Report says Western falling back

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A report investigating the operation of Western University’s sport and recreation services has emphasized the divide between what the users of the system need and want and how far Western’s administration is willing to go to bridge that divide.

Jim Weese, former health sciences dean and now a special adviser to the provost, submitted a report to the office of the provost dissecting everything from funding issues to staffing to moral to facilities involved in both inter­university and intramural athletics at Western.

The 52-page report contained 41 recommendations.

For athletics at the university, the report paints a bleak picture unless major changes are made in the Western sports model.

“Readers of this report will quickly ascertain that I believe that the unit needs help — and it needs to help itself,” Weese said in the report. “Consequently a new sport model is proposed, as are strategies to heighten program synergies and alternative sources of revenue.

“While we have a proud history, a supportive alumni base and an exceptional record of attracting great coaches, student athletes and committed staff members, we are losing ground to our competitors.”

Some of the issues facing athletics and recreation, according to the Weese report, are an insufficient number of full-time coaches; inadequate number of administrative staff to support the programs; inadequate operating budgets to support excellence; tired or dated facilities, including coaches’ offices and team rooms; and not enough money going toward scholarships to recruit and support student-athletes.

There is also a recommendation to increase student fees to replenish the fund for athletics and a ranking of interuniversity sport teams reflecting their importance in the university’s structure. That ranking of sports teams or a new sports model was attempted at Western a number of years ago and caused a great deal of internal squabbling.

The Weese report says money spent at other universities has left Western “playing catch-up during times of financial uncertainty and austerity.”

Western is planning to close the Thames Hall gym. But even the addition of a $3.5-million new gym and coaching offices isn’t enough the report says.

“However, in 2017, we are falling behind our sister institutions,” the report says.

This is not the first time the university has undergone an examination of sports and recreation services. The report and recommendations will be analyzed and sent to appropriate departments before decisions on anything will be made. Christine Stapleton replaces Therese Quigley as Western’s director of sports and services.

There is one recommendation that will go forward immediately and that’s the hiring of a manager of marketing and sponsorship for athletics. He will be tasked with raising a minimum $400,000 a year.

In response to the report she asked for Janice Deakin, Provost and Vice-President Academic issued her own response. Many of the recommendations will undergo further discussions

“I anticipate that some of some recommendations in the Weese report will be contentious despite the level of consultation that occurred throughout the process,” Deakin wrote.

Deakin did recommend that teams using Western facilities not pay rent for those facilities. That has been a bone of contention for years considering that students already help pay for those facilities through tuition fees and student fees. The removal of those fees should save teams some $300,000 a year.

Deakin said in her report that athletes are no different than students who “audition to play in a musical production, ensemble or orchestras or students . . .”

Given further study Deakin also supports an increase to student fees. The Weese report wants the increase to go from $191 to $239.

Deakin won’t support the recommendation requesting an increase in athletic bursaries and scholarships. Nor does she support early admission be given to certain students.

“It is important to note here that Western already invests significantly in student financial awards and aid and we make this a priority despite operating in a fiscal environment of increasingly constrained resources,” Deakin wrote.

She pointed out that in 2015-16 Western awarded $6.6 million in admission scholarships; an additional $55.3 million for other undergraduate and graduate financial awards; and $16.8 million for student financial aid.

“I believe there is no capacity for further increases narrowly directed to student-athlete focused funds,” she concluded.

The recommendations and both reports will now go to appropriate departments and to upper administrative levels for more study before any decisions on changes to policy can be made.

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