The U.S. Department of Education has opened a civil-rights investigation into whether Central Michigan University discriminated against Black students by cutting the men’s track-and-field team and planning to replace it with a golf team.
While the inquiry had yet to be posted on the department’s list of open cases as of Tuesday, a Central Michigan spokeswoman confirmed that officials received a letter from the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights, notifying the university of the investigation on Monday.
Russell Dinkins, executive director of the Tracksmith Foundation, a group that aims to increase participation in track and field, said he filed the complaint against the university in October because he believes its actions were racially discriminatory. Eliminating track and field and replacing it with golf — a predominantly white sport — eliminates opportunities for Black men in college athletics, Dinkins said.
According to the latest demographic data from the NCAA, there were nearly 3,000 Black students competing in Division I men’s outdoor track and field in 2021, representing 26 percent of all participants. Only 55 Black students compete in Division I men’s golf, representing 2 percent of all participants.
“It’s a sport that just does not provide the same sort of opportunity in any capacity,” Dinkins said.
Central Michigan announced plans to get rid of the program in May 2020, citing annual cost savings of more than $600,000. In August 2021, officials announced that a men’s golf team would be reinstated — more than three decades after it had been discontinued.
Central Michigan is one of several universities that have announced plans to cut their men’s track-and-field teams over the past couple of years, because of both financial shortfalls and concerns about compliance with Title IX, the federal gender-equity law. Brown and Clemson Universities, the College of William & Mary, and the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities also cut their programs, but the Brown, Clemson, and William & Mary teams were later reinstated following public fallout.
Dinkins said that Central Michigan officials haven’t shown interest in bringing the program back — despite calls from alumni, former athletes, and parents. Last year the Michigan chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan also urged the university to reinstate the program because of the “profound racial implications on students and their families.”
The university will fully comply with the federal investigation and is willing to share data related to its decision-making process, according to Ariadne Harris, a university spokeswoman.
“We have invested heavily in making Central Michigan University accessible, affordable, and supportive for all students, especially for our students of color,” Harris said in a statement. “The elimination of men’s track and field did not and will not derail our ongoing work to make CMU more diverse, equitable, and inclusive.”
Opening a complaint for investigation doesn’t mean the Office for Civil Rights has ruled one way or the other. It has hundreds of open investigations at colleges across the country.