are higher than any of our faculty and most of our deans."

More evidence of academia's choice to divide the campus.

Dr. Gargano's aforementioned research suggests that the "energy trying to attract and retain the best students hoping that they will come to Hartford" isn't nearly as successful in Woodward's tenure.

Professors Sinche and Major either cannot admit or don't have the bandwidth to process that athletics, as Tuohy discovered, "make higher education institutions more visible to the public and ... resonate with alumni, parents, prospective students and members of society. Often, administrators in higher education refer to athletics as the 'front porch' of the university."

How important is that metaphorical front porch? Example: Professor Major's bio says his research interests include "empathy and literature, environmental theory and ecocriticism and new agrarianism."

Oh, for the opportunity to ask Prof. Major what he supposes would make Hartford more attractive to Joe/Jane High School Senior: television cameras trumpeting a few thousand crazies with their faces painted in the student section of the basketball game or the prospect of his engrossing forays on new agrarianism?

Hmmm.

Members of the Hartford family must accept what Woodward and his minions want them to ignore: the relationship — synergy in many places — between athletics and academics. The essence of Gallagher's "neighborhood."

"Having a Div. I school is so much bigger than just athletes. It creates opportunities for students of all majors," wrote Sara Mroczkowski in an online petition to oust Woodward. "Communications? Hartford has a student-run production crew for all sporting events that airs on ESPN-plus. Audio engineering? We use their talents to help our productions. Physical Therapy? We work on our athletes and learn sports medicine first hand. Business? They help promote our teams and evolve our use of social media. ... Our president does not embody what our athletics program represents."

It's because he doesn't possess the intellectual humility to acknowledge his failed regime and flawed methods. Here's hoping other Hartford family members understand that athletics exist to enhance and advance the rest of the university's mission.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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