The Columbia football team lost its ninth straight game this season on Saturday, falling to Cornell 24-9. This as yet winless season has raised questions about the performance of head coach Pete Mangurian, who is only two years into his tenure.
To us, though, it seems that Columbia is troubled by problems in both its athletic record and in the role of athletics. It's time for University President Lee Bollinger to fire Athletic Director M. Dianne Murphy and bring in new leadership for the department.
While Murphy's time at Columbia began in 2004 with a number of successes, the last few years have seen a dearth of victories. Columbia team sports have won only four Ivy titles in the last three years. Murphy's first hire in football, former head coach Norries Wilson, was unsuccessful, and he was fired after a 1-9 season two years ago. Under Mangurian—a former co-worker of Murphy's—the team is the worst it has been since a 44-game losing streak in the 1980s. Bad luck and injuries do not excuse being outscored 354-66 by your opponents.
But it's not just the marquee sports that have been generally unsuccessful during Murphy's tenure. Despite individual triumphs, Columbia sports teams have been spectacularly unsuccessful at winning Ivy titles. Furthermore, the successes in Murphy's early years were likely due to hires that predated her. Murphy's tenure still represents an improvement over those of her predecessors, but the change has been insufficient. At a school that fields 31 varsity athletic teams in a conference with only eight schools, these results are entirely unacceptable. Were the results randomly distributed, you would expect Columbia to have hauled in approximately 12 titles during the same time interval. We expect better.
This is about far more than a losing record, though. We're also extremely concerned with the perception and role of athletics on campus. Our community values athletics as a part of the Core Curriculum: Students in Columbia College and the School of Engineering and Applied Science are required to complete two semesters of physical education. Murphy holds the title of “director of physical education,” but we find her commitment to undergraduates—particularly to those who do not play varsity sports—lacking. Murphy's signature initiative was the construction of the Campbell Sports Center at Baker Athletics Complex, a facility for varsity sports teams. While this building may have been necessary, Dodge Fitness Center hasn't been renovated in nearly 20 years. Murphy has hidden behind the logistics and difficulty of a complete overhaul, but this does not legitimize the extent to which Dodge has been neglected. Dodge is a facility that is used by undergraduate and graduate students, as well as by professors and non-affiliates. It is desperately in need of complete refurbishment.
The attitude of the athletic department is set at the top, and that tone has been toxic during Murphy's tenure. Since her arrival, she and her staff have clashed with the rest of the University: They tried to prohibit tailgating and alcohol at Baker Field during Murphy's first year, hindered club sports teams trying to find practice space, attempted to ban the marching band from the final football game of the 2011 season, and have persistently strained relationships with campus media that attempt to cover teams and spread community interest.
Under Murphy's direction, sports teams have been involved in controversial incidents with no public repercussions. During the last year alone, the field hockey team was involved in a hazing scandal, while the football team came under fire in the spring for persistent use of racist and homophobic language against fellow students on Twitter. No public consequences were announced for the teams involved, and Murphy's department has worked to sweep the issues under the rug. Athletics is largely about perception and image, and under Murphy, the reputation of the athletic department has plummeted.
The next athletic director would not only be responsible for assessing Mangurian's employment, but also—and more importantly—would shape the role of athletics at Columbia. We'd like to see someone who understands the needs and desires of the larger Columbia community. We'd like to see someone who treats all undergraduates with respect. We'd like to see someone who makes working for the whole community his or her top priority. And we'd like to see someone who's committed not only to fielding competitive and winning teams in all sports, but also to making sure these achievements are valued in the campus community.
Only by finding new leadership can we solve the problems surrounding the athletic department.