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Faculty Oversight and University Athletics

January 19, 2012

Colorado State University Professor of Education and longtime AAUP member Bill Timpson has a piece in today’s Fort Collins Coloradoan arguing that faculty must take their share of responsibility to ensure that the academic integrity of the university is never compromised in the collegiate arms race to be competitive on the playing field.  For a link to the article go here.  We also reproduce it in its entirety below.

Recent changes in Colorado State University athletics have created quite a buzz–expensive buy-outs, very big salaries, and now talk of a new stadium on campus–and all of this during a time of national recession. There is no question that many great  American universities have very competitive athletic programs and that the excitement from winning teams can be energizing. However, we also have seen scandals  surface routinely along with widespread concern expressed by academic leaders  about the ways that big-time athletics and television revenues can distort a university’s mission when oversight and transparency are lacking.

I will argue here that faculty must assert their responsibility to assure that the integrity of the university is never compromised no matter the amount of money “on the table” – or under it – or the frenzy of the fan base.  As a former college athlete, I always enjoyed having the support of fans, the community and the media. However, as a longtime member of the faculty at CSU, I have concerns from the other side of the lectern. Shared governance, the inclusion of many voices in the decisions that impact the university, what many of us consider the foundation for the historic strengths of  U.S. universities, is too often sacrificed in the rush to get to “the next level” of competitive prowess. Much research has demonstrated that we get better and more creative decisions when we take the time and find the mechanisms to include diverse  voices.

The Dec. 16 edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education has its lead article titled, “What The Hell Has Happened To College Sports? And What Should We Do About it?”  William Friday, president emeritus of the University of North Carolina, writes: “(Each) year brings more scandals and more incidents calling into question the compatibility of universities and a gargantuan (sports) entertainment industry.”  As a longtime member of American Association of University Professors, arguably the most consistent voice for faculty and adjunct instructors across the nation, I found three recent reports about the dangers of big-time athletics on their website. The conclusions are clear: Oversight and transparency are essential and faculty, the guardians of academic integrity, must be involved.

In one report, John Gerdy, author of several books on this subject, writes: “A strong case can be made that our country has lost perspective regarding the role of organized sports in our culture. Although much of what transpires in college athletics is positive, we have come to glorify athletic accomplishment far more than academic achievement. And we in higher education have largely been responsible for allowing  this culture to evolve… People need to understand that American higher education existed for more than two hundred years before the first intercollegiate athletic contest and will continue to provide quality education, produce important research, and contribute to the betterment of society with or without athletics. The issue is balance.”

In his report, “The Faculty’s Role in Reforming College Sports,” Professor James Earl writes: “Most fans would be surprised to learn that these tremendously popular spectacles make no money for their owners, and in fact cost most universities precious millions they can’t afford. … So it’s up to the owners – us – to slow things down.”  There are core issues of university and academic integrity here where transparency is essential and faculty must provide ongoing oversight.

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