In a continued effort to urge the reversal of Eastern Michigan University’s decision to cut four sports from their athletic program, students, staff and alumni gathered outside Welch Hall in protest Friday, April 20.
“We have programs [sports] worth fighting for,” said Kevin Dsak, a coordinator the rally. “These programs are amazing, these programs have been built over decades and are worth fighting for.”
Beginning arrival at 9 a.m., a podium was set up for various speakers to tell their stories in or with EMU sports teams, including current student athletes, sport alumni and members of the EMU-AAUP. Speakers began at 10:30 p.m., taking turns at the podium with Dsak speaking before and introducing each one.
“If we have this budgeting crisis, why are we spending $35 million to build a new facility?” Asked Logan Burton, a former senior swimmer for EMU, “if we could take even some of that money back and fun all of these programs and give the teachers their jobs back, why don’t we?”
Burton said the decision on the cuts blindsided him and the other teams, making the actual action of the cuts even worse. When asked how effective the protests will be, Burton said he and the others could only hope.
“I really – want to believe genuine change will come,” he said. “I’m not going to stop fighting; like I said this is my family and they’re tearing it away from me at least and I’m sure I’m speaking for everyone when I say they’re tearing it away from all of us.”
Former board of regents member (1987-1990) and current county judge for Ann Arbor Donald E Shelton gave a speech as well. When asked about how the board made their decision, Shelton said they were going about it the wrong way. According to him, the lack of credit hours is a university problem, not an athletics problem.
“The problem is tuition – it doesn’t matter how many sports you have,” he said. “If the problem is tuition based, eliminating sports defeats the purpose of having students pay tuition.”
“The point we’re making today is what does athletics have to do with it?” He continued, “I’m saying these four sports aren’t going to change any of that [the finance problems], in fact, they’re going to make it worse.”
Some teams from neighboring high schools were part of the crowd, including Lowell and Catholic Central. Head coach for wrestling at Lowell RJ Boubro stood with 13 members of his team at one of the picnic tables. While the cuts don’t directly involve him, Boubro said it causes a huge ripple effect.
“Where are those kids [graduating high school students] going to come from if you’re taking that opportunity away from them?” He said, “the ripple effect is huge – it’s huge on the university as a whole; extracurriculars, whether it’s acting or directing or the band, extracurricualars are what make the school thrive.”
Boubro has recommended EMU for aspiring wrestlers. Many alumni shared the same sentiment, including Lauren Beck, an EMU alumnae whose family has been going to the university for years. Beck said she was angered by the news of the cuts, driving up from her home city of Chicago to support the protesting athletes.
“My uncle was a MAC champion here, my dad is wrestling alumni, my brother wrestled here and I went to school here,” she said. “We’re here to keep EMU wrestling alive in the state of Michigan.”
Beck said her and her family isn’t planning on supporting the university unless wrestling and the other cut sports are reinstated.
“We’re long, long time donors, we’ve poured so much blood, sweat and tears into this university for them to rip it out from underneath us.”
The Echo asked for comment from the university on the rally and the decision to cut the sports. The university issued a statement in reply:
“The University’s decision to eliminate the four sports was announced on March 20. It is not being revisited and was a final decision at that time. It’s important to reiterate that the reduction of sports was a painful process, in which a central consideration was the future of the affected student athletes.”
The statement went on to say the university plans to honor any scholarships the students came in with should they chose to stay at the university, and will help the transfer process of anyone who wishes to leave. The decision was ‘in line with the University’s budget realignment’ and was done to become closer to other MAC schools by having the same number of sports as they do.
EMU recently created a budget website in an effort for more transparency with financial decisions. “Save EMU Sports” has a website as well where they’ve posted their own numbers related to the sports.
The rally disbanded at 12 p.m., however, multiple members from the rally were later in attendance at the Board of Regents meeting at 1 p.m.