It is not an easy task to transition from one head coach to another, but the process just got that much harder for the Dartmouth football team and recently-hired head coach Eugene “Buddy” Teevens.
Teevens’ return to Dartmouth, where he played quarterback from 1975-1978 and coached from 1987-1991, is being overshadowed by the release of a letter written by Dartmouth Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Karl Furstenberg to Swarthmore College President Alfred Bloom after Swarthmore decided to stop offering varsity football. Dated December 20, 2000, the letter documents Furstenberg’s congratulations to Bloom for eliminating Swarthmore’s football program as well as Furstenberg’s opinion that “football programs represent a sacrifice to the academic quality and diversity of entering first-year classes.”
The letter, which was released to the Valley News and first reported Dec. 10, 2004, has stirred up controversy in the Dartmouth and Ivy League communities, with some Dartmouth alumni calling for the firing of Furstenberg.
“Other institutions would do well to follow your lead … I wish this were not true but sadly football, and the culture that surrounds it, is antithetical to the academic mission of colleges such as ours. This is really a national problem, and it is a good thing that you are taking leadership on the issue. A close examination of intercollegiate athletics within the Ivy League would point to other sports in which the same phenomenon is apparent,” Furstenberg wrote to Bloom.
News of the letter has spread throughout the Ivy League, but Yale officials said they stand by the University’s athletic recruiting policies and think football players and other athletes are valuable additions to the campus.
Dartmouth was quick to release official statements both from Furstenberg and from Dartmouth President Jim Wright.
Calling it a private communication, Furstenberg said in his statement that he was “very sorry that remarks I made … will offend and disappoint people I care about and who, as I do, care about Dartmouth and our student athletes. The views expressed in that letter do not reflect Dartmouth policy nor do they have any bearing on the manner in which I carry out my responsibilities at the College.”
Wright said in his statement that he became aware of the letter in 2001 and spoke with Furstenberg at the time. Wright said Furtstenberg knew that “the views expressed in the letter are not [Wright’s] and are not those of Dartmouth.” Wright added that he supports the work Furstenberg has done as Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid.
“I have a tremendous professional and personal regard for him and am so pleased with the strength, range and quality of our students,” Wright said in the statement.
Despite Furstenberg’s apology and Wright’s statement of support, the letter has incited a backlash from supporters of Big Green athletics. Bill Wellstead, who graduated from Dartmouth in 1963 and runs a Dartmouth athletics web log, has spearheaded the call for changes in the athletic system in Hanover including a pink slip for Furstenberg.
In a letter Wellstead wrote to Wright and published on his blog, Wellstead criticized Wright for dooming “Dartmouth to continued mediocrity and to continued second class status.”
“With an outstanding opportunity to correct a wrong decision you made four years ago, with the golden opportunity to ‘win back’ a significant body of your alumni to fully support the College, you have again made the wrong decision in retaining Karl Furstenberg and actually praising his work,” Wellstead said in the letter.
According to the Valley News, other alumni have threatened to withdraw financial support from Dartmouth or to divert donations from the college to the football team alone.
In a phone interview, Wellstead said that he is extremely concerned about the situation. Wellstead also compared Dartmouth to Princeton, where he said the Tigers have done a good job succeeding in the classroom and on the field.
“I don’t know how we could achieve the kind of teamwork needed in the administrative staff that schools such as Princeton have amply demonstrated under the 15 years of Fred Hargadon, dean of admissions, under whom Princeton was always first in the Ivy League when you look at the total array of sports, and they have not decreased their academic standing in any way,” Wellstead said. “As a private citizen I ask why we have decreased our athletic standing while we have tried to increase our academic standing. The situation cries for a fresh start, where the needs and desires of all of the stakeholders must be considered.”
On Jan. 26, Dartmouth will make an effort to begin healing the rifts that the Furstenberg letter created. Karen Calby, President of the Dartmouth College Alumni Council, will moderate an interactive web discussion with Wright, Teevens, Director of Athletics Josie Harper, and former Dartmouth player Murray Bowden that is open to the entire Dartmouth community.
Members of the Yale community, including Athletic Director Tom Beckett, said they had followed the issue.
“I have read all the information [about the letter],” Beckett said. “I have no comment other than that I am sure they will work it out, resolve the problem and come out stronger.”
Yale Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Richard Shaw declined to comment, but Yale President Richard Levin said he disagreed with Furstenberg’s assessment of the value of college athletics.
“When it’s in proper perspective, athletics can play an important role on campus,” Levin said.
Yale football head coach Jack Siedlecki said that the letter implies an indictment of many sports besides football and reflects poorly on the Dartmouth athletic program.
“As a parent, it would certainly make me question sending my son or daughter to Dartmouth to be a student athlete,” Siedlecki said. “This is one man’s opinion, but he happens to be the ultimate decision-maker on admission at Dartmouth. He claims it has not affected his decisions on admitting athletes.”
Siedlecki said a strong football program offers benefits to the entire Yale community.
“The Yale President and Corporation support our efforts athletically,” Siedlecki said. “Yale has a 125-year-football tradition, and no event draws more people to campus than a home football game. Yale-Harvard at home every other year brings more alumni to campus than many years of reunions. Football and athletics in general are part of the fabric of the institution, and Yale would be a lesser place without them.”
According to the 2003-2004 Yale NCAA Certification study, the average SAT score for the male students entering in 1999, 2000 and 2001 was 1440 while the average SAT score for male student-athletes entering in those years was 1350. In that same three-year period, the mean SAT of entering female students was 1430 while the mean SAT of entering female student-athletes was 1340. The study on academic integrity also reported that the lowest mean total SAT scores for teams were found in football and baseball with 1330 and women’s basketball with 1290.
Former quarterback Alvin Cowan ’05 said that while he does not know a great deal about the Dartmouth athletic community, he can speak to the Yale administration’s support for Eli athletics.
“I can say that, from a player’s standpoint, having the administration behind you is very helpful, and I feel like at Yale we have that,” Cowan said. “There is a lot of support from the top down. Dean [of Students Betty] Trachtenberg e-mailed me three times probably this year saying ‘I love watching you play, it’s a delight to go out there,’ and just taking an interest [in Yale football].”
Cowan also said that students at Ivy League institutions have talents in different areas.
“What a lot of people forget in Ivy schools is that everybody is more or less academically qualified,” Cowan said. “Everybody’s got a talent on top of that, like playing an instrument, singing, that shouldn’t be held above or held below others. Just because my talent is football, I don’t feel like I should be treated differently.”
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