It has been an unpredictably chaotic first semester for newly elected U-M President Mark Schlissel. His initial goal of improving the academic allure of the University has seemingly been sidelined by the conundrum surrounding the crumbling athletic department, including the recent resignation of athletic director Dave Brandon. Michigan Athletics seems to be in a rough spot, and fingers have been pointed toward Schlissel to find a solution to the problem. However, an overarching question still remains: is Schlissel even qualified to do so?
To begin, President Schlissel has already started strong in his decision to “accept the resignation” of Brandon. In a press statement, he announced that his decision was “in the best interest of […] student-athletes”, as well as the University as a whole. He then went on to describe all the good Brandon has done for the University—a list that comes nowhere near close to counterbalancing Mr. Brandon’s complete mishandling of his position. Despite this, Schlissel proved to be successful in this endeavor; his actions were quick and concise, effectively removing a glaring problem from the department.
Schlissel also appointed an interim AD—Jim Hackett—to run the Athletic Department for the time being. Hackett is an accomplished business man and, arguably more important to the millions of fans harassing the President, a “Michigan Man”, graduating in 1977. Hackett, while currently untested in the bureaucratic battlefield of Michigan Football, appears to be a good hire for the time being.
Despite Schlissel’s early successes, students and fans alike have expressed concerns over his abilities to manage a prestigious athletic program. The President himself seems to be ignorant to the process in its entirety, only adding to the fans’ anxiety. During a recent press conference, Schlissel reluctantly admitted that his past experiences as provost at Brown University did not prepare him for how passionate U-M is about athletics. He additionally stated that his role as president will be to focus on improving the University as a whole—a statement that seemed to imply that athletics would take a back seat in his mind.
Furthermore, Schlissel has come under fire for his criticism of admissions in relation to athletics. During public remarks earlier this month, Schlissel expressed confusion and almost disgust that athletes of relatively poor academic caliber are admitted in light of their athletic prowess. His comments seemed to imply that he just doesn’t get it when it comes to collegiate sports. These remarks have cast a shadow of doubt over the new incumbent’s ability to fix U-M’s struggling athletic program.
However, to all those who express extreme doubt in Schlissel’s competency: relax. Take a deep breath and look at the issue from a different perspective. President Schlissel has been in office for a whopping 150 days—less than one academic term. To expect any new U-M official to “get it” within months is preposterous and quite frankly, unfair. Michigan Athletics is a beast of its own; U-M is one of very few universities to excel in both athletics and academics in equal caliber. That takes adjustment to understand, especially for a former provost at Brown—a university whose football team has never won a bowl game. Ever.
Looking toward the future, fans and alumni alike must express support for the new president. Schlissel has already made impressive strides toward improving an athletic program that, granted, he may not completely understand. He has fired Brandon, an audacious move for a brand new president, as well as hired a strong new AD that has the potential to remain permanently. A president who couldn’t care less about athletics would never have made such bold moves—especially those that Schlissel has made.
President Schlissel’s actions can be surmised in two points. First, he’s new here. That doesn’t mean that he doesn’t care about the Michigan tradition of athletic excellence; rather, it means that he needs time to learn how to effectively manage the program going forward. Secondly, U-M is still a university, and academics need to remain in the front of his mind, as well as the minds of the University population as a whole. Given time and expertise, in addition to an upcoming decision surrounding the status of Brady Hoke, Schlissel will continue to be given opportunities to show his dedication to Michigan Athletics, as well as his knowledge in excellent academics.
The future for Michigan Athletics looks bright; just give him time.