With Jonathan Edwards College Master and Special Assistant to the President Penelope Laurans retiring in June, the University will soon begin searching for a new NCAA Faculty Athletics Representative for the first time in over two decades.
In 1990, Laurans assumed the role of NCAA representative, a position whose responsibilities include acting as a liaison between the faculty and the athletic department, monitoring the well-being and education of student-athletes and ensuring that they are all eligible under NCAA regulations. Senior Advisor to the President Martha Highsmith said she and University President Peter Salovey have yet to begin searching for a new representative.
“I think we need to find someone who is a great articulator of the values of the Ivy League scholar-athlete and who can use the occasion of NCAA meetings to continue to reinforce the idea that we have a different model than non-Ivy universities and that people should sit up and take notice of that model,” Salovey said.
Salovey added that Yale’s approach to athletics in many ways addresses the more negative characteristics of non-Ivy “powerhouse” schools, though he did not specify to which traits he was referring.
Members of Yale’s athletics community all commended Laurans’ dedication to these values and the FAR role, highlighting the support she has provided Yale athletics throughout her tenure.
“Master Laurans on a daily basis is always there for Yale students and also for our coaches and staff and for me,” Yale Director of Athletics Tom Beckett said. “She will find time to meet with any of us who are in need or who just need someone to listen. Master Laurans is a living legend.”
As the NCAA representative, Laurans said her responsibilities include regulating the degree to which athletics influences the lives of students, the well-being of student-athletes and their educational attainment.
She said at the time she was offered the position in 1990, she was an associate dean of Yale College with a “real interest” in athletics.
“I wouldn’t say my being chosen was quite random — I had the credentials and the interest,” Laurans said. “But there is something to the fact, as I tell JE students, that I was there at the right moment. Like many things that happen to you in life, you happen to be there when someone is looking for someone who can and wishes to do something. You step up — and your life is changed.”
Laurans said her role has proven different from those at other schools because of the quality of Yale and the Ivy League, citing the fact that she does not typically have to worry about whether athletes will graduate.
The informal aspects of the FAR role are also important, she added, in the sense that they connect her with the broader athletics community.
“Unwritten, but what I consider a part of my role, is knowing as many coaches and athletes as I can and supporting them, being a champion of athletes and athletics and taking joy in their accomplishments, being available for problem-solving, knowing people in the athletics administration, working closely with Mr. Beckett on issues that arise on a weekly matter — too numerous to list and too various to list as well, working with Dean [Jeremiah] Quinlan in admissions on various issues related to athletics, working with members of the Faculty Athletic committee [and] attending events as much as I can,” Laurans said.
Both student-athletes and athletics administrators interviewed expressed appreciation and compassion for the significant role Laurans has played in their lives.
Yale football head coach Tony Reno added that Laurans has served as a “mentor” to him as well as to players. She has also played an important role in the recruiting process, including meeting with families on campus visits.
Former football player Isaiah DeLeon-Mares ’10 said he met Laurans his first day on campus as a recruited athlete, and that she was present throughout his entire recruiting trip to provide advice and support. Once admitted, DeLeon-Mares continued to have a close relationship with Laurans, who met with him frequently to check in on both his academic and athletic performance.
“She would sit through the rain [at games] and it was easy to spot her amongst students and fans because she always had a glowing smile on her face,” former women’s soccer captain Jennifer Butwin ’13 said. “Her exuberance and big heart helped lift up both students and coaches.”
Moving forward, Director of Athletics Development Alison Cole ’99 said she believes Laurans would want her replacement to be someone that, while upholding the hard work Laurans has done over the years, wants to leave their own mark on Yale’s athletic department.
“Someone who would think ‘What would Penny do?’, but hopefully forge their own path in this role,” Cole said.
Laurans has served as Master of Jonathan Edwards College since 2009.