This is a draft proposal submitted by the SAA to the COF for their consideration.  The content of this proposal should not in any way be construed to represent policy at Marquette University.  The SAA appreciates the work and detail that Ed Fallone of the Law School put into preparation of this draft proposal.  The content of this proposal is not the work of one person; rather many people were included in the discussions leading to this draft and its recommendations.  Comments may be sent to either Peter Jones (COF) jones@studsys.mscs.mu.edu; or Joe Collins (SAA) joe.collins@marquette.edu

 

 

 

 

 

SUBCOMMITTEE ON ACADEMIC AFFAIRS

REPORT ON ATHLETES AND EDUCATION

 

May 3, 2002

 

I.       INTRODUCTION: 

Recently, many colleges and universities around the country have been forced to address concerns surrounding the status of student-athletes on their campuses.[1]  At many institutions of higher learning, questions concerning academic standards, graduation rates, policies and procedures relating to registration, and the depth of the administration’s commitment to the academic success of its student-athletes have been raised.  Some of these questions have come to the forefront as a result of scandals and adverse publicity at several of Marquette University’s peer universities in Division I basketball – some of which, like Marquette, are members of Conference USA.[2]

The Subcommittee on Academic Affairs (“the Subcommittee”) has undertaken an examination of the question of athletes and education at Marquette University.  While the Subcommittee is not aware of any particular criticisms or failings in the academic success of student-athletes here at Marquette, the Subcommittee believes that the time is right to reexamine current policies and procedures concerning student-athletes in order to act proactively and in order to prevent future problems from developing.[3]  In particular, the Subcommittee believes that the recent success of Marquette athletic teams on the field may lead to increased pressure to recruit top athletes to our campus and with that pressure the increased possibility that academic standards will be compromised as a result.

The Subcommittee approaches this report with the view that intercollegiate athletics and high academic standards can in fact coexist.  This viewpoint is itself subject to debate.  Several members of the MU faculty, as well as many academics nationwide, are of the opinion that intercollegiate athletics has become a “business,” and that high academic standards are the first casualty of a university that places undue emphasis on a successful athletic program.  The Subcommittee is mindful of the criticism that any attempt to reform policies governing student-athletes is likely to be as successful as “rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.”

Ultimately, however, the Subcommittee rejects such an absolutist approach.  For hundreds of years, intercollegiate athletics has been an integral part of higher education in general and of Jesuit education in particular.  The general feeling among the faculty seems to be that, whatever the situation might be nationwide, Marquette has thus far managed to avoid major problems with its athletic program.[4]  The Subcommittee believes that, by examining and addressing the issue today, Marquette can avoid making some of the same mistakes that have plagued other universities.

To that end, the Subcommittee has examined several policies and procedures currently in place at Marquette.  The goal is to identify possible modifications to these procedures in order to help maintain the proper balance between the interests of maintaining a high quality academic program and pursuing excellence in intercollegiate athletics.  By necessity, such a weighing process must take place against the backdrop of the core values possessed by the members of the Marquette community.  The Subcommittee has tried to identify the values of the institution, the students and the faculty in order to ensure that the University’s treatment of student-athletes does not ignore the interests of any part of the University community.

First, it should be noted that intercollegiate athletics in and of itself is not inconsistent with the principles of a Jesuit education.  Intercollegiate athletics can promote the mission of a Jesuit university by 1) stimulating school spirit, 2) serving enrollment goals, 3) promoting alumni attachment and 4) assisting in the spiritual, emotional and physical development of participating athletes (“mens sana in corpore sano”).[5]  The entire Spring 2002 issue of the magazine CONVERSATIONS ON JESUIT HIGHER EDUCATION is devoted to the topic of integrating athletics into the mission and identity of Jesuit universities.  The Subcommittee is mindful of the value of intercollegiate athletics to both individual student-athletes and to the broader Marquette community.

In particular, an analysis of University policies affecting student-athletes must begin with the recognition that Marquette University as an institution has an interest in maintaining an athletic program that brings it national attention.  A nationally recognized athletic program is an asset to University fundraising.[6]  Many admissions professionals also believe that there is a correlation between a successful athletic program and the number of admissions applications received by the university.[7]  Alumni relations are also impacted by a successful athletics program.  Attendance at sports events has traditionally been one of the primary ways that alumni maintain a connection with universities.  While there are other methods of keeping alumni involved in the life of the University, the athletic program is a particularly effective method of achieving this goal.

Of course, the institution also values and promotes an ideal that can be referred to as a “Marquette education.”  The University has a commitment to perpetuating an academic environment that incorporates both intellectual rigor and the advancement of our students’ moral development.  To a certain extent, the components of our curriculum that reflect a “Marquette education” are what make this institution unique in comparison to other universities.  To abandon this value would be to diminish the main justification for Marquette University's existence.   

In addition, the University should recognize that it has an obligation to live up to the commitments that it makes to its students, including student-athletes.  Many student-athletes are recruited to Marquette with the promise and expectation of playing intercollegiate sports at a high level of competition and of receiving a commensurate level of attention from the media and professional scouts.  However, highly recruited athletes are promised more than just scholarship dollars.  The University also represents to these athletes and their parents that it is capable of providing both a meaningful educational opportunity and a vehicle for them to demonstrate their athletic ability on a national stage.  An institution with integrity does not promise more than it can deliver.

For their part, the student-athletes rightfully expect to receive the benefit of the “bargain” that they agreed to when they committed themselves to Marquette.  That bargain includes both an athletic opportunity and a “real” education.  The students have been promised an education that will prepare them for a career beyond athletics.  In fact, they have been promised more than a basic education; they have been promised a “Marquette education.”  The University cannot shirk from fulfilling both ends of the bargain that it makes with student-athletes, even if the disparate nature of these two promises makes the University’s task a difficult proposition.  The student-athletes have relied upon the University’s representations and have chosen Marquette over other universities on that basis.

Student-athletes should also rightfully expect to receive fair notice of the academic policies that will apply to them and the manner in which those policies will impact their educational opportunity.  The time demands of team practices and travel to competitions will inevitably conflict to some extent with the time demands of academics.[8]  Participation in intercollegiate athletics can impact upon the student’s classroom attendance, may require academic counseling and tutoring, might effect the days and times that the student has available to enroll in classes, and could even cause an instructor to apply their grading policy in a way that reduces the student’s grade.  Therefore, policies that govern attendance, make-up exams, registration and grading are of great importance to student-athletes.  Simple fairness requires that these student-athletes be given clear advance notice of those policies so that they may know what is expected of them.    

Of course, any examination of the issue of athletes and education must weigh Faculty values as well.  Faculty autonomy, in both course content and grading policy, is an important component of academic freedom that should not be compromised.  It is also important that Faculty be seen as fair and impartial by the student body in general.  Therefore, preferential treatment should not be given to one group of students over another in areas such as registration, attendance or make-ups unless that preference is carefully scrutinized and justified in a manner that the overall student body will accept.[9]  In addition, Faculty have other obligations to the non-athletes in their class.  For example, Faculty should not be called upon to make accommodations for student-athletes that disrupt the educational experience for other students.

The policies and procedures discussed below were examined with a recognition that these (sometimes conflicting) values and viewpoints all merit consideration.  This report attempts to arrive at a balanced treatment of the issues surrounding athletes and education at Marquette.  The goal of the Subcommittee on Academic Affairs is to draft uniform academic regulations for student-athletes at Marquette University that will promote cooperation and understanding among members of the administration, faculty and student body.  A written uniform policy can alleviate a great deal of the confusion currently surrounding Marquette University’s academic policies towards its student-athletes, and can help to foster an environment where success in both intercollegiate athletics and academics is possible for our student-athletes.

II.    PROCESS: 

The following information sources were consulted in the drafting of this report.  First, and foremost, the issues discussed were the subject of numerous meetings held by the Subcommittee on Academic Affairs during the 2000-2001 and 2001-2002 academic years.  Interviews were also conducted with Assistant Athletic Director Tom Ford and with the student members who serve on the Student-Athlete Committee.  In these efforts, the Subcommittee was greatly assisted by law student Chris McKinney, an intern made available by the National Sports Law Institute at Marquette University Law School.

Broader Faculty input was sought by posting a list of eleven targeted questions on the COF Webpage soliciting feedback from Faculty.[10]  Approximately 32 responses were received.  A copy of the questions posted on the Webpage is attached to this report.

 III.  FUTURE ACTION: 

The preliminary conclusions of the Subcommittee are set forth below.  Prior to reaching any final conclusions, it is expected that the Subcommittee will undertake additional work, including:

-         a detailed examination of reports addressing similar issues at other academic institutions, such as the Knight Commission Report and the Drake Group Report;

-          further examination of the Conference USA guidelines on policies towards student-athletes;

-          further examination of student-athlete policies currently in existence at other Conference USA member institutions;

-          additional interviews with members of the administration, faculty and Student-Athlete Committee; and

-          possible forums sponsored by COF to gather feedback in response to the Subcommittee’s preliminary proposals. 

IV. ISSUES AND PRELIMINARY RECOMMENDATIONS: 

The Subcommittee has identified nine issues involving athletes and education at Marquette University.  In response to each issue, the Subcommittee has arrived at a preliminary recommendation.  In its discussion of each issue, the Subcommittee has attempted to fairly represent differing perspectives on the issue and to explain the rationale for adopting its preliminary recommendation.

 

ISSUE ONE: MANY COLLEGES AND ACADEMIC UNITS WITHIN THE UNIVERSITY LACK A WRITTEN POLICY GOVERNING THE TREATMENT OF ABSENCES DUE TO PARTICIPATION IN UNIVERSITY SPONSORED ATHLETIC EVENTS

 

 

The College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) is the only college at Marquette University that has a written attendance policy that specifically references absences in connection with University-sponsored athletic events.  The CAS policy states:

In the case of unavoidable[11] absence (defined below), a student may make up missed examinations, assignments and exercises within reason at the discretion of the instructor according to conditions set forth in the course syllabus. . . .  In all other cases of absence, instructors are not required to allow students to make up missed work. . . .  The College of Arts and Sciences defines unavoidable absences       as those due to . . ., with prior approval, participation in university-sanctioned athletic competitions.

 

The remainder of the colleges and academic units within the University have attendance policies that do not explicitly address the situation of absences by student-athletes in connection with athletic events.  Therefore, there is no obligation on the part of any Faculty member outside of CAS to provide an opportunity for student-athletes to make up assignments and exams missed due to University-sanctioned athletic events.

Of course, most Faculty currently make reasonable accommodations and allow student-athletes the opportunity to make up the work that they have missed.  However, without a written policy, the obligation of the Faculty member to grant this opportunity lies solely within the discretion of each individual Faculty member.  Two concerns are raised by the lack of a written policy in colleges other than CAS.

First, if there is a “de facto” policy of allowing student-athletes to make up work that they miss due to their attendance at a University-sanctioned athletic event, then the college or academic unit should memorialize this practice and formally adopt it as policy.  There is no reason not to give notice to student-athletes concerning the manner in which their absences will be treated.  This assumes that there is in fact a policy for treating such absences within the college or academic unit that can be identified.

Second, if no “de facto” departmental policy exists as to absences arising out of attendance at athletic events, then each individual Faculty member is free to determine the circumstances under which the opportunity to make up missed work will be granted.  In that case, the fact that each individual Faculty member possesses such discretion should be written down and incorporated into the Class Attendance Policy of the college or academic unit.  Again, this is a matter of giving clear advance notice to the student-athletes of the policies that will affect them.

The failure to address the issue at all at most academic units seems to cause needless confusion among the student-athletes.  If they believe, rightly or wrongly, that there is a “de facto” practice of granting make up opportunities, then the student-athletes will be resentful when they encounter a Faculty member who does not conform to their expectations.   In addition, if a student-athlete has previously received the opportunity to make up work from other instructors, that student may draw incorrect conclusions concerning the reason why they are being denied a similar opportunity by a different instructor (i.e., attributing the denial to a personality conflict with the instructor).  Many members of the Student-Athlete Committee seemed to blame individual professors for their own academic conflicts, not the policy of any particular college.  According to a number of student-athletes, some professors are just difficult, and punish students excessively for absences whether they happen to be athletes or not.

    Many Faculty members view an attempt to impose a department-wide policy on the treatment of absences by student-athletes as a restriction on their academic freedom.  Since the content of each course is different, it follows that only the particular instructor teaching the course can evaluate whether any particular assignment or exam can be made up, regardless of the reason for the absence.  Therefore, discretion should be reposed with each individual Faculty member concerning the circumstances in which the opportunity to make work up will be granted.  If the limited opportunities to make up missed work are clearly outlined at the beginning of the course, then the student should not be able to complain when the instructor’s policy is applied to them.

However, some Faculty members see a downside to the absence of a written policy.  The existence of a written policy would allow Faculty to “blame the policy” for any adverse effect that the student-athlete might suffer as a result of their absence, rather than force Faculty to defend their own individual exercise of discretion.  In this way, the Faculty member can avoid being cast as the “bad guy” in the situation.  Untenured Faculty and Adjunct Faculty might be more sensitive to these concerns.

Recommendation:  Many Faculty, Athletic Department administrators and student-athletes agree that reducing an attendance policy to writing that explicitly governs absences by student-athletes would be helpful.  Each college or academic unit should do so.  If the unit policy is that each individual instructor is free to decide whether and under what circumstances make ups will be allowed for absences in connection with University-sanctioned athletic events, then the unit policy should so state.

 

ISSUE TWO: THE TREATMENT OF ABSENCES DUE TO PARTICIPATION IN UNIVERSITY SPONSORED ATHLETIC EVENTS IS NOT UNIFORM BETWEEN ACADEMIC UNITS

 

Conference USA requires student-athlete attendance policies of its members.  Marquette University does not currently have one uniform attendance policy amongst its various colleges.  In particular, there is no uniform policy among the colleges and academic units concerning whether a student’s absence from class in order to participate in University-sponsored athletic events constitutes an “unavoidable” or “excused” absence.  In addition, there is no uniform policy concerning the consequences that accompany an excess of excused absences.[12]

The result is that attendance policies applied to student-athletes may differ substantially between colleges or other academic units.  One student-athlete may have to inform himself or herself of a variety of different attendance policies over the course of their academic career.  This raises the question whether such a system is needlessly complex and works to the detriment of students who fail to appreciate the different ways in which Faculty may treat absences arising from athletic competitions.

In addition, members of the same athletic team may find that different policies apply to their teammates for the same travel dates.  This raises the question of whether the inconsistent treatment of absences arising out of the same athletic event is fair or desirable, particularly if it results in grading inequities.

For example, two members of the same sports team may take classes in different colleges within the University.  They can have similar test scores in their classes, but one team member may have their final grade reduced dramatically as a result of travel related absences while the other team member does not.  This difference would be due solely to the different treatment of the absences under the attendance policies of the particular college.  The academic performance of the students, and the number of classes that they missed, would be identical but the final grade would not.

Recommendation:  The attendance policies of the various colleges and academic units with the University should treat absences by student-athletes in connection with University-sanctioned athletic events in a uniform manner.

 

ISSUE THREE: WHETHER ABSENCE DUE TO PARTICIPATION IN A UNIVERSITY SPONSORED ATHLETIC EVENT SHOULD BE TREATED UNIFORMLY WITHIN THE UNIVERSITY AS AN EXCUSED ABSENCE

 

           

Issues one and two deal with whether the academic units of the University should reduce attendance policies affecting student-athletes to writing and whether those policies should be uniform across academic units.  The third issue deals with the content of an attendance policy for student-athletes.  As discussed below, the Subcommittee believes that each college and academic unit should adopt the proposed attendance policy put forth by the Athletic Department.

Under existing attendance policies, students are allowed to miss six M/W/F classes and four Tu/Th classes per semester without penalty.  Currently, these maximum allowable absences include both excused and unexcused absences, with no differentiation made between the two.  The lack of a penalty for absences below the maximum appears quite clear.  However, whether a penalty will be imposed for absences beyond the maximum and the type of penalty imposed is not at all clear under current policies.

As previously discussed, each college and academic unit within Marquette University is currently allowed to develop and enforce its own attendance policies (so long as they do not penalize fewer than six M/W/F or four Tu/Th absences). Thus, grading penalties for excused/excessive absences vary widely depending on the particular professor and the particular college.  An additional problem is that travel absences related to University-sanctioned athletic events can be considered either “excused” or “unexcused” under current policies, with discretion being left to each individual faculty member.  This wide discretion creates disparate treatment of student-athletes.

The unwritten attendance policy (the “de facto” practice) at Marquette University seems to be that excessive excused absences by student-athletes will result in grade reductions but will not result in automatic withdrawal from the course.  Additionally, the majority of professors at Marquette University appear to treat athletics-related absences as “excused” when prior notice of the absence has been given by the student-athlete.[13]  However, because the individual instructor maintains discretion to set attendance policies, numerous examples exist of professors who do not follow the “de facto” practice of the majority.

According to Assistant A.D. Ford, the easiest solution to this problem would be to determine how many absences participation in each particular sport will require and inform each professor of these numbers at the beginning of each semester.  While this may not necessary solve the problem, the calculation should at the least put student-athletes and professors on the same page in regards to attendance expectations.

However, this response does not address two concerns expressed by members of the Student-Athlete Committee.  First, in some situations professors encourage student-athletes to drop their particular course as a result of greater-than-expected absences.  Second, and most significantly in the minds of the students, some professors do not allow student-athletes to make up work missed due to participation in athletic events.  A number of the members of the Student-Athlete Committee stated that they had experienced problems in this regard, and one member said that on one particular occasion a professor had refused to allow her to make up a test she had missed.  Application of such a policy on student-athletes can have a significant effect on the grade for the course.

According to Assistant A.D. Ford, the two sports that continually pose problems with students missing exams and coursework are spring track and golf.  Most golf courses require that intercollegiate golf tournaments take place on weekdays.  Naturally, this interferes with classes.  Conversely, but equally as problematic, Conference USA rules dictate that track events take place on weekends.  This often requires travel on Fridays, again interfering with classes.  These sports seem to present the most potential for absence-related conflicts between students and instructors.

The majority of the members of the Student-Athlete Committee had not experienced any particular problems with these two sports.  However, one member of the women’s soccer team stated that she had experienced some difficulty with professors during the spring soccer season.  Women’s soccer is a two-season sport at Marquette.  According to this student-athlete, her professors had been very understanding in regard to her fall absences, but were far less accommodating of her spring absences.  Her professors did not give her any indication for the reason for this discrepancy.

Recommendation: Resolution of this issue comes down to the difficult task of balancing the benefits of a policy that makes a reasonable accommodation for the situation of student-athletes against the principle of Faculty autonomy.  The Athletic Department has lived with this issue for many years, and has made a thoughtful and reasoned proposal concerning a University-wide attendance policy that would apply to all University-sponsored extracurricular activity.  The Subcommittee has adopted this proposal with some modifications.

The proposal classifies absences related to University-sponsored extracurricular activities as “excused” absences and it is set forth below.  In many respects, the proposal attempts to formalize the “de facto” treatment of athletic-related absences that seems to be applied currently by a large segment of the Faculty.  The proposal also attempts to ensure that Faculty get advance notice of all athletic-related absences and that students get clear notice of how those absences will be treated by the instructor, so that conflicts can be identified early and resolved to mutual satisfaction at the beginning of the semester.

PROPOSAL: Instructional staff should take care to ensure that all of our students who participate in University-sponsored extracurricular activities are being treated fairly with regard to faculty efforts to accommodate the sometimes substantial demands made upon their time by these activities.

Students who participate in an officially sanctioned, scheduled University extracurricular activity should be given an opportunity to make up class examinations or other graded assignments that are missed as a result of this participation or related travel.  The sole exception to this policy is the circumstance where a particular exam or exercise is impossible to make up due to the collaborative nature of the project, the particular method of evaluation, or some other factor.  In this latter circumstance, the student should be informed of the inability to make up the work and the consequences of being absent on that date at the start of the semester.  Otherwise, examinations or other assignments missed as a result of University-sponsored extracurricular activities may be made up, although the manner in which the work will be made up will be left to the discretion of each individual faculty member.  However, students should not be penalized in any way for these excused absences, and should be informed by the instructor at the beginning of the semester, preferably in writing, of the instructor’s make up policy.  It is the responsibility of the student to make arrangements with the instructor prior to any missed scheduled examinations or other missed assignments, for making up this work.  Students are also responsible for obtaining any class notes or other course material missed due to absence prior to taking any subsequent examinations or submitting any subsequent graded assignments.

This Statement of University Policy applies for all students.  In order to minimize the difficulties caused for both student-athletes and their instructors by excused absences due to University-sanctioned athletic activities or related travel, the Athletic Department shall: 1) help students schedule classes that will minimize activity and travel conflicts; and 2) require all student-athletes to provide a copy of that semester’s activity and travel schedule, and a copy of this Statement of University Policy, to each of their instructors at the first class meeting of the semester.

 

 

The policy set forth above calls for the student-athlete to take responsibility for their foreseeable absences.[14]  The Athletic Department provides each student-athlete with a list of scheduled absences due to athletic competitions before the start of the semester.  Under the proposed policy, these absences will be treated as “excused” absences, but only if the student provides the list to his or her instructor on the first day of class.  The benefit of obtaining “excused” status for these absences is that, normally, the student will be given the opportunity to make up any work missed as a result of the absence.  The Subcommittee expects that the Athletic Department will draft a form that the student will present to each of their instructors in order to obtain their signatures and in order to document that the student has fulfilled their responsibility.

The policy recognizes that sometimes an exam or graded assignment is impossible to make up.  Some Faculty may assign collaborative projects that depend on other classmates, or oral presentations that incorporate questioning by the entire class, or may use evaluative methods that cannot easily be replicated by the instructor.  The policy does not prohibit any member of the Faculty from making the determination that certain coursework cannot be made up.  However, Faculty who intend to deny the opportunity to make up certain exams or projects must inform the student-athlete of this conflict and its consequences (reduced grade or otherwise) when the student submits their list of scheduled absences at the first class.  Then the student can decide whether to attempt to take the course at another time, whether to ask the Athletic Department to make individualized travel arrangements for the student in order to avoid the conflict, or whether to accept the consequences of the absence.          

  The policy does not impose any cap on the maximum number of excused absences.  The number of absences identified by the student at the start of the semester as comprising their expected absences due to University-sanctioned athletic competitions constitutes the maximum number of excused absences for that student.  The student will not be penalized for absences that are equal to or below that number.  However, the student does not have the right to any additional excused absences in the event of illness or family emergency.  If the student exceeds their maximum number of excused absences during the semester, then the student and the instructor must meet to discuss whether a grading penalty, mandatory withdrawal, or other sanction is appropriate.  The policy does not limit the discretion of the faculty member to respond as they see fit to absences in excess of the maximum number of “excused” absences.

 The Subcommittee recommends that the proposal be adopted by all colleges and academic units.  The above proposal should not be viewed in isolation, however.  It is designed to work in conjunction with the remaining recommendations of the Subcommittee. 

 

ISSUE FOUR: SHOULD PRIORITY REGISTRATION BE MADE AVAILABLE FOR STUDENT-ATHLETES

 

 

Marquette University is the only Conference USA school that does not currently offer priority registration for its student-athletes.  The men’s and women’s basketball programs at Marquette used to have priority registration, but that policy was eliminated some time ago.  Proponents of priority registration argue that, if student-athletes were allowed priority registration, they would be able to select classes that did not interfere with practice and travel schedules and thereby minimize attendance conflicts.  Opponents of priority registration have expressed the concern that it could potentially lead to the high concentration of student-athletes in particular courses.  If this were the case, the classroom could be virtually empty on days in which team members were required to miss class for an athletic event.

Assistant A.D. Ford argued in favor of allowing priority registration for student-athletes.  Ford believes that allowing priority registration will help to alleviate many problems arising out of travel connected to athletic competitions.  Travel for athletic events generally occurs during the afternoons.  The Athletic Department encourages its student athletes to register for morning classes, but, unfortunately, morning classes have traditionally been the most popular at Marquette University.  Thus, some student-athletes are simply unable to avoid time conflicts caused by their team’s travel schedule.

There are ways to allow priority registration while avoiding high percentages of student-athletes in any one particular course.  According to Ford, Marquette University has traditionally offered enough sections of required classes to ensure that the number of student-athletes enrolled in any particular section can remain evenly distributed.  It may also be possible to cap the number of student-athletes that could enroll in any particular course.

According to members of the Student-Athlete Committee, priority registration has been their number one concern as student-athletes.  The Student-Athlete Committee has petitioned the University to allow for priority registration for on several occasions, but these requests have continually been turned down.  In fact, another attempt by the Student-Athlete Committee to petition Marquette University to allow for priority registration is currently under review.

Some Faculty feel that priority registration should not be granted to student-athletes unless it is granted to other students as well.  There is little agreement, however, on which groups of students might have an equitable claim to priority registration on the same basis as student-athletes.  Some Faculty questioned whether students with job or family commitments should be given the same priority as student-athletes.  Other Faculty would exclude these students, but would include any student participating in a University-sponsored activity that involves travel such as the solar panel race team.  Still other Faculty would limit the additional students who could utilize priority registration to students who traditionally travel with the athletic teams, such as trainers, managers, and cheerleaders.      

The case of priority registration, in particular, seems to raise the question of whether student-athletes should receive any preferential treatment as compared to other students.  One response to this concern is to assert that student-athletes cannot be treated exactly the same as the rest of the student body because they are not the same.  The University simply places demands on their time that are different than the demands placed on other students.

Another response to this concern is to note that few students or Faculty express the opinion that student-athletes currently receive any significant favored treatment as compared to other students.  Assistant Athletic Director Tom Ford stated that he was not aware of any situations in which student-athletes had received preferential treatment from Faculty members.  Statements by members of the Student-Athlete Committee seem to coincide with this view.  Student-Athlete Committee members said that, on the whole, they felt that they had been treated like any other student by the majority of faculty members during their time at Marquette.  None of the Student-Athlete Committee members offered any examples of preferential treatment that they had received. 

To the extent that a problem exists in the minds of student-athletes, it appears to be the perception by some that they have been discriminated against by certain Faculty members as a result of their involvement in athletics.  For example, as discussed above, some Faculty members are unwilling to allow student-athletes to make up missed assignments and tests.  However, the student-athletes were quick to point out that this is the exception, not the rule.  All of the Student-Athlete Committee members agreed that professors were typically receptive to the concerns of student-athletes who took the initiative to inform professors of their absences in advance.

Recommendation: The benefits of priority registration for student-athletes outweigh the potential negative effects and it is an integral part of a comprehensive approach to the situation of student-athletes.  Priority registration should help to ensure that student-athletes are in the classroom more often by allowing them to avoid class schedules that implicate known travel days.  If priority registration were available for student athletes, the occasions in which the attendance policy of the instructor conflicted with the demands of the student’s athletic schedule would be reduced.  In addition, the potential for the high concentration of student-athletes in any particular class can be minimized by offering multiple sections and/or capping the number of student-athletes in any particular course.  Additionally, every other Conference USA school (as well as many universities across the country) allows priority registration for student-athletes.  The fact that an equitable argument can be made for other groups of students to receive a similar opportunity does not detract from the merits of offering priority registration to student-athletes.

 

 

 

ISSUE FIVE: SHOULD FACULTY TAKE A ROLE IN SELF-IDENTIFYING COURSES WHERE ABSENCES DUE TO ATHLETIC EVENTS ARE DIFFICULT OR IMPOSSIBLE TO MAKE UP

 

 

Currently, the Athletic Department has developed a body of institutional knowledge concerning individual Faculty and the extent to which their courses are compatible with an athletic schedule.  The Athletic Department uses this information to assist student-athletes in deciding which classes to register for, especially during semesters that overlap with the student’s athletic season.

The question is whether the Faculty should cede responsibility to the Athletic Department to make the determination as to which professor’s classes are incompatible with participation in an athletic season, or whether the individual Faculty member should make this determination.  After all, the Faculty know best whether the particular method of evaluation that they employ, or the particular type of project that they assign, can be made up by student-athletes who may miss more than one class period over the course of the semester.  In addition, the Athletic Department’s assessment of the Faculty member’s course may be incorrect or, in the case of newer Faculty, based upon little or no information.  Rather than have the Athletic Department informally steer student-athletes away from certain courses, it may make more sense for Faculty to self-designate the courses that they teach that would be difficult to complete satisfactorily during a semester in which the student-athlete knows he or she will miss several class periods.

Recommendation: The Subcommittee recommends that the Athletic Department explore a system of soliciting information from Faculty in which Faculty would designate any courses that they teach that student-athletes should take during summers or the off-season due to the type of evaluation used in the course or the kinds of assignments required.  

 

ISSUE SIX: SHOULD ACADEMIC SUPPORT FOR STUDENT-ATHLETES BE UNDER THE JURISDICTION OF THE ATHLETIC DEPARTMENT OR THE FACULTY

 

 

Academic support services for student-athletes at Marquette University are currently handled “in house” at the Athletic Department through the “Eagle’s Nest.”  Through support services offered at the “Eagle’s Nest,” the Athletic Department monitors the academic performance of student-athletes and provides assistance to those in need (usually in the form of a tutor).  A handbook outlining student-athlete support services is given to all incoming freshman student-athletes.  The handbook is updated throughout the course of their athletic careers at Marquette University.

According to Assistant A.D. Ford, the Athletic Department and student-athletes have traditionally been quite pleased with the services provided by the “Eagle’s Nest.”  To Ford’s knowledge, academic support has always been provided to any student-athlete requesting it.

Members of the Student-Athlete Committee expressed near unanimous praise for the “Eagle’s Nest.”  All agreed that any time they had asked for assistance, the Athletic Department had provided it to them.  Even on occasions in which the Athletic Department did not have an “in house” tutor for a particular course, the Athletic Department went out of its way to find an outside tutor to solve the problem.

The question is whether academic support should be run under the supervision of the Faculty as opposed to the Athletic Department.  Faculty control over the process would ensure a greater degree of Faculty monitoring concerning the academic progress of student-athletes.  There is also some appeal to the notion that one unified program of tutoring and academic support should be available to all students at Marquette under one administrative structure.

However, none of the Faculty, students or Athletic department administrators have identified this issue as an area where a problem currently exists.

Recommendation: The Subcommittee does not recommend any change in policy.

 

 

ISSUE SEVEN: WOULD FACULTY BE BETTER ABLE TO MONITOR THE RIGOR OF COURSES TAKEN BY STUDENT-ATHLETES IF MORE INFORMATION CONCERNING STUDENT-ATHLETES WERE MADE AVAILABLE TO THE FACULTY AS A WHOLE

 

 

Some critics of intercollegiate athletics as it currently exists at most universities have argued that Faculty need to do a better job of monitoring the intellectual rigor of the courses of study pursued by student-athletes at their institution.  In this regard, the Drake Group has recommended that universities publicly report certain information regarding the academic progress of their student athletes in order to put pressure on the Faculty and administration of each institution to ensure that student-athletes take “real” classes and select “real” majors.

The Drake Group has recommended that accountability be ensured in one of two ways:

-         by the public disclosure of the academic major, academic advisor, courses listed by academic major, general education requirements and electives, including course GPA and instructor for all students at the university (no individual student grades will be disclosed); or

-         for each intercollegiate athletic team, by public disclosure of the courses enrolled in by team members, the average of the grades given in the course, and the instructor of the course, at the end of each semester.

 

This disclosure system would focus more on who is teaching the student-athletes and how rigorous their grading is and less on the academic performance of any individual student-athlete.

            Response to this issue in the Faculty survey conducted by the Subcommittee was largely unfavorable.  Few Faculty identified the issue as one where there was a current problem at Marquette, although a few responses did express concern that certain athletes are being steered towards Faculty and courses that are known to be less rigorous.  Many Faculty expressed concern at the time imposition that such a system might entail in terms of record keeping and reporting.

            Recommendation: The Subcommittee does not recommend the adoption of either one of the Drake Group’s disclosure systems.

   

ISSUE EIGHT: SHOULD TRAVEL IN CONNECTION WITH ATHLETIC COMPETITIONS BE BANNED DURING FINALS PERIOD

 

On rare occasions, as a result of their involvement in collegiate athletics, some student-athletes have been forced to miss final examinations. The impact of travel during finals period has caused understandable concern among professors and student-athletes alike.  The majority of professors do not enjoy giving make-up examinations (particularly finals), and it is safe to assume that the majority of student-athletes do not enjoy taking them.  Some faculty assume that there is a university policy prohibiting travel by sports teams during final exam periods.  In fact, there does not seem to be any such official policy.

According to Assistant A.D. Ford, both Conference USA and television schedules dictate when and where athletic events are held.  Marquette has relatively little input into these decisions.  Thus, any conflict with the finals period is largely unavoidable due to the fact that the Athletic Department has little to no control over scheduling.

Fortunately, only one sport seems to have posed a problem in connection with finals period, that sport being spring track.  The Conference USA schools alternate hosting the final track meet of the season, and the finals period of the host school does not always coincide with the finals period of all of the invited schools.  Therefore, a University-wide rule banning travel during finals would seem to be feasible for every sport other than spring track.

In contrast to a policy banning travel, an alternative solution to this problem could be to allow members of the Athletic Department to bring along and proctor final examinations for those student-athletes unable to take them in the classroom.  This policy has been adopted by a number of other universities.  However, this practice does contain the potential for abuse (i.e., proctors taking the exams, granting extra time, etc.).  Given the apparent absence of a serious problem to date with athlete travel during finals period, it would seem unnecessary to pursue this alternative.

Recommendation: The University should formally adopt a policy banning travel during finals, with an exception being made for spring track.

 

ISSUE NINE: SHOULD THE ATHLETIC DEPARTMENT TAKE A GREATER ROLE AS AN INTERMEDIARY BETWEEN STUDENT-ATHLETES AND FACULTY

 

The Subcommittee considered the question of how active of a role the Athletic Director should play in any conflict between faculty members and student-athletes.  Currently, the Athletic Department urges student-athletes to take the initiative in communicating with Faculty in order to avoid any conflicts relating to expected absences.  According to Assistant A.D. Ford, the Athletic Department will generally only involve itself in the academic affairs of student-athletes if there is a particular conflict that the student cannot resolve.  Otherwise, student-athletes are expected to be responsible for themselves.  Ford believes that for the most part, this policy has proven effective, and to his knowledge, the majority of Faculty members have been quite receptive to student-athletes taking the initiative to resolve any sort of conflict.

The benefit of this approach is that it minimizes direct contact between the Athletic Department and the Faculty and therefore avoids situations where the Faculty might perceive that they are being pressured to give preferential treatment to student-athletes.  The downside to this approach is that it relies upon the maturity and responsibility of the student to work effectively.  Some students, especially those in their freshman or sophomore years, may not do a particularly good job at identifying potential problems caused by absences and clearing such problems in advance with Faculty.  By the time the students are juniors or seniors, they have learned how to handle this responsibility.

The question is whether the Athletic Department should take a more active role, especially with freshman and sophomores, in contacting Faculty at the beginning of the semester and helping to identify any potential conflicts caused by the athletic schedule for the particular student.  However, this is not a role that the Athletic Department is seeking to play, and there does not seem to be any concern that the current approach needs to be changed.

Recommendation: The Subcommittee does not recommend any change in the role that the Athletic Department currently plays in resolving conflicts that arise between student-athletes and Faculty concerning absences.


APPENDIX

 

Questions for Faculty Feedback Re:  Athletes and Education:

 

 

1.     Is it important for each college or academic unit to have written attendance policies that specify the treatment of absences due to participation of the student in University-sponsored athletic competitions?  Why or why not?

2.     In general, should the attendance policies adopted by colleges or academic units  a) define an “excused absence” to include an absence from class due to participation in University-sponsored athletic activities and b) specify the grading penalties that may or may not apply due to an excess of excused absences? If not, what approach should attendance policies take towards absences connected with athletic competitions?

 

3.     Is it important for the treatment of “excused absences” for student athletes to be uniform across colleges and academic units?  Why or why not?

 

4.     Should the University make priority registration available for student athletes?  Why or why not?

 

5.     Should the University make priority registration available for non-athletes who are scheduled to miss classes in connection with University-sponsored activities?  (i.e., team trainers and managers, cheerleaders, band, etc.)

 

6.     Are there classes that you teach that include components (i.e. presentations or classroom participation) that would make it extremely difficult to grant student-athletes an “excused absence” from class attendance?  Explain.

 

7.     Should individual faculty members be invited to pre-designate classes that they teach where the grading criteria used make excused absences especially difficult to make up?  In other words, should faculty take a role in recommending to student-athletes that certain of their classes would best be taken in the summer or off-season?

 

8.     Should more information about student athletes as a group be published within the University, with the objective of allowing the faculty to monitor the rigor of the courses taken by student-athletes?  For example, for each athletic team a list of courses in which team members are enrolled at semester’s end, with the name of the instructor and average GPA for the course, could be published (no individual student GPA would be disclosed).  Or, alternatively, for each student-athlete there could be public disclosure of their academic major, courses taken, and the average GPA for the course (no individual student GPA would be disclosed).   

 

9.     Should academic support services for student-athletes be under the jurisdiction of the athletic department (where it currently resides) or the faculty?  Why?

 

10. Are there ways that the University could do more to support the special needs of student-athletes?  Explain.

 

11.   Are there any particular issues or concerns that you have regarding student-athletes and academics at the University?     

 



[1] For example, in 2001 the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics issued a report entitled “A Call to Action: Reconnecting College Sports and Higher Education.” (www.knightfdn.org)

[2] A 2002 documentary on ESPN entitled “Outside the Lines” identified Conference USA schools Cincinnati, Memphis and Louisville as 3 of the 36 Division I schools who did not graduate one African-American basketball scholarship player within six years among those players who entered school between 1990 and 1994.  The documentary was also highly critical of the “cupcake courses,” “cupcake majors,” and lax attendance policies that apply to Division I basketball players nationwide.   

[3] The timeliness of this issue is underscored by the recent announcement that the NCAA is considering rules that would ban colleges and universities from participating in postseason play if their student athletes have poor academic performance.  See Steve Weinberg, “NCAA Could Penalize Programs for Their Athlete’s Academic Problems,” USA TODAY, April 26, 2002 at 12C.

[4] The Subcommittee recognizes and applauds the work of the Athletic Department and the many conscientious individuals who work there in this regard.

[5] See William B. Neenan, S.J., “Sports and Jesuit Universities: A Winning Combination,” CONVERSATIONS ON JESUIT HIGHER EDUCATION (Spring 2002).

[6] Whether the funds generated as a result of athletics are allocated appropriately between athletic programs and other University needs is a topic beyond the scope of this report.

[7] It is doubtful whether anecdotal reports of a surge in admissions due to athletic success (the “Flutie factor” at Boston College, for example) can be backed up by statistical evidence.  However, for many high school students outside of the Midwest, a televised basketball game may be their first introduction to Marquette and might spark an application that would not otherwise occur.  See generally, William B. Neenan, “Sports and Jesuit Universities: A Winning Combination,” 21 CONVERSATIONS ON JESUIT HIGHER EDUCATION 7-8 (2002). 

[8] In a perfect world, practices would never be held when any classes were offered and competitions would never require travel days that conflict with classes.  However, we do not live in a perfect world.  Early morning and late night practice schedules are ideal, but limited facilities hamper any attempt to confine practices to those time periods (as does the fact that even athletes need to eat and sleep).  Competition dates must be chosen with some regard for the schedule and location of the opposing school.  There will be some impact on the time that the student-athlete has available for academics; the concern of the Subcommittee is how best to minimize that impact.   

[9] For example, no one would dispute that special accommodations should be given to disabled students that are not available to the student body overall (indeed, such accommodations are legally necessary).  While Faculty are not required to make accommodations for students who have a death or serious illness in the family, or a newborn child, the Subcommittee doubts that there are any members of the Faculty who would not make special arrangements to accommodate such students.  Complete uniformity of treatment for students is neither possible nor desirable.  The question is when it is justified to treat certain students differently.  

[10] The survey was not intended to have any statistical validity nor is it presented as evidence of the prevailing Faculty opinion on any particular point.  The purpose of the survey was merely to solicit the expression of individual points of view by members of the Faculty and its use is limited to that purpose.

[11] The CAS policy quoted here purposefully designates absences as either “unavoidable” or “avoidable.”  The Subcommittee recognizes that this terminology appropriately focuses attention on the essential aspect of these absences that ultimately determines whether Faculty should be expected to accommodate the absentee student, namely those situations where the student is incapable of attending class due to an obligation that the University recognizes as legitimate.  However, since the more common terminology used by students and Faculty to refer to absences is  “excused” and “unexcused,” this Report will use the latter terms.

[12] Conference USA requires its member universities to have an attendance policy for student-athletes.  It is unclear whether the current situation at Marquette satisfies this requirement.

[13] Assistant A.D. Ford describes this practice as the most prevalent among Faculty.  Members of the Student-Athlete Committee agree, based upon their experience, that the majority of Faculty treat athletics-related absences as “excused” and that excessive “excused” absences result in reduced grades rather than withdrawal from the course.  However, the students noted that grading policies vary widely depending on the particular professor.

[14] The policy would cover absences related to any University-sponsored extracurricular activity.  Therefore, non-athletes could fall within the policy if they comply with its terms, i.e., provide the instructor with a list of scheduled absences at the beginning of the semester.