Tag Archives: athletes

Why Campus Mascots and Nicknames Are Under Attack

sky diver.jpgThe University of North Dakota sports teams have been known as the “Sioux” or the “Fighting Sioux” for more than 80 years. But this week the university’s hockey team played and lost in the NCAA playoffs wearing uniforms that said simply “North Dakota.” The reason: Last November, North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple signed legislation permitting the university to retire its “Fighting Sioux” nickname so its hockey team could play schools that had boycotted teams with offensive mascots. This was a triumph for the NCAA in its years-long war against “hostile and abusive” nicknames and logos.

Quarrels over the dropping of long-cherished “offensive” nicknames often
generate immense acrimony. I personally observed this battle in my 28
years at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Arguments over
the Fighting Illini and Chief Illiniwek were fierce, even contributing
to the firing of uber-PC campus Chancellor Nancy Cantor.

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Honoring One of the Perpetrators at Duke

What if all college professors were forced to be higher-education entrepreneurs, with salaries pegged to the number of students they attract to their classes? That’s the model recently proposed by a Texas professor who styled himself “Publius Audax” on a Pajamas Media blog. Publius launched his proposal, he wrote, as the solution to a projected $25 billion budget shortfall over the next two years that is likely to hit the Texas higher education hard. Publius’ argument is that his “entrepreneurial professor model,” when coupled with other reforms would “harness the power and efficiency of the market” to make public higher education cheaper and better. The other reforms include abolishing tenure, eliminating state subsidies to public campuses, getting rid of “core curricula” (which nowadays are nothing more than pointless distribution requirements, and allowing private “charter colleges” (both nonprofit and for-profit) onto public campuses in order to provide more competition.

Hmm, my own undergraduate alma mater was founded by a highly successful entrepreneur, the railroad baron Leland Stanford. What if college professors were more like Leland Stanford and less like the brilliant but economically illiterate head-in-the-clouds types who taught at Stanford when I went there?

Here is how Publius’ entrepreneurial professor model would work: All professors and lecturers would receive a base “living wage” of $30,000 plus benefits. Beyond that it would be up to the professors themselves to generate a “tuition-based bonus” for themselves consisting of 50 percent of the tuition income generated by students enrolled in their classes, “up to a maximum of 320 students (960 student hours).” All instructors would be allowed to teach up to eight classes a year. In order to gin up the price competition further, professors, department heads, and even entire colleges could offer tuition rebates to students, the money to come out of the professors’ salary bonuses. Professors with ultra-large classes could hire teaching assistants—but the money would again have to come out of their salary bonuses. And to ensure that professors wouldn’t game the system by handing out easy A’s to all comers, there would be a strict grading curve. No more than 15 percent of students in any given class could receive an A-grade, and another 15 percent would have to either flunk or receive a D. Professors whose grades deviated from the curve would lose their bonus for every student whose grade exceeded the curve. This would not only keep the professors in line, Publius argues, but would “transform the campus culture, replacing partying with studying” as students scrambled to stay out of the bottom of the class.

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The Ongoing Folly of Title IX

Connecticut’s Quinnipiac College, best known for its political polling, is now at the center of the newest round in the controversy over Title IX and women’s sports. In a trial that opened last week, a federal judge must decide whether competitive cheerleading should count as a sport for gender equity purposes. The case illustrates the complexities — and some would say, the inanities — of the debate over gender and college athletics.
In March 2009, Quinnipiac announced that it was eliminating several athletic programs, including women’s volleyball, due to recession-related budget cuts. On the other hand, the school added a new team to its women’s sports roster: a competitive cheerleading squad. Women’s volleyball coach Robin Sparks and four team members sued claiming a violation of Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments, which prohibits sex discrimination at educational institutions receiving any federal funds. The team got a temporary lease on life pending the outcome of the lawsuit. Meanwhile, Judge Stefan Underhill has granted the suit class action status, so that, if violations are found, remedies could be ordered for all current and future female athletes at Quinnipiac.
Last year’s budget cuts did not spare the male athletic teams at Quinnipiac. Men’s golf and outdoor track were dropped along with women’s volleyball, with no reprieve or reversal. (As for men’s volleyball, the college never had it in the first place.) Other men’s teams were forced to downside their rosters — in the case of soccer, from 29 to 23 players, much to the coach’s disgust. Some would say that, when two men’s teams are cut while women lose 11 slots on the volleyball team and gain 30 on the cheer squad, it is not the women who should be complaining.
Of course, the question is whether competitive cheering is a “real sport” or not. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) still does not recognize it as a varsity sport, though there is a push to change that next year. Still, college cheerleading in the 21st Century has come a long way from the stereotype of sexy girls shaking their booty and boosting the boys: it requires high levels of athleticism and technical skill and features national competitions. Most of the young women on Quinnipiac’s cheer squad are top-grade gymnasts.

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Whatever Happened to the Group of 88?

A few years ago, Cornell University spokesperson Thomas W. Bruce rejoiced that the Ivy League school had brought to Ithaca a man whose “distinguished background in contemporary global cultural studies,” and whose “unique perspectives and talents” would “add to the range of reasoned intellectual discourse at Cornell.”
The professor about whom Bruce gushed was Grant Farred, whose latest contribution to “intellectual discourse at Cornell” came when he labeled two graduate students “black bitches.” One of the most extreme members of the Group of 88 (the Duke faculty members who issued a guilt-presuming public statement two weeks into the lacrosse case), Farred had denounced as “racist” those Duke students who registered to vote in Durham; and had wildly charged that unnamed lacrosse players had committed perjury. Duke’s settlement with the three falsely accused players shielded him from civil liability for the latter remarks. Cornell knew this record of contempt for the students he taught when it not only awarded Farred a tenured position, but promoted him to full professor, with a median salary of $154,300.
Farred’s experience typifies the Group of 88’s rebounding from their rush to judgment in the lacrosse case. Indeed, at least three Group members moved on from Duke to endowed chairs at other institutions. Charles Payne, who violated Duke rules by authorizing departmental funds to pay for the Group of 88’s ad, is now Frank Hixon Professor at the University of Chicago. He has moved on from presuming the guilt of his own school’s students to receiving fellowships to fund his work on urban schools. Payne’s most recent book, Teach Freedom: Education for Liberation in the African-American Tradition, is an edited volume published by Columbia Teachers’ College Press; it features contributions from self-described “educator-activists” on how principles of African-American “liberation” education remain relevant today.
Rom Coles, who denounced an early 2007 from Duke economics professors that affirmed that the economics professors would welcome all Duke students, even student-athletes, into their classes, is now McAllister Chair in Community, Culture & Environment at Northern Arizona University. He’s involved himself in a host of pedagogically predictable causes, ranging from learning communities to “sustainability” initiatives.

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Duke’s Mixed News

In the past few days, Duke announced resolutions of two disputes that had bedeviled the university. First, in response to a protest from FIRE, the university overruled the Women’s Center’s refusal to host an exhibition sponsored by a Duke pro-life organization. In a perfect irony, announcement of the reversal came from Women’s Center Director Ada Gregory, last heard from hypothesizing about the danger that Duke’s female students face because they go to school with smart male students: “The higher IQ, the more manipulative they are, the more cunning they are . . . imagine the sex offenders we have here at Duke—cream of the crop.”
Then, Duke settled a lawsuit filed by former lacrosse coach Mike Pressler. Pressler was an early victim of Duke’s Alice-in-Wonderland approach to the lacrosse case—he was fired, and only then did the university conduct an investigation of his conduct. (That investigation concluded he had done nothing wrong, and had responded appropriately every time an administrator raised the issue with him of behavior by his players.) Even then, Pressler sued only when—days before AG Roy Cooper declared the falsely accused players innocent—he was attacked, in print, by Duke’s then-director of public relations.
Duke tried to have Pressler’s lawsuit thrown out on technical grounds, but lost that argument—meaning that depositions would have to go forward, and then the case would go to trial. Perhaps the University would have won at trial, perhaps not. But regardless of the verdict, subjecting key Duke administrators to cross-examination under oath would have risked a public relations nightmare for Duke.
The settlement of the Pressler lawsuit doubtless previews how the University might handle the far more serious lawsuit that Duke faces—the civil motion filed by 38 members of the 2006 men’s lacrosse team, along with several of their parents.
As in the Pressler lawsuit, Duke has aggressively sought to have the suit dismissed before the discovery phase, employing some creative legal arguments in the process. My favorites: (1) the assertion that the university doesn’t consider itself legally bound by the terms of the Student Handbook, which among other things precludes discrimination; and (2) these “anti-harassment policies must be balanced against principles of academic freedom” (or when race/class/gender professors choose to go after their own students to advance their pedagogical agenda, such actions should fall under the definition of “academic freedom”).
Neither claim, I should note, appear in Duke’s promotional materials or on its admissions department webpage. Apparently Duke isn’t eager to inform prospective parents that the University’s promises that faculty will treat students with respect aren’t worth the scrap of paper on which they’re printed.
Duke’s motion for summary judgment remains pending. If the University loses, it will face a highly unappealing choice—settle before trial; or allow many of its key administrators from 2006 not only to be deposed, but to hand over internal administration e-mails from spring 2006. The public relations damage from such a move would be horrifying for any institution, much less one eager to remain among the nation’s elite.
By the way, I noted there was mixed news for Duke: on the “good news” front, benefiting from a quite easy draw, the men’s basketball team reached the Final Four.

Another Team Falls To Title IX?

Sad news: An Oregon judge has rejected a last-ditch lawsuit challenging the University of Oregon’s decision to discontinue men’s wrestling as a varsity sport as of last June. Although Oregon Circuit Judge Lynn Ashcroft, stated in his Oct. 22 opinion that the university’s decision to drop men’s wrestling was not “‘gender’ based”—rejecting a claim that the 54-year-old program was a casualty of the funding quotas that many universities have put in place in order to comply with federal and state requirements that they devote equal resources to men’s and women’s athletics—it’s pretty clear that Title IX of the federal Civil Rights Act, whose draconian interpretation by the U.S. Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights has led to the demise of more than 250 Division I wrestling programs since 1972, is an “un-indicted co-conspirator,” as the blog Saving Sports described it, in the demise of men’s wrestling at Oregon.
What is particularly poignant about the Oregon story is that the university’s wrestling program had been made famous by the novelist Ken Kesey, who died in 2001. Kesey had been a champion wrestler for Oregon during his undergraduate years in the mid-1950s, and a wrestling injury that made him ineligible for the military draft allowed him to enroll in a graduate writing program at Stanford University where he wrote most of his best-selling 1962 novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Both of Kesey’s sons (one is now deceased) wrestled for Oregon, and the Kesey family had helped spearhead a futile drive this past spring, which included more than $2 million in alumni pledges, to keep the wrestling program at Oregon alive.

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College Athletes, You Might Have Time For A Class

More evidence to shatter the NCAA’s diversionary talk of the preeminence of academics for college athletes, from the Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription only, alas):

The NCAA started a Web site last year, NCAAStudent.org, to illustrate how its athletes balance sports with their academic responsibilities. And in Mr. Brand’s speech here, he said the main difference between college and professional sports was that “those who participate in our athletics events are students, and students first.”

But even the NCAA’s athletes don’t believe that’s true. According to an NCAA survey of 21,000 players, the majority view themselves more as athletes than students.

It’s no wonder. Major-college football players reported spending an average of 44.8 hours a week practicing, playing, or training for their sport, the survey found, with golfers, baseball players, and softball players not far behind.

44.8 hours a week spent athletically – there’s a conventional nine-to-six job spent in sport. Then add fifteen hours of classes. Where’s time for study afterwards? I’m not really sure where to find it. The article continues, pointing out that one in five college athletes in the survey stated that their sports commitments prevented them from choosing their preferred major. Additionally, as the NCAA has raised academic requirements for play, “academic advisors have seen an increase in athlete’s choosing certain majors.” Read “easier” majors. Sound like the cart pulling the horse? Exactly.