WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - The University of North Carolina Wilmington's Interim Chancellor, Bill Sederburg, announced Thursday, he is changing his mind and giving four track and field programs set to end after this season, another chance.
"We have a group of supporters who have offered to try to do this, and so we are saying go for it. If they can raise the money we will continue to try for another year," Sederburg said in a phone interview Friday.
The sentiment contradicts what the interim chancellor told reporters six weeks ago after meeting with founders of the group Save UNCW Track. At the time, he said there was a 99.9 percent chance the programs would stay cut. In the interview, dated January 13, he said the following about their funding efforts:
"Those are one time funds, and they're pledges they're not actually cash. Frankly, I'm not all that impressed, but you know, it all depends on what you expect they're impressed with it. But it doesn't come anywhere near covering the cost of the track program."
Friday, Sederburg, said in the past few weeks his "thinking" has changed. "I decided that as a new chancellor comes in we need to be flexible and re-look at the issues trying to reunify the support groups."
When asked if the University had the stomach to make hard decisions, like cutting track and field, Sederburg said: "I think that if I were staying on as Chancellor, I would probably not be doing this. We made a decision we were ready to move on, the issue is what conditions you want a new person to start. I became convinced when the offer was a good one, and the group was ready to go that it was worthwhile to explore and give them a chance."
The Vice Chancellor of University Advancement, Eddie Stuart, said the conversation about continuing the four track and field programs started after the announcement to cut the programs was made.
"Quite frankly, it was not a sudden about face," Stuart said. "It has been something that has sort of morphed into being, so although it appears outwardly to be a sudden decision, the truth is, it has been an ongoing conversation for a while." He went on to say, "I think through a lot of discussion with trustees, and even at the UNC System level, I think it was more evident that the fundraising potential was there more than we originally thought."
Stuart said one of the "triggers" that changed their mind, was when they started looking at the re-purposing of funds saved by eliminating the four track and field programs. "[It] seemed to line up with what Save UNCW Track was offering to raise and I think it was one of those things. The Chancellor to his credit ultimately said, 'You know what, we are pretty close here, I owe it to the University to see if this is really possible.' So he was willing to go back on a decision he made pretty certainly over a month ago."
The group has to raise $250,000 by June to fund the four programs for the 2015-2016 track and field season, however, a total of $330,000 is needed. UNCW has agreed to fund the rest.
"I think quite frankly that is a product of the realization that we did take a little more time arriving at the decision to allow them to take this opportunity," Stuart said. "I think the University was interested in being reasonable about the whole thing, for example, if we would have given then another month, we could have expected a bit more [money].
Currently, Stuart said they do not know where the additional $80,000 will come from. "We wanted to make a commitment to lets see if we get there, quite frankly I'm not 100% certain where we would actually find that money." Stuart promised they would deliver the funds, if Save UNCW Track achieves the fundraising requirements.
As part of their agreement, Save UNCW Track also has to secure major funding, a minimum of $800,000, but a goal of $1 million, by February 1, 2016 to renovate the track and field complex. If all of these requirements are met, Stuart said UNCW would fund the programs in 2016-2017 and beyond.
"That completely changes the context of the conversation and quite frankly we would endeavor to suggest the ongoing fundraising effort would be completely taken over by UNCW." He said they would fund the programs just like any other sport.