MCTC president defends decision to cut basketball

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Last week’s Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder reported that Minneapolis Community and Technical College’s successful basketball program will be eliminated after the 2009-10 season, based on a student senate recommendation that called it “a high-cost program that served a limited number of students” (“MCTC slates basketball funding for the chopping block,” May 28). But according to MCTC President Phil Davis, sports isn’t the only on-campus program either being reduced or eliminated at the school.

In an excusive interview with the MSR last week, Davis said at least $ 2.5 million will have to be slashed from the downtown Minneapolis two-year college’s operating budget by July 1. Seven full-time and seven adjunct faculty members could be lost, Davis said — along with cutting several student programs such as basketball.

“Basketball isn’t the only program that’s in jeopardy,” Davis stressed. “We have several of our career and technical programs, many of our liberal arts courses [that also] are in jeopardy because of the budget crisis. The governor vetoed $500,000 in this legislative session that was allocated by the legislature to publicly fund [student programs].”

However, many community members and other supporters of the basketball program have disagreed with Davis’ decision to accept the Student Life Budget Committee’s (SLBC) recommendation that the program be discontinued after the 2009-10 season.

The school president said that the SLBC received over $1 million in funding requests and had only $921,000 to allocate. “I think the students found themselves with more requests for funding than they had funds to honor.”

Although basketball represents only about 14 percent of the MCTC student life budget, Davis called it “a substantial part of any budget.” He said he does understand the concerns expressed by many community residents who feel strongly about the MCTC basketball program’s history and importance to the city.

“I think we did take into consideration the community input, and that is why we are continuing the program for another year,” said Davis. “The basketball program has served our college and our students well. It’s true that we are concerned about basketball, but we have other concerns about serving the community.”

Yet, in his May 21 report, Davis complained that “external constituents” were brought in to lobby against the decision to cut men’s basketball. “Even before I had the chance to receive from the student senate the recommendations, we received lots of calls,” he said. “We are always eager to get feedback from folks, but I think it would have been helpful to wait until I actually had the chance to review them.”

Furthermore, Davis strongly disagreed with those who are claiming that MCTC has abandoned its commitment to diversity. Not true, he said, pointing out that around 43 percent of the 13,500 students who attend MCTC are students of color.

“We have nearly 4,000 African American students at MCTC,” he said.

“MCTC has a long history of serving our students well, the people from Minneapolis, and in particular serving students of color.

We have tripled the number of students from Minneapolis and St. Paul going on to college in the last three years.

“These are African American, Native American and Latino students who were reported at great risk [academically]. Those are groups of students that we serve and serve well. We’ve had some 700 students enrolled in our Power of You program, and I believe African American students represent over half the students of color [participating in the program]. We made a Herculean effort to ensure that these students get a chance to go to college.”

Although the basketball team is largely Black and the student senate largely White, Davis stressed that racism had nothing to do with the decision to eliminate the program. The SLBC reportedly voted 6-2 to eliminate the program, with the two dissenting votes coming from the two members of color.

“I think that is a very objectable claim,” said Davis. “This wasn’t a question of race but a question on how we can provide the best possible services to the students at MCTC.” He added that programs for Native American students, Black History Month, and additional multi-cultural events on campus are still being funded. “They [the SLBC] invested money in more health services, knowing that a third of our students have no health insurance.”

The MCTC president said the budget discussions were an open, public process, “and some people participated, and some people chose not to.” However, there are those who feel that the public process was not sufficiently broad.

“There had been no conversations campus-wide with faculty, staff or students on where this was headed,” argues MCTC faculty member Tom Eland, who is also the Minnesota State College Faculty local president. “This has been framed in a way that it’s [either] health services or basketball. An entire 40-year successful program was completely zeroed out.”

Eland also expressed concern that too small a student sample was used to determine whether or not sports should continue to be funded. “The most recent survey [had] 320 students fill out the survey of over 12,000 students, and around 75 percent [of the 320] checked off that they don’t participate in any extracurricular activity on campus and put sports at the bottom of the list,” he pointed out.

Davis, however, countered that approximately 500 students responded and the basketball program “was not highly rated among students.”

Finally, Davis said the students had to make tough financial decisions in funding student programs and should be commended for their efforts. “This is money that students pay, and I think they have done a very good job in trying to put the priorities where the students themselves say they want.”

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.

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