STORRS, Conn. (AP) — A group of 23 rowing alumni at the University of Connecticut have filed a civil rights complaint over the decision to eliminate the women’s team as part of budget cuts in the school’s athletic department.
UConn s aid last June that it wants to reduce its athletic deficit by about $10 million a year, cutting the need for a subsidy to the Division of Athletics by 25% over the next three years. As part of that, the school decided to cut women’s rowing, men’s swimming and diving, men’s cross-country, and men’s tennis at the end of this school year.
The alumni filed their complaint Monday with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights alleging UConn is in violation of Title IX, the federal law that guarantees equal participation opportunities for women in education, including sports. The women said the action was taken because the school has ignored their pleas to save the program, which they argue has played an important role in molding hundreds of young women into leaders on and off the water.
“For us, it’s about being able to raise our hands and say, ‘Hey, we want this to be taken seriously, because it is a big deal,” said Ashley Kalinauskas, who rowed from 2008-2011 and now owns her own biomedical company that creates cancer treatments for animals.
The athletes declined to make the complaint public but said they believe UConn has underrepresented the number of women would be affected by the cuts and miscalculated the gap between men and women impacted by the elimination of the four sports.
UConn spokeswoman Stephanie Reitz said the school had not been served with the complaint and could not comment on its specific allegations. But she reiterated the school’s position, which UConn President Thomas Katsouleas also outlined last month in a letter to the rowing alumni.
“We used our best efforts to eliminate as few teams as possible,” he wrote. “Our review included a careful analysis of Title IX compliance. While I certainly understand and appreciate your disappointment that the Women’s Rowing Team was one of the four teams ultimately selected for elimination, we are confident that our actions were consistent with our obligations under Title IX.”
The school started the women’s rowing program in 1997 as a way to help offset the male scholarships needed to elevate its football team into the Bowl Subdivision.
According to the school’s annual filing with the NCAA, the rowing team has a roster of 38 rowers but had 62 participants in the program and operating expenses totaling $1,345,104 in the 2020 fiscal year. UConn rowing gave at least partial scholarships to 32 rowers at a cost of $713,417 and its coaches made a total of $196,575, according to the report.
The Office for Civil Rights allows complaints to be filed by anyone who believes there has been a violation in a program that receives federal education dollars.
“The person or organization filing the complaint need not be a victim of the alleged discrimination but may be affected by a general ‘hostile sexual environment’ or complain on behalf of another person or group,” according to OCR guidelines.
It is not clear when the office might respond to the complaint with a decision on whether it will be investigated.
UConn’s last rowing competition, the Colonial Athletic Association championship, is scheduled for May 16.
“Unfortunately, the day is nearing,” said Dana Haddad, who rowed from 2008 to 2010. “So we’re hoping, and it’s just a fingers-crossed situation, that we will hear back soon and can move forward.”