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Friday, July 14, 2006

Shocked, just shocked...duh

The New York Times seems to be on a roll -- giving narrative form to the commonplace corruptions of university and academic life. Yesterday it was the market-driven corruption of secondary school textbook writing. Today it is the special treatment student athletes receive at the big-time sports schools.

The story of Auburn's academic accommodation to football players is hardly a shocking revelation to many of us who have worked in and around Auburn-like institutions, but it certainly rises to the level of embarrassment when it becomes a front page story in the Times. The fact that athletic program personnel would work hard to make the burdens of education as light as possible for the students under their charge is bad enough, but when academicians assist that process by corrupting the classroom, a line has been crossed.

Again I have to note that I am not fully innocent in this regard. Back in my days at a major midwest school that was sports-crazy I took on the role of setting up a special faculty advising system for the basketball and football teams. I did so as part of my role in faculty governance rather than as a "fan", although I have to admit to being a bit obsessed with whether our teams won or lost in those days. The advising system we set up (which I think lasted for many years after my departure and that of the coach who helped create it) was actually more focused on providing support and mentoring for the kids than in making their academic life easier. And the results were pretty good -- they not only remained "eligible" throughout their academic careers, but several star players actually graduated on schedule under the system, although there were some cases where the students were sent packing despite their athletic promise.

In short, if done the right way and for the right reasons, there is a role for faculty to play in such situations that does not involve prostituting themselves for an autographed football or promises of other rewards. At minimum the faculty got the satisfaction of helping those students convert an exploitive situation (the universities are clearly in the situation of getting more out of them than it is giving in return) into realized opportunities. That said, when one of the teams did well and found itself competing for the national championship, the advising/mentoring faculty were offered tickets to the games and were able to share in some way in the success of the students they had been working with. Overall a positive outcome without the sleaze.... Or at least that is the way I remember it....

But in the case of at least one sociology prof at Auburn, there seems much to be concerned about....


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