NWC Uses Identity & Integration Institute to Celebrate Inaugural NCAA Division III Week

Katherine Brackmann,
Sports Information and Marketing Assistant at Linfield College

PORTLAND, Ore. – More than 70 representatives from the Northwest Conference celebrated the inaugural NCAA Division III Week by Discovering, Developing and Dedicating themselves to the division’s unique philosophy and mission at the NWC Identity & Integration Institute.

Delegates from the league’s nine institutions, located in Washington and Oregon, actively listened and participated in the two-day conference.  The list of attendees included university and college presidents, deans, provosts, vice presidents of student life, athletic directors, faculty athletic representatives, senior woman administrators and coaches.

As stated best by Dr. Robin Baker, George Fox University President and Chair of the NWC Presidents’ Council, the purpose of the institute was for campus leaders in academics, athletics and co-curricular activities to come away with a “unity of expression” regarding the value Division III places on sports as just one part of a student-athlete’s total educational experience.

“As passionate as we are about winning and we believe in competition,” he said, “when it comes down to it, we deeply believe that the game serves life, not the other way around.”

Dan Dutcher, NCAA Vice President for Division III, served as the keynote speaker Tuesday evening. He focused on what makes the division unique, utilizing statistical comparisons between all three factions of the NCAA and an exploration of the Division III Strategic Positioning Platform.

Speaking on behalf of Division III institutions everywhere, he explained, “We don’t consider those three areas [academics, athletics and co-curricular activities] to be competitive; we consider them to be complementary. They all work together to help educate our student-athletes.”

Dutcher also commended attendees for their participation in the institute, saying, “What you’re doing here today couldn’t be a better example of what we could hope institutions and conference do during Division III Week.”

Wednesday’s agenda included presentations from four additional guest speakers, as well as breakout sessions based on position, where key leaders at each institution discussed best practices for integration.

Dr. Craig Poisson, Springfield College Senior Associate Director of Athletics, shared a historical and philosophical perspective on the administration of intercollegiate athletics. His informative and engaging presentation took attendees on a 160-year time travel, from the 1852 Yale-Harvard Boat Race to present day.

Transitioning the group from ambitious yet intangible philosophical ideals to the down-and-dirty business of promoting integration on campus was Dr. Bob Malekoff, chair and associate professor of sports studies at Guilford College.

“The overwhelming number of things that are going on in Division III athletics are very, very good and very much alive with our educational mission,” he stated in his opening. “But to say that it is perfect or that there are not both internal and external pressures that threaten that alignment with our educational values would be very, very naïve…If we really do want to embrace the Division III philosophy, we need to be ever vigilant in supporting that philosophy in every way that we can.”

He characterized the NWC Identity & Integration Institute as an opportunity to create real solutions. After listing five major challenges standing in the way of complete cooperation in higher education – including the ever-increasing amount of time student-athletes spend on athletics – Malekoff provided several practical recommendations for integration.

One suggestion that was extremely well received by attendees was the implementation of a faculty-athletics fellow program, in which a professor is paired with a sports team for the duration of a season.

Before beginning her presentation on maximizing the role of the senior woman administrator, Judy Sweet, former senior vice president of the NCAA, happily shared that the conversations she had overheard over the two-day conference reaffirmed her decision to stay in Division III.

The institute’s final guest speaker, Dr. Christopher Walker, professor emeritus and retired FAR at the University of Redlands, challenged faculty athletic representatives to be the leaders in integration on their respective campuses. He also encouraged all attendees to move past an uncompromising “academics first” mentality to a more cooperative “academics is our highest priority” frame of mind.

Earlier in the day, attendees participated in roundtable breakout sessions by position. The parties then reported their discussions and conclusions to the entire group.

“In terms of being more integrated on campus, we’re probably not as intentional about it as we could be,” observed Dean Snider, director of athletics at Whitman College. “Somehow we have to take our conversations here and do something about them, plug them into action.”

Snider also took a moment to point out ways in which the Northwest Conference has already demonstrated its commitment to integration. He specifically noted a recent change to the league’s government structure that gives athletic directors, faculty athletic representatives and senior woman administrators more of an equal footing in decisions that require a vote.  

Dr. Beck Taylor, Whitworth University President, balanced a sense of achievement with a challenge to continue working toward integration in his closing remarks.

“While our goal here was not to share our individual playbooks on the field of competition, our goal here today was to share our playbooks when it comes to how we’re invested in these wonderful students that we’re so blessed to have on campus.” With a nod toward the future, he also said, “Let’s not let this be the end. Let’s gather together again in forums like this so that we have opportunities to hear from one another, to share with one another and to learn from one another so that we can be better institutions.”

His remarks were just one example of many positive and insightful conclusions regarding integration that excited and encouraged NWC Commissioner Wendy Guthrie, who assumed primary leadership for coordinating the event.

"The outstanding participation speaks to the level of commitment that the Northwest Conference members have to each other, the conference and the NCAA Division III Philosophy,” she said. “The opportunity to engage in facilitated, intentional dialogue between various constituencies – presidents, head coaches, faculty, admissions, student life and others – was a critical step toward our conference's goal of national leadership."

The NWC Identity & Integration Institute was helped made possible by the NCAA Strategic Initiatives Grant, awarded to conferences for the purpose of providing programming related to social responsibility and integration.

"The NCAA grant funding for Identity & Integration initiatives was integral in ensuring that this opportunity materialized,” Guthrie said, “but it was our Presidential leadership and the campus-wide willingness to engage and participate fully in an unprecedented conference-wide initiative that made it a success."

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