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Tuesday, December 7, 2004
Group sends letters to trustees

Associated Press

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Some black Notre Dame alumni say the recent firing of football coach Tyrone Willingham will hamper the school's efforts to recruit and retain black students and teachers.

Black Alumni of Notre Dame, a group representing about 2,000 Notre Dame graduates, has issued a statement of support for Willingham and is mailing letters to all of Notre Dame's trustees expressing their concern over his firing last week.

"The decision made by the Administration is both premature and unprecedented," the statement said. "It disregards [Willingham's] outstanding first season, off-field success and increased integrity and academic strides among our football players."

The statement represents a consensus of the group's 18-member national board, said Danielle Boucree, the group's chairwoman and a 1991 Notre Dame graduate. Boucree said Tuesday that she and other black alumni were shocked at Willingham's firing.

"They didn't think about the ramifications to the African-American community," Boucree said. "If they are truly dedicated to expanding ethnic diversity in the university, this action isn't in line with that."

When Willingham was hired, Boucree said, there was a slight increase in applications from black high school students, whom she said may have felt more welcome on campus by his hiring.

"This action does quite the opposite," she said.

Black Alumni of Notre Dame raises money for scholarships and helps the university recruit and mentor minority students. Boucree said some members of the group wanted to give up their positions in protest and no longer help recruit students, but they changed their minds.

Boucree said the group is willing to help the university repair the damage caused by the firing. And she said if a similar situation arises, she hopes the university consults people of color and thinks about the impact on the black community.

About 40 black students met with some Notre Dame administrators Sunday to discuss Willingham's firing and how they felt betrayed by the university's action, a student who attended told the South Bend Tribune.

Increasing diversity has been a major goal for the Notre Dame administration.

Black enrollment at the university has been gradually increasing in recent years. This semester, black students account for 3.7 percent of Notre Dame's undergraduate student body.