MT. PLEASANT, Mich. (WOOD) — The president of Central Michigan University says racial discrimination allegations are “unfounded” as the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights begins to investigate the university for cutting its men’s track and field program.
The allegations stem from a racial discrimination complaint made by Russell Dinkins, “a national consultant whose organization works to reinstate men’s track and field programs at colleges and universities,” according to CMU. He alleges that the school’s decision to eliminate the men’s track and field team two years ago and replace it with a varsity men’s golf team was discrimination against African American students.
“The allegations of racial discrimination are unfounded,” said CMU President Robert Davies at the press conference Thursday.
The school said that in the three years leading up to eliminating the team there was a $4.5 million decrease in the overall budget. The school’s board of trustees said cutting the men’s track and field team would save CMU more than $600,000 a year.
Last year, the university added a men’s golf program to meet NCAA requirements.
The cost of having a competitive track team is $1 million, while the MAC conference for competitive golf “is about half of that,” according to Davies. He said that eliminating any athletic program is “always a last resort,” and emphasized that cutting one team had nothing to do with the addition of another.
“These were two different decisions, the elimination of men’s track … and the addition of men’s golf,” said Davies.
According to the Detroit News, Dinkins filed the complaint alleging racial discrimination with the federal department of education two months after the golf team was added.
The university said that the 2019-2020 men’s track and field team consisted of 30 student-athletes: three Black students, three multi-racial students, two international students and 22 white students.
Davies said that while the new golf team is still being recruited, eight athletes have already committed. Three of these, he said, are students of color. When asked how CMU will ensure diversity in their new golf team, Davies said the coach, Kevin Jennings, is key.
“We go back to the commitment that the head coach brings with him and his track record … what he has done and what he is doing now forecast a very bright future,” Davies said. Jennings was previously the head women’s and men’s golf coach at Prairie View A&M in Texas.
Muskegon native Parker Aerts was one of the Black student athletes on the track and field team when the program was eliminated at the end of his sophomore year.
“They said… ‘You can keep your scholarships or you can decide to leave,'” he said.
He transferred to University of Missouri Kansas City to run track there. That program was then also cut.
He’s now back in Muskegon, planning to complete his senior year through CMU’s online program.
Aerts said he agrees with the complaint filed.
“It did reduce the opportunities for Black athletes,” he said. “You also have to think about all the incoming athletes that were impacted as well, because we had a lot of Black male athletes that were coming to the school to join the team.”
Although CMU announced three of the eight commits to the men’s golf team are students of color, Aerts questions how realistic it will be to maintain a diverse golf program.
“If you look at other schools and what their golf teams look like, those athletes don’t look like me,” he said. “It won’t attract a diverse culture at the school. Not in the way track and field has the potential to do so.”
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin by recipients of federal financial assistance.
In a letter the school received on April 25 from the OCR, the department said it intends to investigate which “does not mean that OCR has made a decision about the complaint.”
CMU released a statement Wednesday that reads in part:
“…CMU will fully comply with OCR’s investigation and we are willing to openly share data related to the decision-making process.
“In all we do at Central Michigan University, we are committed to the success of our students, to supporting diversity, equity and inclusion on our campus, and to being a welcoming and supportive community for every individual. This commitment is evident in our mission statement, core values and strategic planning — it is at the heart of every decision we make. We have invested heavily in making Central Michigan University accessible, affordable and supportive for all students, especially for our students of color. The elimination of men’s track and field did not and will not derail our ongoing work to make CMU more diverse, equitable and inclusive.”Statement from Central Michigan University
—News 8’s Meghan Bunchman and Jacqueline Francis contributed to this report.