For the first time in years, UC Santa Cruz filled a permanent position that oversees intercollegiate athletics teams as well as the Office of Physical Education, Recreation, and Sports (OPERS). UCSC athletics and OPERS are in a time of transition as they set out to pursue 25 more years of intercollegiate athletics under the direction of Measure 68, which passed last spring.
After looking at administrative models at other Division III schools and consulting with administrators, vice chancellor of business and administrative services Sarah Latham decided to combine the two departments to help reduce the athletic department’s $507,297 deficit. Andrea Willer, the former executive director of OPERS and interim athletics director, will be stepping down effective in March.
Sue Harriman was hired as the new director of athletics and OPERS starting Jan. 15. Harriman’s position marks the merging of two departments into one, occurring just under a year after UCSC students voted to keep intercollegiate athletics on campus.
“With UC Santa Cruz having such a large undergraduate population, the recreation, fitness and club sports need to be very robust and a very big program, which is unusual in most Division III programs,” Harriman said. “It’s going to take a lot of time sitting down with folks and seeing how it works.”
The hiring process took three months and involved a professional search firm, a committee comprised of UCSC affiliates including the presidents of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), and two rounds of interviews.
“It shows a lot with how the program is moving forward by getting students’ voices heard and creating this level of communication on all sides of administration as well as students and coaches,” said co-president of SAAC Chad Stone. “We were able to really get a good sense of who we should hire by the variety of the people in the committee.”
Harriman served as the associate director of alumni and parent programs at Bates College for four years before becoming director of fundraising for athletics, successfully raising more than $2.3 million for the organization.
In order to help Harriman take on the dual role of heading OPERS and athletics, UCSC also hired Dino Pollock as associate director of compliance and eligibility for athletics. Pollock’s position will involve ensuring all student athletes and teams comply with National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) guidelines.
Todd Kent, head women’s basketball coach, PE coach and member of Harriman’s selection committee is looking forward to bridging the gap between the two departments.
“I’m excited about bringing everybody together and working more closely with OPERS and the PE and recreation department and athletics. It’s such an interesting opportunity to be able to come in and build something from the ground up, and [Harriman] is the right person to do it,” Kent said.
Harriman’s background in community engagement and fundraising gives her the skills to prioritize fundraising efforts to reduce UCSC athletics’ financial deficit. She plans on reaching out to as many alumni and community members as possible in her first few months as director.
“It’s not just about asking people for money, it’s about asking people for their time,” Harriman said. “It hasn’t been done in the past very much so there’s a real need and a great opportunity for us to be able to be really successful there.”
While students have complained about a lack of transparency and student participation in the past, OPERS and athletics prioritized student engagement in hiring Harriman.
“I want to make sure that right off the bat students know that I am accessible and that I’m going to be putting in place weekly opportunities to meet with campus and student leaders,” Harriman said.
Harriman’s promise to connect with the student body has the potential to improve the dynamic between students, coaches and administrators. Co-president of SAAC Chad Stone hopes Harriman will fulfill this promise.
“[I expect her] to build strong relationships with administration, her staff, students, student athletes, and maintain those relationships throughout the course of her career here because that’s something we haven’t had in the past,” Stone said. “If we had more of that we could gain more support from the school and also students as well.”