Progress update from Bearcat Athletics

by Ed Whipple '74,

Willamette is working on a Title IX review and expanded opportunities for women athletes.


Dear Willamette Community,

I’m now a few months into my role as Vice President of Campus Life and am delighted to be back at Willamette. I’ve been consistently impressed with the dedication and hard work of our campus life team and the many student leaders who shape our co-curricular experiences. Along with our many successes have come some difficult decisions – all made keeping our campus’s safety and best interests in mind.

At the end of May, Willamette University made the difficult decision to discontinue the women’s varsity rowing program. This decision was made following careful consideration of safety concerns and an evaluation of all feasible options to maintain and sustain the program, as outlined in an announcement from Valerie Cleary, Willamette’s director of intercollegiate athletics.

This news is disappointing to many, and I offer my sincere apologies to those negatively impacted. It is critical that we ensure the safety of our athletes as well as provide equitable opportunities to all student athletes and we are reviewing the progress we have made as well as planning for the future to ensure that we meet our responsibilities.

The 2013 Sparks Athletic Center renovations helped to provide expanded locker room facilities to accommodate three men’s teams and four women’s teams and added locker rooms and gender neutral spaces for the general Willamette community. In addition, the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics has worked to balance salaries and positions among coaching and administrative staff members.

Since director Cleary arrived on campus in April 2015, she has worked to review operations in athletics and Willamette’s compliance with Title IX. Over the summer we’ve also had the opportunity to review the results of interest surveys completed by our students last April. The results of these and other efforts will help inform a plan for expanded gender inclusivity in athletics, as well as a long-term strategy for athletics that aligns with the university’s strategic plan.

As this work progresses, we will send regular progress updates to the community. A few important steps have already been taken, including:

  • Facilities review: In partnership with Willamette’s facilities staff, we have gathered information on all athletic facilities for each sport while cataloging capacity, square footage, available restroom/showers, gender neutral spaces, ADA accessibility and deferred maintenance and have begun to identify capital project needs.
  • Working to add an additional women’s sport: Director Cleary is consulting with the Northwest Conference commissioner, her fellow conference intercollegiate athletic directors and other Division III programs regarding the steps and timeline to add as soon as possible an additional women’s sport that aligns with peer institutions in our conference.
  • Ensuring that Department of Intercollegiate Athletics’ sport-specific publicity is equitable: Head coaches have been asked to complete a questionnaire to gather information and feedback about how their sports have been publicized. Student athletes were also asked for their perceptions through an end-of season survey provided at the conclusion of the last academic year. This information will be used to ensure that sport-specific publicity is equitable.
  • Review of practice, game and travel schedules/experiences: We are working with draft policies regarding scheduling and travel which will be reviewed and implemented during the 2016-17 academic year.

In addition, director Cleary was recently appointed to the NCAA Division III diversity and inclusion working group. Her participation and work with this committee will be extremely helpful in informing our efforts.

As noted by director Cleary when the rowing program was discontinued, it is important that we move forward as a community to continue to strengthen our athletic programs and support our student athletes. I thank you in advance for your feedback and your participation in these efforts.


Ed Whipple '74
Vice President for Campus Life

Willamette University

University Communications

Waller Hall, Fourth Floor
900 State Street
Salem Oregon 97301 U.S.A.

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