Statement on values and football bowl game, with Open Letter to student-athletes
During my tenure as University of Minnesota President, I have worked to improve the safety of our campuses, so our students can focus on their education and college life without feeling the threat of personal harm. I have worked particularly hard to increase understanding of the members of the University community about the importance of young women feeling safe during campus life. We still have a long way to go, but I am proud of the steps we have taken, including Mark Coyle’s hiring.
One of my jobs as President is to put our institutional values at the forefront of all we do and ensure our actions are aligned with those values. This principle is far more important than any football game and the University community as a whole, and it is more important than any single athletic team. Some of the values that we hold, as a community, include:
- Every member of the University community deserves to be treated with respect.
- Our student-athletes are important representatives of the University, and when they wear the M, they are held to a high standard of conduct.
- When the expectations for conduct are not met, there are consequences.
I understand that members of our football program are disappointed that 10 of their teammates will not represent the University of Minnesota at the Holiday Bowl. That is an Athletics Department decision based on values.
I have heard the call from members of our football team to boycott the Holiday Bowl. Athletics Director Coyle and I have offered, through members of the coaching staff, to meet with the players today to discuss their concerns, but the players have thus far declined that offer. This offer remains open, as we’d like to sit down with these student-athletes and answer any questions that we are legally permitted to address. It is important that they understand our commitment to the University’s values, and why any Athletics Department decision is different from any conduct code and is different from the decisions made in the criminal justice system.
A bowl game is a wonderful reward for an excellent football season. It is my hope that our eligible football players, marching band, spirit squad and loyal fans take advantage of this opportunity. However, the University of Minnesota will not change our values or our code of conduct for the sake of a bowl game.
Out of respect to the Holiday Bowl Committee, we should let them know soon whether we intend to carry through with our acceptance of their invitation. I am hopeful that members of our football team will meet with us before then, so we can have a dialogue about an issue that is clearly important to them and the University community as a whole. While the 10 players are suspended from active participation in the football program, they remain members of the team and students at the University of Minnesota.
Open letter from President Kaler and Athletics Director Mark Coyle, Friday, December 16, 2016
We want you to know that the values of our institution are important to us and we are committed to making certain that we uphold them in all that we do.
First, our institutional values require that we treat all members of our campus community with respect. This must occur above all else and cannot waiver.
Second, we have federal law and University processes in place to ensure the safety and respect of all on our campus. We are bound by these processes, which provide clear paths from investigation to due process. We must respect, adhere to and participate in our shared commitment to accountability.
Third, we all represent something bigger than ourselves – the University of Minnesota – and we must do it with integrity. Therefore, we have a responsibility to live out these and other values on campus and off.
We also value all of you, our student-athletes. Like so many of you, our football student-athletes have performed well academically and on the field. They have grown as a team, and for that, we’re proud of them and will continue to support their efforts in this regard.
Recent events related to the Gopher football program have made this an incredibly challenging week. Many of you and your colleagues are frustrated, disappointed and angry. Many are surprised at the recent suspensions of players and don’t understand, and unfortunately can’t know, all of the details that informed the decision. As a result, the circumstances feel very unfair.
Federal laws do not permit anyone at the University to speak about specific student conduct issues. These federal laws exist to equally protect all students across our institution. In fact, all that we can share is the change in student-athlete status with the team – and to be clear, that is all that has occurred this week. The student status of these young men at the University hasn’t changed. That was a values-based decision by the Athletics Department and not a legal judgment.
But we can tell you that certain behavior is simply unacceptable and antithetical to our institutional values. We support Gopher Athletics’ decision because this is much bigger than football. It is about the values every University of Minnesota student is called on to uphold. We make these expectations clear, and when they are not met, there are consequences. You saw that 18 months ago related to our former athletic director, and it is why we are lucky to have the benefit of Mark Coyle’s integrity and reputation. Our values that led to this week’s decisions are no different.
We’re confident that together, we can get through this difficult time much stronger if we hold true to our values and hold each other accountable. Thank you for all that you do to make your colleagues, Gopher fans and the entire state proud of Minnesota’s student-athletes.
Eric W. Kaler, President
Mark Coyle, Director of Athletics