After the Razorback women’s basketball team decided Nov. 9 that they would stand during the national anthem, state politicians and UA officials have begun talking about the best way to raise awareness for social issues.
State Senator Alan Clark, R-Lonsdale, said Friday that he was “very pleased” by the women’s decision.
The players were not coerced or pressured into their decision to stand by the chancellor or any other UA official, Chancellor Joseph Steinmetz said.
“The women on the basketball team made the decision,” Steinmetz said.
After six members of the team knelt during the national anthem before their game against Oklahoma Baptist University on Nov. 3, state politicians criticized UA officials’ support for the players, which sparked controversy over the matter.
Clark, a member of the Joint Budget Committee, threatened to pull funding from the UofA equal to the amount of money in the women’s basketball program’s budget.
“From my point of view, I was very serious,” Clark said of withholding funds from the university. “But I’m one of a (132) legislators, so me being serious doesn’t mean I would have the majority.”
The team receives no funding from the state but operated with a little more than $4.28 million budget during the 2015-16 fiscal year, said Kevin Trainor, associate athletics director of public relations, in an email.
If legislators took out that $4 million, it would put a 1.1 percent dent into the total operating budget for the university for the 2017 fiscal year, which is a little under $360 million dollars, according to the unrestricted budget summary.
That dent would equal a loss of all 55 salaries for the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design faculty and staff.
Clark said one of the biggest aspects of the protest he had a problem with was endorsements by UA officials like Steinmetz.
Steinmetz’s endorsement of the players’ actions could be interpreted as reflecting the state’s stance on the issue, as players represent the UofA and the state on the court. That was not the platform to express personal beliefs, Clark said.
Clark said he understands Jeff Long, vice chancellor and director of Athletics, should support his coaches. In this case, Long should support head coach Jimmy Dykes, and Dykes should back up his players. When issues’ influences spread outside of the athletics department, UA officials need to step in, he said.
Steinmetz and Clark met Nov. 10 in what Steinmetz called “a good conversation” where he and Clark discussed questions Clark had “posed on his social media presence, including questions about various campus policies.”
“We still have some things to talk about,” Clark said.
The senator tweeted Nov. 6 that the “UA’s leadership (was) out of touch.”
Steinmetz said state politicians would continue to make decisions best for the UofA.
“We trust that our legislators have the university’s best interests at heart, and we understand how important this matter is to Arkansans,” he said.
Steinmetz voiced his support for the players even with the backlash they received.
“I am pleased that the women on the team are focusing their efforts on creating a productive dialogue and programming around the theme of liberty and justice for all,” Steinmetz said in an email.
Long declined to comment on why the women decided to stand for the anthem after the team announced its new Project Unify community engagement program Nov. 9.
Players were also unavailable for comment.
The program, as part of other campus-wide initiatives, would discuss topics of police policies and youth programming in an effort to bring an awareness to social injustices the women’s team was protesting by kneeling.
“It will be key to our student body that we follow through with creating a dialogue that examines a variety of issues, from social justice to veterans’ views and experiences as “non-traditional” students here at the UofA, from a variety of viewpoints,” Steinmetz said in an email. “Project Unify, along with other campus efforts, has the potential to really set a tone for future conversations on a variety of issues. College campuses are places where many viewpoints should be considered and discussed.”