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Division III to study philosophy, beliefs

Aug 8, 2008 8:52:07 AM

By Jack Copeland
The NCAA News

Still focused on issues stemming from membership growth, members of Division III’s presidential governance body kicked off an effort this week to engage colleagues around the country in a discussion about how to deal with ongoing concerns.

The Division III Presidents Council -- armed with feedback received Wednesday night from its Chancellors and Presidents Advisory Group -- is moving forward with plans to ensure that presidents of member institutions play a leadership role nationally in upcoming discussions about such questions as whether the division’s philosophy statement accurately reflects members’ shared beliefs regarding intercollegiate athletics.

The first product of that effort will be a series of “white papers” about specific issues, and after sharing early drafts with the advisory group, the Council agreed to proceed with plans to use those papers this fall to equip presidents-- most of whom spoke decisively against restructuring earlier this year -- to play a leadership role in tackling growth-related issues.

“I think one of the most important and significant accomplishments of the past year was the engagement we saw among presidents and chancellors, not only at the Convention but throughout the year,” said Presidents Council Chair John Fry. “We now have a strong core group of presidents who are really focused on the future direction and well-being of Division III.

“Just because we decided to put aside structural change, that doesn’t mean that these conversations  shouldn’t occur. If anything, they’re more important now, as we begin to think about the Division III philosophy and presidential leadership.”

The papers are being written under the direction of a Presidents Council subcommittee chaired by Widener President James Harris, who says that the papers won’t just address such ongoing specific concerns as financial aid, membership requirements and limits on athletics participation, but seek to open a philosophy-based discussion about the best ways to address growth-driven differences among division members over those issues.

“People didn’t want to move to a Division IV; they really believe in Division III, and we’ve heard that loud and clear from presidents,” Harris said. “However, the membership survey (conducted last spring) does show significant differences emerging, which presents challenges and I think also opportunity for the division.

“I think the big challenge is clearly articulating a Division III philosophy, beyond simply the prohibition of financial aid for athletics participation. And I think the big opportunity we have is to shape a brighter future, and also to brand Division III, and to put us on the right track.”

Harris suggested three reasons why the Presidents Council is writing the papers.

“First, we want to develop and articulate a distinct philosophy statement for Division III that’s clearly understood by all of its members. We’re looking for our ‘elevator speech’ -- beyond the prohibition on financial aid, this is what Division III stands for.

“The second reason is that we really want to have stronger presidential  involvement and leadership in Division III, and we also want to find out, what issues should presidents be involved in….how should presidents participate in the governance of Division III in the future?

“And finally, I think we want a stronger commitment to the Division III philosophy, along with a stronger brand identity.”

To put that process in motion, the Presidents Council and advisory group focused on four of what could be as many as nine white papers that ultimately are expected to be shared with all institutional presidents by this fall. Those four papers address the Division III philosophy and a related discussion of the presidential role in the division’s governance; financial aid standards; academic-related issues; and membership requirements.

Harris’ subcommittee will finalize the papers based on feedback received from the advisory group and also based on further discussion of the papers by the Council at its meeting Thursday in Indianapolis.

Although the papers target presidents as their primary recipients, the Council also plans to share its work with other Division III constituencies, including athletics directors, faculty athletics representatives, senior woman administrators, conference commissioners and student-athlete advisory committees.

The Council expects that conferences -- led by presidents of their member schools -- will discuss issues raised by the papers during fall meetings. Then, Council members hope those presidents also will attend the 2009 Convention and continue leading those discussions on the national level.

“What we’re asking our Chancellors and Presidents Advisory Group to do is to take leadership within our conferences and lead the conversation around these topics, so that when we come to the Convention in January, we can discuss what we’ve learned from our colleagues around the country,” Harris said.

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