Despite publicly stating that it has never collected or recorded racial data on any of its students, Hillsdale College’s administration has submitted information on the race of all student athletes through the athletic department since joining the NCAA in 1990.
Last week, college administrators discovered that for two-and-a-half decades, Hillsdale has complied with an NCAA requirement mandating that coaches collect and submit athletes’ race and gender information in order to complete a mandatory Demographics and Sports Sponsorship form, Athletic Director Don Brubacher said.
The president’s office is discussing a variety of actions, ranging from seeking an exemption from this NCAA rule to more far-reaching measures, such as reevaluating the college’s athletic affiliation with the NCAA, said Chief Staff Officer Mike Harner, who is also the associate coach for men’s golf.
President Larry Arnn said he didn’t wish to comment until he had all the facts regarding the compliance process and had discussed the college’s options with other administrators.
“There is pressure for us to violate the mission of the college, and we resist that with all our might,” Arnn said, adding that he plans to research a multitude of options to fight against the mandate.
At its founding in 1844, the college promised to offer an education to all “irrespective of nation, color, or sex.” In the years since, the college has defended these principles in court, and its historic refusal to accept public funding is based in part on an unwillingness to count students by their race.
Last year, The Collegian broke the news that the U.S. Department of Education excluded Hillsdale from its College Scorecard in part because of its failure to record the racial information of its students.
“We have never collected, that is, we have not collected this data for more than 170 years,” Arnn told The Collegian at the time.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal last year, Arnn said, in reference to keeping track of students’ races, “It’s hugely better if you can just ignore all that stuff, and we can.”
Brubacher said the NCAA requires the athletic department to submit numerous forms every year, many of them requesting racial information on student athletes. While he said the college has avoided filling out race information for some of the forms, the Demographics and Sports Sponsorship form doesn’t allow for that.
“It is my understanding that there are some other NCAA forms where the college has developed methods to avoid submitting information regarding the race of students,” Brubacher said. “The athletic department has not, up to this point in time, found a method to avoid providing racial information on the Demographic and Sports Sponsorship form.”
The NCAA’s Demographics and Sports Sponsorship form exists for two reasons, according to Brubacher: to record the number of scholarships allocated to student athletes that verify the Chargers as a Division II athletic program as well as gather race and gender data for the NCAA’s research on graduation rates and injury studies.
Brubacher, as well as administrators in the president’s office, said it’s unclear if students are aware of this or how the coaches gather the information. While student athletes may not have known that their race is being recorded, all student athletes are required to fill out a student-athlete statement, NCAA form 16 – 3B, which includes the same racial information that the coaches collect and send to the NCAA.
Brubacher said the consequences for not submitting the required paperwork are extreme.
“If we do not submit the Demographics and Sports Sponsorship form, then we are barred from national championship play for all sports,” Brubacher said. “And if a student doesn’t sign the 16 – 3B release form, which allows for the NCAA to have access to the agreed information, such as race, then they are ineligible to play. If these are a requirement for NCAA membership and we do not submit these forms, then our athletic program changes dramatically. It has a huge impact on our student athletes.”
Senior Matt Schrzan, defensive lineman for the Chargers football team, said he was aware that he had to sign the NCAA student agreement form every year regarding his race. He said he never thought anything of it.
“To potentially leave a conference over the recording of race seems like it’s against our ideas,” Schrzan said. “Technically, it’s the NCAA recording this not so much Hillsdale. As an African-American Hillsdale student, I can say that by identifying my race for those forms didn’t change my views on the college at all. That was me applying to be an NCAA athlete — not a Hillsdale College athlete.”
Harner said he is unaware of what moves the administration will take but said it presents a conflict for the college.
“While the form collects a racial demographic of college athletes and not the college student body as a whole, it’s still certainly a compliance burden,” Harner said. “I know we will resist that burden with every effort.”
Harner and Brubacher said they agree that the form puts the college in a tough spot, making them debate between the college’s principles and practices.
“I see both sides of the issue,” Brubacher said. “I fully agree with the college’s historic position on sharing information on gender and race. That has the greatest impact on us, if it is shared with a government agency that has regulatory powers over us. The NCAA is an organization we chose to be a member of. It has nothing to do with regulatory government processes of any sort for Hillsdale College. Whether that makes it acceptable for Hillsdale College to agree to submitting this data is questionable.”
As the college deliberates, Harner said the decision will come after administrators have addressed all options.
“We’ll act, as always, in the best interest of students and the college,” Harner said.