Former Athletic Director Josie Harper, who stepped down from her post on July 2, will be particularly remembered for the renovation and construction of athletic facilities completed during her tenure and the nurturing environment she fostered, according to interim Athletic Director Bob Ceplikas ’78, who will serve as athletic director for the 2009-2010 school year., until a new athletic director is installed. The search to fill that position is currently underway, according to Dean of the College Tom Crady.
Harper, the first female athletic director in the Ivy League, ascended to the post in 2002, after being a nationally-recognized women’s lacrosse coach at the College since 1981. Harper cited her age and the retirement of former College President James Wright as factors in her decision to retire, The Dartmouth previously reported.
During Harper’s time as athletic director, she oversaw the construction of Floren Varsity House as well as the completion of the Burnham Soccer and Sports Pavilion, the Fahey-Scully field hockey field and the Corey Ford Rugby Clubhouse. Many other facilities were also renovated during Harper’s tenure, including Alumni Gymnasium, Memorial Field, Leede Arena and the baseball field, now known as Red Rolfe Field at Biondi Park.
Harper was instrumental in negotiating approval for these facilities and was also involved with the design and planning, Ceplikas said.
“I think the facility improvements that have taken place under [Harper’s] watch have had a huge impact on our student athletes both our varsity athletes and recreational users,” Ceplikas said. “I think the two facilities that symbolize the impact are the fitness center, which has an incredible amount of student traffic, and the varsity strength training center in Floren Varsity House which has had a wonderful impact on strength and conditioning training for our varsity teams.”
The reconstruction of Alumni Gymnasium was the “highlight” of her career, Harper said in a January interview with The Dartmouth.
Harper also said in that interview that her most difficult choice as athletic director was the decision to cut funding for the Dartmouth swim team in 2002. After the team raised $2 million in 2003, the College administration reinstated the team.
Harper’s tenure was marked by controversy in 2006 when she publicly apologized for inviting the University of North Dakota’s Fighting Sioux hockey team to play at the College.
Harper said the University’s mascot was “offensive and wrong” in a 2006 letter to The Dartmouth, and said the match would cause “pain” for Native American students.
UND’s President responded by saying that Harper was seeking to “deflect [Dartmouth’s] problems onto the University of North Dakota,” according to a previous article in The Dartmouth.
The controversy received national media attention in The New York Times, the Boston Globe and Inside Higher Ed.
Men’s hockey head coach Bob Gaudet ’81, who has known Harper since he graduated from the College, said Harper’s experience as a coach helped her to be an effective administrator.
“She understood about dealing with students, coaching a team, competitiveness,” he said. “She always had empathy for what you were doing.”
Gaudet said he also appreciated the support Harper had for his hockey team, most notably when they won the Eastern College Athletic Conference Championship in 2006.
“We won the regular season championship on the last day of the season, and I saw her down there by our locker room, and she was just so excited for us, for our players,” he said. “To have the athletic director down there after the game, congratulating all of the players to see her excitement, not for herself, but for our players, was something I’ll always remember.”
Both Ceplikas and Gaudet said Harper was a mentor for them in the athletic department.
“She was always one to reach out to her colleagues, to work together on solutions to challenges,” Ceplikas said.
Harper also coached the U.S. World Cup lacrosse team in 1986 after assisting with the U.S. world championship team in 1982. She was named Eastern College Athletic Conference female athletic administrator of the year in 2001 and the National Association of College Women Athletic Administrators Division 1-AA administrator of the year in 2000. Harper was inducted into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 2006.
Harper, who Ceplikas said is currently on vacation, did not respond to requests for comment by press time.