Amherst Leaders Showed Bad Judgment in Treatment of Coach

To the Editor:

In his article on class and race divisions in college sports at Amherst College (“Behind Ugly Locker-Room Talk, Divisions of Class and Race,The Chronicle, February 19), Jack Stripling opens to public view previously undisclosed details of the resignation of the men’s cross-country team coach, Ned Nedeau. I am among the people Mr. Stripling invited to speak with him when he visited Amherst; like the great majority of those he contacted, I did not accept his invitation. Now, however, I would like to point to what seem to me misguided and prejudicial opinions for which this article has provided a vehicle.

Weeks after the investigation of cross-country team members had been completed, Mr. Stripling happened to be on campus precisely when a new drama was unfolding. In the morning President Biddy Martin disclosed to him that further action had just been taken by the college, this time with regard to the cross-country coach. Later that afternoon Mr. Stripling was with President Martin in her office when she “matter-of-factly” read to him a text message, “Ned has resigned for personal and family reasons.” By way of explanation, she indicated that coaches are expected to set an example, to “create an environment in which all students are treated with respect,” implicitly faulting Coach Nedeau for offensive emails sent by members of his team. It is worth noting that no one has suggested that Coach Nedeau knew of the cross-country team’s emails.

More testimony for Mr. Stripling’s article came from Suzanne Coffey, now chief student-affairs officer at Amherst College, but athletics director when the College split the men’s and women’s cross-country and track-and-field teams and appointed a separate coach for the women’s teams. Since these teams are involved with a range of field as well as running events, the division seems advisable simply for practical reasons. Now Ms. Coffey divulges that the split was due to “concerns about their treatment” expressed by members of the women’s team.  Yet no serious concerns about team culture were passed along to the current athletics director; apparently they were not deemed so troublesome until now, six years later, when they are adduced as evidence of a pattern so serious as to lead to President Martin’s and Ms. Coffey’s public statements impugning Coach Nedeau’s leadership.

Mr. Stripling’s invitation came to me as the faculty liaison to the men’s cross-country team. I have known Ned Nedeau since he first came to Amherst and have served as his teams’ faculty liaison since that program first began. I know him to be a kind man, honest and forthright, a man of self-discipline and courage who stands with grace in dealing with difficult situations.  I know him far better than do the administrators whose adverse judgments are reported here and can attest that his resignation is a great loss to Amherst College. I also know that hundreds of Amherst students would second this judgment.

Personnel matters at Amherst College are usually handled with discretion. That President Martin and Ms. Coffey could not resist the lure of publicity is particularly unfortunate at the present moment. It is a tense time at Amherst College; resignations are becoming a matter of course. And the clear implication here that students’ errors will be visited on those working with them can only make it worse.

Rebecca Sinos
Edwin F. and Francis Burnell Fobes Professor in Greek
Amherst College
Amherst, Mass.

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