Advancement Should Pay Attention To Athletics
Academics, the arts and athletics are three pillars of student life that often are at odds with each other, especially at Skidmore College. After a meeting with President Glotzbach, the Editorial Board considered the state of fundraising efforts for the Center for Integrated Sciences (CIS), which upon completion, intends to bolster academic life at Skidmore. The building plan has a total cost that has steadily risen from $100 million to upwards of $120 million, approximately one-third of Skidmore’s total endowment, and has only garnered about $38 million in donations over the course of three years. By now, the building should have been nearly fully funded and already under construction. Glotzbach, who once hoped for a naming gift of about $50 million, says the college will now settle for just $15 million in tandem with a sizable debt load. With that in mind, the Board considered the current state of the Williamson Sports Center and its apparent need for funds in relation to the CIS’s fundraising campaign. Presently, students and student-athletes alike often complain about the lack of space, the quality of equipment, the limited lifting hours, and the scheduling issues concerning gym usage. Considering a complete renovation of the sports center is a quarter of the cost for the CIS, between roughly 15 to 30 million dollars, should the administration shift its most immediate efforts to the revamping of athletic and wellness facilities?
Members of the Editorial Board were sensitive to the variety of fundraising efforts underway by the administration. Namely, the previously mentioned science center, the Tang Teaching Museum, initiatives for the John B. Moore Documentary Studies Collaborative (MDOCS), and of course the general fundraising efforts for regular operations which all require aggressive, short-term fundraising. As Skidmore’s perceived academic influence and quality of applicants improve, proper academic resources and modern facilities must also progress. The Board agreed the continued development of academic excellence at the College is more than necessary, but if the price is right, the improvement of athletics, health, and wellness at Skidmore can aid social interactions between students and assist in the recruitment of qualified students to Skidmore.
The Board found easy evidence for the benefits of an improved sports center, which are backed by both studies and statements by other institutions of higher education. In a 2011 study, researchers found that “results showed 81% of students [in the study] agreed that participating in recreation activities has helped them to feel more at home at… university,” while nearly 33% of students participating felt “their opportunity to develop friendships had strongly or moderately improved from participating in campus recreation activities.” Furthermore, Robert Sternberg, the provost of Oklahoma State University, expressed the sentiment that student-athletes “want attractive locker rooms and up-to-date exercise facilities. Providing such facilities also helps recruit students to the institution.”
Improved athletic programs may also nudge alumni and parents of current student-athletes to donate. Gail Cummings-Danson, Skidmore’s Athletic Director, recognized that development of the CIS and of the sports center hold “competing interests,” but the Athletic Department fully supports the advancement of the sciences at the College because of the integrated nature of the sciences and athletics at Skidmore, such as exercise science and physics. Although nearly every single member of the Liberty League currently enjoys exceptional athletic facilities in contrast to Skidmore, students must be aware that their competitors have benefited from major donations for the rapid improvement of their facilities. For instance, Bard College installed an on-campus turf field in 2014 due to a generous donation of $2.2 million from a single alum. Currently, the Athletic Department is awaiting recommendations from CannonDesign, hired in the Fall of 2016 to determine responsible renovations or changes to the Williamson Sports Center.
The CannonDesign project, alongside a gift of $7 million from the estate of Skidmore alumna Susan Kettering Williamson (Class of '59), is encouraging for the future development of athletic and wellness facilities. Cummings-Danson noted that the Athletic Department has “heard loud and clear from students” which has, in turn, greatly influenced future plans for the sports center. She has asked CannonDesign to develop plans for indoor tennis courts, increased recreational space, locker-room space and another lifting area for varsity team lifts. Space management seems to be at the forefront of this project. Also, Cummings-Danson mentioned a recent surge from hockey alumni to construct an on-campus ice rink, but this will of course require great funds and will ultimately be determined by the generosity of donors.
For a complete and comprehensive renovation of the athletic and wellness facilities, Cummings-Danson believes $30-35 million of fundraised dollars will be needed. Despite these hopes for a larger sports center, the question still remains, according to Cummings-Danson, “What do we have space to do?”
The Board understands the predicament of the Athletic Department. To seek enthusiastic donors for the sports center, the department may hinder the administration’s primary fundraising program for the CIS, even though Glotzbach told The Skidmore News, “I don’t think it [CIS] will affect other projects.” Short of organizing large and immediate fundraising efforts to address what are likely the most dire athletic facilities in the New York Six school consortium, we believe simple changes to the functioning of the sports center can quickly impact student and faculty life. Currently, weight room hours during the day are sporadic and limited. Equipment is left broken, as at least six cardio machines have recently been out of order for an extended period. Much of the equipment needs to be refreshed so that the gym could at least look up-to-date. Also, by providing the gym and lifting room schedules for teams, students and faculty will be provided the opportunity to effectively plan their workouts and time spent at the sports center. Simple communication and logical steps towards boosting the quality of student and faculty life are not only possible, but very much within reach. Addressing short-term athletic needs could go a long way as administrators firm up, and hopefully expedite, plans for larger additions and remodeling of our tired athletic facilities.
Photos by Lorenzo Brogi-Skoskiewicz '20