Commentary : Here Are 2 Views of SMU Scandal

SMU Student Body Vice President

Editor's note: The football scandal at Southern Methodist University has created turmoil not only on the campus but throughout the state of Texas. Herewith are reactions of an SMU student leader and the president of the faculty senate in two dispatches written for UPI.

I spent my first three years at SMU attending a variety of sporting events without really giving much thought to the NCAA Rules Infractions Committee. I became involved in student government and only heard from the Board of Governors (or was it Trustees?) when we were considering the recognition of the Gay and Lesbian Student Support Organization and met with swift conservative opposition. The university structure was seldom a topic of casual late night discussion on my dorm floor. All of that has changed in my final year at SMU.

When the report of a paid player was aired in mid-November and then followed by other players accounts, my initial reaction was not one of surprise that it had happened but one of outrage that we had been caught. "All of the other schools did it, and everybody knew it, but why did SMU get caught--again?"

Students and faculty rushed to condemn "quasi-professional athletics" in pursuit of "honest amateur" athletics. Students, faculty, staff, alumni, Dallas residents and members of the boards got together for the first time in SMU's history at a town meeting to discuss the role of athletics in the university. Campus and community unity was greater than I have felt at any sporting event. SMU was reaching out to SMU in an attempt to come to grips with its own problem.

So much has changed on campus that one needed a daily diary to keep up with the happenings. Countless committees were formed to address the multiplying issues that faced the University--no president, no provost, no athletic director, no football coach, a dwindling public relations department, out of control athletics, and the list continued to grow.

As the stories unfolded and statements were made, specifically Gov. Bill Clements' statement of knowledgeable payments to student athletes, the focus of conversation began to change to university governance and the once-felt outrage changed to confusion surrounding who really "called the shots" on campus. Even as an involved student leader I was so unsure of the governing structure that I had to go back into the university records to find an organizational diagram. The diagram I found had little if any resemblance to what I would have drawn strictly from my own observation and interaction. Who would have guessed by the way decisions had been made in the past that the Board of Trustees was above the Board of Governors.

The university reached a turning point when a group of bishops from the United Methodist Church was charged with studying the issue of university governance. The majority of the media attention, however, still seemed concentrated on athletics. Critical issues of governance did not seem to be as newsworthy as football, and I seriously doubt if even the students and faculty would sit in the Main Quad of the campus all afternoon and listen to speeches at another "Teach In" in demonstration of inadequate accountability in university decision making.

All the facts surrounding the athletic issue will come to light, action will be taken and this probation will fade from memory. In the interim, the ones hurt most will be the innocent students who will not only lose part of the collegiate experience of football but, more importantly, will lose the transferring student athletes who have become their roommates, classmates and friends.

Perhaps I am overly optimistic or maybe I just have a "warped" sense of priorities, but I still believe that losing football is a small price to pay for positive institutional reform. The question remains, however, as to the priorities of the Board of Trustees. The issue of governance is one that has faded from memory too easily. The innocents hurt by this issue are the great majority of the SMU family that are not in a position of power to change the situation. One has to wonder if the Board of Trustees will see and protect the best interests of SMU and use its power to give up its own authority. That is a decision that the Board must make now if the University is to move forward and address the challenges that face it. One would hope that if they choose not to act that the bishops of the United Methodist Church would exercise their power that has lain dormant for too long.

The question is no longer one of priorities or mission, or doctrine, it is one of integrity.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World