As published in the Hillsdale Daily News on April 18, 2009
To say a buzz surrounded the incident at Hillsdale College last week involving the student newspaper, baseball team and animal carcasses is an understatement.
While the college responded to questions regarding the situation soon after it happened, the entire athletic department declined to comment on it or respond to any inquiries.
Sports editor RJ Walters sat down with Charger athletic director Don Brubacher earlier this week to clarify some facts and draw some insight on how his department handled a prank that generated national attention.
Q: When and how did you first find out about the editorial and what was your initial reaction?
A: A staff member read portions of the editorial to me the day the Collegian came out, and I carefully read the article the next morning. My initial reaction was disappointment with the message, and what I perceived as the spirit, of the article. My next thought was how to respond, and I soon came to the conclusion that it would be difficult for us to defend the baseball program, or the athletic program at large. For that reason I planned no immediate response to the article.
Q: Did you expect there would be some discussion on campus about it and then it would blow over?
A: I assumed the editorial would create some discussion on campus, and perhaps among our alumni, but had no idea where conversations would go from there.
Q: Did the athletic department discuss the editorial or possible ramifications of it as a staff?
A: I talked to a number of the department staff members individually, but we did not discuss the article as a staff. I was asked how I intended to respond to the editorial. My comment to them was the same as what I described in your first question, that I did not plan to post a response at the time. There are circumstances where it is difficult for a person or group to present a defense and provide appropriate protection for everyone involved, and I felt that was the case in this situation. I did, though, immediately begin to prepare a response if I was asked for comments, particularly by the Collegian.
Q: When did you first find out about the incident itself and then what type of mode did you switch to?
A: I don’t remember if I heard the night of the incident or if it was early the next morning, but it was very shortly after the animals were discovered. The immediate reaction is the same as with any misconduct by our students, and that is to determine who is responsible for the situation, and what needs to be done to make things right and also work with the students involved. In this case the students who were responsible were quickly identified, and the animals were also removed immediately. Then discussions began in regard to appropriate discipline for those students.
Q: Are there players from the baseball team who have been suspended or will be suspended in the future?
A: The disciplinary action taken for any student at Hillsdale College, in any circumstance, is not a matter of public record.
Q: Why do you feel it was in the college’s best interest to wait until now to make a statement from the athletic department?
A: First of all, I think the college wanted to make certain they had all the facts before a statement was issued, but they did move quickly to prepare the release. I believe the official statement was posted the next day, less than 24 hours after the incident. It seemed to all of us that one statement representing the college, rather than separate statements from a number of departments, was the best approach. The information in the release was distributed to all areas of the college involved in the situation, and we were given opportunity to comment before the release. I thought the statement was issued in a timely manner and that it was accurate, fair and appropriate, so additional comment was unnecessary.
Q: The Collegian obviously had the ability to go online and apologize and put something in their next edition saying they are sorry. It’s a lot different than what the baseball team and athletic department has had to go through. Do you feel from you involvement in the situation that there is some level of remorse from the people involved?
A: I believe the students involved in the incident had no idea how it would be viewed on campus or off campus. I expect they certainly would not have been involved if they had any notion of the response. I believe they viewed their actions as a typical college prank.
Q: What is the biggest misconception you are finding or hearing about the situation?
A: This situation has been viewed by people from many different parts of the country. It seems many do not want to accept the fact that all the animals died as a result of accidents with autos, possibly because they cannot identify with the wild animal population in our area. Many animals die as a result of collisions on our roads, and that was the case with these animals. It seems that fact is often disputed, no matter what is printed and otherwise communicated. Everything changes if that were not true, and it seems some will just not accept those facts.
Q: How do you look at this whole situation from a PR standpoint? It is your job as an athletic department, and specifically a baseball program, to bring in the highest quality student athletes and that’s going to presumably be more difficult now with this kind of black-eye to the department. How do you downplay this and just get back to business?
A: I don’t think we can downplay it. I think the best thing we can do is continue to tell the truth about the incident and make it clear we do not support or condone the activity in any way, and that we are dealing with the involved students the best way we possibly can.
Q: It is fair for the college to have an opinion on how this entire event was handled. Do you think it was overblown and if somehow it was kept in house, do you think you could have still handed out punishment and taken care of it without all the attention?
A: Brubacher declined to respond to this question.
Q: Ultimately, a sizable part of your job and the reason a lot of people in athletic departments nationwide have a passion for what they do is because they can teach young adults life lessons. How can you take this situation and help the individuals involved learn from the experience?
A: It is certainly our goal to create learning experiences from both positive and negative circumstances, and we hope to have accomplished that in this situation. I believe this has been a powerful life lesson for members of the baseball team as well as other Hillsdale students. They are seeing the results of actions that are certainly not well thought out and are inappropriate. We have made a huge effort with members of the baseball team in particular to understand that.
Q: The college is the one taking the flak for this entire situation, but in reality, it is just one incident between two parties on your campus. How much would you like to stress that this is not representative of the college as a whole?
A: What you described is what makes this incident the most painful. Hillsdale College has been built on, and continues to support and develop, high principles. The view some have taken of this incident is grossly in contrast to what Hillsdale stands for and how it operates. We clearly promote the best in our student’s behavior, and it is unfair to judge the College by the perception of this incident.