Even in economically less troubled times, there is great tension, misunderstanding, and resentment between the academic and athletic components of Academe. There do exist professors who are big fans of their school's athletic teams, who attend sporting events, and who do not mind that the football coach makes >25 times their salary. I know 2, maybe 3, such professors, and at least one of them reads this blog.
It is easy to find faculty who resent the amount of money paid to certain coaches and who have unkind thoughts about administrators who approve the building of new stadia and who approve contracts that give large sums of money even to losing coaches when they are fired (has anyone ever proposed this for faculty who are denied tenure?). Most of the negative feelings are directed at football and/or basketball programs because of the money involved and because of issues with some student-athletes who may not be prepared for (or interested in) the academic aspects of being at a university. Such is the nature of those particular sports in relation to college-level athletics and professional sports teams.
I should explain that I am a failed student-athlete. I attempted to be on the swim team of my college, and although I did make it onto the team, barely, the practices so exhausted me that I spent each day dragging myself around in a daze until the next punishing practice.
I quit the team because I wasn't physically strong enough to handle that level of swimming, but my experience left me with respect for those who do manage to be successful at both academics and athletics. Academics alone can be all-consuming, but to be good at academics and something else (athletics or another extracurricular activity) is an accomplishment that should be respected.
I think most of us can appreciate the effort that goes into being a student-athlete, even those of us who are not interested in athletics, and we professors can certainly appreciate a motivated student, even if they are on the football team. The source of faculty resentment of sports does not arise from some inherent pointy-headed intellectual hatred of (certain) Sports, and by extension (certain) Athletes. The problems arise more from anger at administrative priorities that seem to place athletics above academics, and the more specific problem of individual negative experiences that some faculty have with 'non-academically-inclined' student-athletes.
A typical response to professorial complaints that too much money is spent on Sports is that some college sports attract a lot of money and school spirit (and therefore donations) etc. How many students select a university because of the research accomplishments of its faculty? In fact, one of my cousins based her choice of what university to attend on the quality of the football stadium. At the time, I was incredulous, but she is probably not as unusual as we professors like to think.
Many of my interactions with student-athletes in my classes have been very good; some of these students are impressive as people and as scholars. A substantial number of my interactions, however, have not been good. The more positive interactions tend to be with athletes in the sports that don't get much attention and that can't therefore make the we-bring-in-big-money-for-the-university argument, although I have recently experienced some unfortunate exceptions to this generalization. These recent negative experiences with whining, lying student-athletes are what precipitated this blog post, and writing this has helped me to step back and take a look at the larger issues rather than focusing on my annoyance with a few individuals.
At various times in the past I have had football and basketball (F-and-B) students in my intro science classes, but it has lately become very rare for them to take a course in my department, perhaps because a substantial number of these student-athletes failed the intro courses.
It is a relief to me that I haven't had any F-and-B students in my classes this year because these students typically requires a fair amount of extra work because they get to take make-up exams if they miss an exam owing to a sports-related activity and because the Learning Specialists who work with them are relentless. These staff members have a difficult job. I don't know how effective they are, but they are certainly good at sending out a lot of email messages that have no specific content about course material but that repeatedly ask for information about what Student-Athlete X can do to improve his performance in the class.
I think it is important that we professors do not automatically assume that a student-athlete is going to be a poor student with a bad attitude. I am working on reminding myself of this right now. We can still grumble about the ever-expanding mega-complexes devoted to sports as we pass by en route to buy our own dry-erase markers so that we can scrawl unintelligible words and phrases on the board while we drone on about whatever comes to mind in our classes that allow the university to keep busy between major sporting events, but we should not extend our resentment to the students, even when some of them make it difficult not to.
8 months ago