Faculty panel recommends 'life skills' aide for Cyclones
Volunteer would not lead religious activities at ISU's mandatory team functions.
By TOM WITOSKY
REGISTER STAFF WRITER
June 26, 2007
Ames, Ia. - Iowa State's football program should be allowed to have a volunteer religious adviser on its staff so long as that individual does not lead religious activities at mandatory team functions, an Iowa State faculty athletic panel recommended Monday.
Members of the Iowa State Athletic Council voted 7-1 to recommend that Iowa State football coach Gene Chizik be permitted to establish a position that will provide assistance to football team members who seek religious guidance or other types of personal counseling.
"We have taken serious the faith needs of Iowa State student-athletes, but also have worked hard to protect the interests of student-athletes of different faiths and those with no faith," said Tim Day, chairman of the athletic council and professor of biomedical sciences.
Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard said the position would be voluntary and the individual - while having access to players at practices, games and in the locker room - will be prohibited from pressuring or coercing team members into participating in religious activities.
Pollard also said the person filling the position, likely to be called a "life skills assistant," would be required to provide resources and contacts for athletes on-campus and off-campus when they are requested.
"We have student-athletes who have a lot to deal with and often need someone to turn to," Pollard said. "I believe we need to provide that kind of assistance."
Pollard also said similar positions exist on other football programs and that Iowa State football players have had access to religious advisers through the program in the past.
The athletic council recommendation is to be forwarded to Iowa State President Gregory Geoffroy for his consideration and approval.
Geoffroy asked athletic council members to review the issue after more than 100 faculty members signed a petition stating that having a chaplain for the football team would violate the separation of church and state. Chizik had asked for appointment of a team chaplain.
One of the leaders of the petition drive said he doesn't believe the athletic council recommendation will satisfy the 133 faculty members who signed the petition.
"I don't think that the faculty members who signed the petition are going to be fooled by a semantic distinction about what the position is called," Bill David, a professor of music, said after the vote. "I am also a little troubled by the argument that this is going on everywhere else and so it should be allowed here."
In its recommendation, the council said any individual placed into this counseling position will not be paid with any state, university, athletic or ISU Foundation funds. In addition, the adviser will be prohibited from holding any kind of religious activity or service at any mandatory team function.
"This is where we need to draw the line in the sand," said Paula Morrow, ISU faculty athletic representative. "I have no objection to someone having voluntary Bible study with players on the night before a game. I do have problems with someone leading a team prayer before a game because that could be considered coercive."
As a result, the council recommended that the adviser be permitted to engage "in religious activities with student-athletes seeking such engagement outside of football team functions."
Day agreed, adding that any kind of prayers led during mandatory team functions will have to be initiated and led by team members.
"We are acknowledging that sometimes student-athletes have unique needs along these lines, whether it is a matter of time constraints or a need for confidentiality," Day said.