Hamline News

President Miller Elected to Lead Off-Campus

Hamline University will continue its proud tradition of national leadership within the National Collegiate Athletics Association in January when President Fayneese Miller assumes leadership of the NCAA Division III President’s Council.

The university is no stranger to taking the lead in athletics. Associate Vice President and Athletic Director Jason Verdugo has helped shape the NCAA’s inclusion and diversity policymaking process for years.

But these days, the stakes are higher than ever, both for intercollegiate athletics and the myriad of other issues the President’s Council explores.

“This is a different year for the NCAA,” Miller said. “COVID-19 has impacted finances, championship opportunities for our students, and the way essential programming is delivered. It has also spotlighted the differences among the divisions in terms of funding provided by campuses and that by the NCAA. One of my major goals as the chairman of Division III President’s Council will be to continue to be a strong and effective voice for the division and to ensure that the division, which has the largest number of members of any division in the NCAA, remains as viable an organization within the larger structure as possible.”

The dichotomy is odd. According to the NCAA, Division III comprises nearly 40 percent of the organization’s total membership, including 353 private institutions, and is home to 38 percent of the 503,000 student-athletes enrolled for the Fall 2020 term.

Yet, despite also comprising 43 percent of the NCAA’s voting conferences, Division III receives only three percent of its budget allocation.

Division III also has far fewer governors on the NCAA’s Board of Governors than Division 1,” Miller said, “This is based upon the fact that Division 1 generates most of the revenue. The Board of Governors is the governing body for the NCAA and, as such, sets policies and ensures that all student-athletes, regardless of Division, have influence. I am honored to be a member of the Board of Governors.”

Long an advocate of amplifying the voice of the voiceless, Miller wants to make sure the digital footprint of Divison III is very visible, that student athletes are well supported, and the programs necessary to assist in career preparation in athletics or any other venue is strong and readily available.

The Women and Minority Intern Program, which has provided Hamline students opportunities to obtain mentorships with women and people of color already in the athletic field, ranks second on the Division III non-championship funding list. “Programs like that, that Division III has, are key and we need to strengthen them and ensure their continued success,” Miller said.

“Issues of race, gender, and sexuality in athletics remain a concern. Division III and the NCAA is making significant progress in trying to create opportunities for all. I want to be part of this progress and lending my voice and experience to creating even more opportunities.”

Another vitally important priority is student mental health. “This is an area of vital importance to those of us in higher education,” Miller said.”It is often assumed that student-athletes, given their engagement in sports and interaction with teammates, are mentally healthy. To assume such is a mistake. Like all students, we must acknowledge the mental health challenges students sometimes face and be ready to respond in caring, effective, and professionally appropriate ways.”

Since Division III is about much more than athletics, how can it lead in the NCAA as it’s presently constructed? Miller has an answer.

“Division III has more student-athletes attending our colleges/universities than any other division that is part of the NCAA,” she said. “This means that our footprint in society is tremendous. We, therefore, in addition to providing students with a quality education experience, must prepare them to be contributing and involved members of civil society. We must help them understand and appreciate their role in generating new knowledge, protecting democracy, and living a life that reflects an appreciation of the common good.”

Of course, 2020 has also seen a new emphasis placed on diversity, a practice that has earned widespread acclaim. But don’t tell Miller the work is done – or anything close to it.

“I do not think any of the NCAA is where I would like to see it (in diversity),” Miller said. “DIII is certainly not. The percentage of athletes of color in Division III is not very high. I would like to see this change. I believe we have a lot of work yet to do to help students of color who are athletes to understand the value of playing Division III sports and when they enroll in our institutions, we must make sure they succeed—that they graduate.“

Part of reaching diversity goals lies in making the right hires in coaching and management positions. “Making sure that the coaches and assistant coaches reflect to a greater extent who the students are will make them more likely to come and play,” Miller said.

Hamline can point to a strong record in this area, with Chip Taylor working as the MIAC’s only football head coach of color. Verdugo, who is Latino, adds to the tally with his outstanding diversity record, which includes co-authoring a recent resolution requiring all NCAA member institutions to have a diversity liaison officer.

“When you get beyond that, we have to do more,” Miller said. “Macalester hired Gabby Brown, who was a wonderful athlete here at Hamline and a woman of color, as an assistant track coach. Those are the kinds of hires more of us need to make.”

For Miller, opportunity is everything.

“We need to try to increase diversity among the ranks because when we do, change occurs. That is the work we need to do in Division III.”

Written by Jeff Papas.