Stephen R. Lewis Jr.
President Emeritus, Carleton College
Remarks at the College Sports Project Integration Institute, June 22, 2005
I appreciate the invitation to talk with you this evening, since the issue of the appropriate role for intercollegiate athletics in the academy is of great importance both to our institutions and to the individual students who attend them. For that reason, I’ve been particularly pleased that the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, led so creatively by Bill Bowen, has taken a substantial interest in this matter and has put some of its considerable resources, both financial and intellectual, into the College Sports Project.
A Personal Interest
Let me begin by explaining briefly why I’ve been very interested in these issues. As an undergraduate at Williams in the late 1950s, I was an intercollegiate wrestler. My participation in that sport in high school and in college was extremely important in my development as a teenager and a young adult. So, in many ways this is a very personal matter for me; I want to see today’s students enjoy the kinds of opportunities I had.
From 1966 to 1987 I taught at Williams, and served as Provost from the late 60s to the mid-70s, a time during which Jack Sawyer at Williams and John Chandler, first at Hamilton and then at Williams, took the lead in creating the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC). I vividly recall our conversations and also the conditions under which they established the conference and its rules. The lessons I learned from those two giants have informed my approach to athletic policy as well as many other issues. In the last dozen years I was at Williams I served on or chaired a number of committees that dealt with admissions, financial aid, long-term planning for the college and, within that context, matters affecting the athletic program. As Provost I was the officer responsible for budgeting and planning for the arrival of women (as transfer students in 1969 and the first freshman class in 1971). Building an athletic program that was fully inclusive for women was an essential element in the successful move into coeducation at Williams.
While I was President of Carleton (1987 to 2002) I paid a great deal of attention to our athletic program. Separate men’s and women’s departments were combined during my first year into a single Department of Physical Education, Athletics and Recreation PEAR). The PEAR department has responsibility for teaching in our physical education requirement, overseeing club sports, running the intercollegiate athletic program, and especially after the opening of a new recreation center in 2000, coordinating a broad-ranging recreation program for students, faculty and staff.
A Digression on the Need for Athletic Reform
Carleton is in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC), a much more heterogeneous collection of institutions than those in NESCAC. So, I learned about a new set of issues in athletic competition: the stresses and strains that can arise when there are substantial differences in student body size, admissions overlap, admissions selectivity, attitudes toward non-need-based financial aid, and financial strength.
I first became seriously interested in issues of reform of intercollegiate athletics when I received a questionnaire from the NCAA asking for my preferences for the post-season bowl schedules for football. I was appalled by the prospect of bowl games for Division III. I was even more upset when “None of the Above” was not given as an option on the questionnaire! Shortly thereafter a Minnesota institution applied for membership in the MIAC, and the presidents met to discuss the matter. The first point made in the discussion was by a president who said he assumed we would make the decision by secret ballot—so much for collegiality. The principal argument against expansion was that another conference member would mean two more conference basketball games for both men and women. This would mean two fewer non-conference games, leading to a diminished chance for a non-championship team to get a bid to post-season play. I thought this was a complete perversion of the principles that should govern intercollegiate athletics.
If we want to keep athletics in perspective at an institution, we need to have a level playing field with the teams with which the institution competes. Reform within one’s conference is not enough, since conference rules tend to be as permissive as the Division III rules permit. And, the emphasis on, and siren song of, post-season play have become too compelling.
In a meeting with our PEAR faculty and coaches at which I talked about the need for reform, our long time track and cross-country coach, Bill Terriquez, asked, rather plaintively: “You’re not talking about unilateral disarmament, are you?” I assured him I was not. Instead we needed to work for system-wide reform.
By the late 1990s, shortly before Bill Bowen and his colleagues published The Game of Life, I had become convinced that there was a substantial need for reform. I wrote memos to a number of presidential colleagues, and held a number of discussions at meetings of like-minded presidents. My interest had been provoked by some anecdotal evidence of the sort Bowen and Shulman documented exhaustively for a range of highly selective institutions. However, it had been driven more strongly by what I perceived to be a tilt in the emphasis on intercollegiate athletics. Many, if not most, student athletes had moved away from the kind of engagement with the rest of campus that I recalled from my undergraduate days. I was convinced that this was good neither for the athletes, especially the “recruited athletes” at the center of the Bowen analysis, nor for the rest of the student body, nor for the health of the institution. So, I welcomed the interest of Bill and others, and have welcomed as well the range of reforms that have come to Division III in recent years.
I believe a lot still needs to be done on the reform agenda. And since there are very different interests of institutions within the current Division III, a new Division, comprising those institutions that would like to see intercollegiate athletics brought back into better balance with both the academic and the other co-curricular activities of our colleges and universities, still seems to me an outcome that could be highly beneficial.
But, I’m not here tonight to lobby you about NCAA reform, even though I believe reform at the institutional level can be fully accomplished only if there is further reform at the NCAA level. The Integration Institutes of the College Sports Project are focused on what the individual institution can do, given whatever conditions exist in inter-institutional arrangements at the conference or national level.
Within institutions, we’re dealing with matters of institutional culture: the norms of behavior people expect, and the social contract that exists among and between presidents, deans, faculty, students, coaches, staff, parents, trustees and alumni. As I read Bowen & Company and consider my own observations on institutions over the past 35 to 40 years, I think we need an explicit effort to change the culture of our institutions with respect to the place of intercollegiate athletics. We need to rewrite the social contract that defines our mutual obligations and mutual expectations. This can be accomplished only if it is done self-consciously and deliberately. And, I think it can (and should) be done on the basis of broad conversations within each institution.
We often talk these days about the “outcomes” of our educational processes. An alternative way of putting my point is that there is a strong interrelationship between institutional culture and the outcomes for all students at an institution (not just the athletes).
How I Perceive the Issues
The rhetoric of the Bowen work and subsequent CSP conversation has emphasized the athletic-academic divide in our institutions. Specifically, it has talked of the separation, or segregation of both athletes and coaches from the rest of the student body and the faculty. While there have always been sub-cultures of athletes (and of other student interest groups), the concern is that these have become stronger in their pull on the individuals and often anti-intellectual in their impact on athletes. In both The Game of Life and Reclaiming the Game the evidence is compelling that recruited athletes at the schools included in the data base both under-perform academically (relative to their potential) and enjoy substantial admissions advantages over other students of similar academic qualifications upon entry. These are serious matters indeed.
My observations, however, are that the severity of the divide varies greatly from institution to institution. The variation depends heavily on the level of admission selectivity; and at any given level of selectivity the divide depends a great deal on how strongly the “coaches’ picks” influence admission decisions. For example, when the MIAC presidents had discussions about The Game of Life, most found the results simply irrelevant for their institutions. For many schools in our conference, and others as well, a strong athletic program with broad participation is of enormous importance for overall admissions results. Athletes help bring academic strength to such schools. In some cases they even help fill beds. One of the most frequent questions I would get from business people in Minnesota between May and September each year was some variation on: “Did you fill your freshman class for this year?” That’s not an issue for a Carleton, or for any of the NESCAC schools, but it is an essential question for many Division III institutions. There is a wider variety of issues at work at most institutions than the very important ones on which Bill Bowen and his colleagues have focused. These have to be understood and taken seriously if we are to make progress toward Bart Giamatti’s goal of “a properly proportioned role” for athletics at our institutions. I believe that we could be doing a better job of living up to our mission at most institutions if we reformed in a number of ways, and the Integration Institutes should be very helpful in meeting that goal.
I’ll be making a number of generalizations, so let’s be clear about whom I am talking. In the CSP we are talking mainly of residential liberal arts colleges, or universities that attract the same kinds of students and seek to provide a liberal arts education to the bulk of their students (e.g., the University Athletic Association (UAA) universities). We’re in the business of serving the traditional college age population of 18-22 year olds. I emphasize these points because students during those years are growing and changing: physically, intellectually, emotionally, socially, and spiritually. In most cases our mission statements, or our statements of purpose, recognize and emphasize this. We’re in the business of trying to help young people develop into independent, thinking, feeling, caring, and effective adult human beings. That is a noble goal. I think our conversations about the place of athletics in the academy have to take place within that context.
In general, our students are a good deal more intellectually mature than their level of social or emotional maturity, as any dean of students who has to deal with the sex lives and drinking habits of 20-year-olds will tell you. This point has important implications for how our academic faculty view student development: they see a much narrower slice of student life than do deans, coaches or parents; and they see a more mature side of our students, the intellectual side. We all need to keep this in mind.
Some History and Context: How Did We Get Here?
Over the past twenty-five to fifty years there have been an enormous number of important changes in our institutions. Some of these have been the result of conscious institutional choice; some choices have been less self-conscious. Some have been caused by the changing nature of the society in which we live, some by changes in other institutions with which we compete or with whom we cooperate (or on whom we depend). Some changes have been the result of government regulation or legislation. But, whatever the reason, we are very different from the kinds of institutions we were in the 1950s, or the 1970s, or even the 1980s. This is especially true for the residential liberal arts colleges and the undergraduate schools of our university counterparts. Some of these changes have affected the athletic side of the house, but many have affected the entire institution. I stress this because as we continue the conversation about better integration of athletes and coaches, we (and our alumni, parents and trustees) must recognize that the institutions into which they’re being integrated are very different from the ones we may remember from two, three or five decades ago.
Let’s start with athletics. In my undergraduate years there were no formal “divisions” in intercollegiate sports. There was limited post-season play in most sports. There certainly were not the well-funded Division III national championships of today, nor were there conference tournaments at the end of regular season competition in team sports. Coaches and athletes frequently were involved in three sports; two would be quite normal for a coach and for many athletes. There was limited “recruitment” of athletes by coaches, and where it took place it was relatively informal and limited to a few major sports. Admissions decisions were made by admissions committees, and “coaches picks” were few and far between, if they existed at all at selective institutions. All three athletic seasons were shorter, and there were many fewer contests in virtually all sports (though NESCAC football still is the eight game season it was in the 1950s). There were no weekly rankings of small college teams as there are today, no Sears Cup at the end of the year. Walk-ons were a fact of life, and many college students became quite proficient in a sport that they had never before played—something almost unheard of today. The specialization in a single sport at the elementary school level, increasingly common today, was virtually unheard of. “Captains’ practices” in the off-season were rare, in part because many good athletes participated in two or three sports. weight training and aerobic conditioning were equally rare. Women’s intercollegiate sports were at best of minor importance. Women on the faculty were more likely to be instructors in physical education, not coaches.
Our institutions have changed in other dimensions as well. A generation or two ago there were no “searches” by SAT scores for outstanding students from around the country, a phenomenon that is virtually universal today and that has affected admissions competition profoundly. There were limited non-need based scholarships. (The “Presidential Leadership Scholars” whom I later found in disproportionately large numbers in some of the offensive and defensive lines we faced in football at Carleton had not been invented!) There were very, very limited opportunities for study abroad, and similarly limited chances to do research as an undergraduate, phenomena that are widespread today. Campus social life was dominated by in loco parentis, with student proctors in dorms and deans with real authority over student lives and social behavior. There was no significant participation of students in campus governance, and certainly not the “consumerist” attitude that exists among students (and their parents) on so many campuses today.
The loyalties of academic faculty in the 1950s and 1960s were primarily to the institution at which they taught. Apart from paid sabbatical leaves, there were few funds for “faculty development” that are quite common today at liberal arts colleges, especially those with above-average endowments. Faculties were largely male, and their spouses tended not to work outside the home. As a result, the social “glue” that held institutions together was often provided by the wives of senior faculty, who brought people together socially and built community, and who often helped with the socialization of new arrivals as well. Those days are long gone.
Obviously things have changed in major ways. Both coaches and athletes are more specialized than they were, and they participate in fewer sports. Coaches spend much, much more time recruiting than they did. Athletes have longer practices as well as more contests, longer seasons, and expectations from coaches and teammates for both conditioning drills and captains’ practices in off seasons. The changes in academic performance for recruited athletes have been well documented by Bowen & Company, at least at the academically most selective institutions. But I believe athletes today also are participating in many fewer other extracurricular activities, including those that involve serving as residential advisors in dorms. Fifty years ago at places such as Carleton and Williams the varsity athletes were heavily represented among proctors or residential advisors; now they are under represented—in part because of the time commitments of today’s intercollegiate athletics. On the positive side, the rise of women’s intercollegiate sports has been a great thing for women, as well as for our institutions as a whole. Even here, however, the evidence from Bowen & Company suggests that recruited female athletes are beginning to resemble their male counterparts.
In addition to time demands of longer seasons and off-season conditioning, Bowen and his colleagues have persuasive evidence on several points suggesting that the selection process during admission has lowered participation of recruited athletes in other extra-curricular activities. First, it seems that some admissions committees don’t go much farther than the coaches’ lists when making their decisions—that is, they don’t look at what else the student would contribute, academically or in extra-curricular areas or in terms of character. Second, recruited athletes understand that they were chosen because of a coach and that they are, therefore, different from other students. Third, the coaches work to keep the loyalty of their recruited athletes and to create a culture of mutual support among team members. In such circumstances it would be surprising if recruited athletes participated in other activities as widely as other students, including walk-on athletes. Since the evidence is clear that the percentage of athletes who are recruited has risen over time, a decline in the participation by all athletes in other activities is to be expected.
On the academic side of the house there have been enormous changes as well. The increased importance of research, publication and scholarship is well known, as are the increased institutional demands for faculty publication and professional engagement. These have led to the increased identification of faculty with their national or international discipline instead of the college. The dual career family is well established. Many institutions deal with the effects of commuter marriages as well. The increased diversity of the professoriate—more women, more underrepresented American minorities, more foreign-born and foreign-educated faculty—has a number of important effects. Faculty born and raised abroad who went to a major university for graduate school are coming into contact with a residential liberal arts college for the first time when they go on the job market. How would they have any sense of an appropriate role for intercollegiate athletics? Student/faculty ratios have fallen, especially at the more selective and well endowed colleges, as have the number of courses each faculty member teaches (and each student takes); as a result, each faculty member will teach, and get to know, a smaller number of students than had been the case twenty-five to fifty years ago. Separation has become easier, communication and community building harder.
There are also many new claimants in the governance process: the increased professionalization of staff in all parts of the institution—libraries and counseling centers, information technology, student life and admission professionals—all have a view of how their claims should be considered. Students expect to have more input into major decisions (including those of athletic policy) than was even imagined in the 1950s and 1960s. And the litigiousness of society has contributed its own complications: if you don’t see the sport you’d like on campus, sue for it.
Most of the changes described above have produced centrifugal forces in each of our institutions. These forces have pulled all of the participants away from what had been an agreed core mission and purpose and away from a shared experience of “The College.” As a result the nature of internal communication has changed. A few decades ago if an athlete was slacking off in class, his teacher might bump into the coach over coffee and inquire about what’s going on; and they might work something out about who would talk with the student and how. But the Amherst and Williams faculty reports referred to in Reclaiming the Game seem to think that the solution is to complain about the generic nature of today’s athletes, rather than to walk down the street to talk with the relevant coach! On many campuses, I suspect, the familiarity of faculty with coaches is much lower than it was in decades gone by. We and our students are paying the price for that lack of knowledge and communication.
What’s the Problem?
So, given these changes, and this description of the situation, what is the real problem? In the late 1970s I was working for a wonderful man, Quett Masire, who was then Minister of Finance in Botswana and was later the country’s second president. Late one evening I encountered him in his Ministry. I had become concerned about our over commitment in a number of areas and whether we would be able to implement what we were doing. I said to him, “Sir, I think we’re simply trying to do too much.” “Steve,” he said, “if you can properly identify the problem, then you’ll be able to find the solutions.” I have found that to be profound advice.
My conclusion, having read the Bowen books and a good deal more on athletics, having worked in this vineyard for a long time, and having had countless hours of conversations on the subject with colleagues from many institutions, is this: We do not face a problem that should be defined as an academic/athletic issue. Rather, we have a situation in which we’re not achieving the full participation of athletes and coaches in the life of the institution. I’ve already noted the separation that comes from the way college admissions are run for recruited athletes. We also lack a proper recognition by the rest of the faculty and student body of their role in helping to encourage the participation of all students and faculty in the life of the institution. And, we often have academic faculty that think of their role in relation to both students and the institution in narrower ways than was true in the 1950s, 1960s, and early in the 1970s.
Do we believe our own rhetoric about the value of the residential liberal arts college, of shared learning both in and out of class, and of helping the entire person, not just his or her intellect, develop during the college years? If so, then we need to see the issue of “integration” of athletes and coaches in much broader terms. And on the student side, it should not be simply academic performance, but also other measures of the “representativeness” of athletes in the student body.
Expanding the Conversation
I’d like to illustrate how we might expand the conversation by going through the institutional questionnaire that participants in the CSP’s Integration Institute used in their self-study. I’ll indicate how I would have modified it.
The questionnaire talks about the “athletic” mission. My first question is: where are club sports? physical education instruction including learning life-long sports? recreational athletic activities? the roles of coaches and athletes, or of the department in which they reside, in these important institutional activities?
The questionnaire asks how various groups (all students, all faculty, etc.) define success. My observation and experience is that there is an enormous range of opinion within any of those groups. When I was a young provost, I’d frequently be stopped on the sidewalk by an older colleague who taught US diplomatic history. “Steve,” Russ Bostert would say with great seriousness, “I think you ought to know that The Faculty thinks…,” and he would make a case against something I or my administrative colleagues were doing, thinking about, or alleged to be doing or thinking about. I soon learned that those conversations took place after Russ had had a cup of coffee with his colleague Irwin Shainman from the music department: that conversation defined “The Faculty” for the purpose of those conversations with me. My point is there is likely to be a wide range of opinion within each of these groups (which is healthy). The range of opinion is likely to be wider than it was a quarter of a century ago because of the increased diversity of the backgrounds from which today’s faculty, students and staff have come.
One critically important group not mentioned in the questionnaire is parents. Not only are they the ones paying the bills, but today they are more likely than their predecessors to think like consumers. Some of the Bowen anecdotes, and those I am sure any college president could provide, illustrate that parents will have strong views on athletic policies as they affect their daughters or sons. More importanly, they are the only observers who’ve seen their children both before they came to college and while they are there; they have a unique perspective on the effect our institutions have on our students. Indeed, my conversations with parents—on opening day, on parents weekends, at commencement, any place I would find them—were my litmus tests on how well we were doing as an institution. They need to be part of this conversation.
The questionnaire asks about the role of NCAA championships. I’d have added: what’s the role of important local rivalries? Jack Sawyer once commented about a football coach at Williams that he didn’t understand two wins and six losses was a winning season—if the wins were over Amherst and Wesleyan! What’s really happened to traditional local rivalries as post-season allure has increased? How do those rivalries affect the view of “success” in the program?
Do departmental evaluations match institutional ones? the questionnaire asks. I’d have asked whether there is an appropriate college-wide process for evaluation. Are coaches put through the same college-wide committee as academic faculty? If there’s a system of reviewing departments, does the same procedure apply to the relevant department that includes athletics as applies to academic departments? In my view, the answer to both of those questions should be: Yes.
While it’s of interest to know if conference affiliation “enhances” the experience, I’d also be explicit in asking how it detracts from the effectiveness of the program. I believe a level playing field in one’s competitive universe is an essential element in achieving a “properly proportioned role” for athletics and reducing the divide between athletes and the rest of the institution.
There’s a question about athletic versus “educational” values. This is, I think, the first time that “educational” has been used instead of “academic.” Most of our institutions have some version of a pretty broad educational purpose—as mentioned earlier, one of helping to nurture the development of independent, caring, thinking, feeling productive young women and men. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of non-curricular intellectual and educational activities at our institutions that add to the richness of the experience for our students. I’m just as concerned that athletes (and all students) take part in those activities and benefit from them as I am in their more narrowly academic, class work related activities. On September 13, 2001, I noticed Steve Nuessle, our star tight end, coming straight from dinner after football practice to join the audience to hear four of our faculty presenting an impromptu program on the politics of Islam. I thought: I guess we’re doing a few things right. But I wish I had seen more of that sort of participation, since I believe it is critical to our mission.
The focus in the questionnaire on the “integration of athletics” conveys an incomplete understanding of what I think our problem is. What about the integration of coaches into the life of the faculty and the institution? What about academic faculty reaching out and taking initiatives? The Colby College program of providing a mentor from the faculty to every varsity team is one excellent example I’ve come across, but we need much more of that sort of activity.
The question of whether adequate “resources” are available to support integration is, I think, too narrow. I’d add: does the institutional leadership manage the issues adequately to support integration? Does the institution manage its scheduling so that all its programs, academic and co-curricular, including intercollegiate athletics, have an appropriate priority in the claims on students time? Most important of all, how does the leadership manage its system of rewards, recognition, constraints and requirements on every part of the institution to ensure athletes, and all students, are “integrated?”
In my view the focus on academic performance in defining “representativeness” is too narrow. What about other extra-curricular activities? volunteer programs? off-campus study programs? club sports? advising in residence halls? Varsity athletes should have their share of participants in all these activities. Many institutions now survey seniors on a wide range of questions, including the nature and extent of their extracurricular activities, so data to make such comparisons could be acquired at a reasonable cost.
The role of academics in admissions and recruiting of athletes is very complex, I believe. Perhaps the focus should be on how well we give coaches (and admissions officers) the right information, incentives, rewards, recognition and, if necessary, disapproval. Bowen & Company emphasize that the process of selection, including the role of coaches and admissions committees, is critical to how the admitted student feels about the rationale for his or her admission.
The biggest omission in the questionnaire may be on the role of the academic faculty. They are the ones who need to build some bridges to both student athletes and coaches. The leadership of the faculty, I believe, has a major role to play in re-establishing a productive culture and taking an interest in the fabric of the entire institution. This of course will be much easier to accomplish at the residential liberal arts colleges than at the undergraduate divisions of major research universities.
I also would have liked to have seen something in the questionnaire about the role for student mentoring and for peer leadership in helping to establish a culture that nurtures the kind of development we would like to see for our students. What’s the role of student leaders (for better or for worse) in socializing new students into the institution? If there are perverse elements (and I’m sure every institution has some), how can they be offset or neutralized? The first days on campus are critical: what messages are being conveyed, and received, about what is valued and what is not on our campuses?
Finally and related to the issue of broader student development is the matter of identity—and the search for identity is a critical part of the educational process in the 18-22 age group. Perhaps one way of looking at the “divide” that Bowen and Company have emphasized is that too much of the recruited athlete’s identity is tied up in his or her athletic participation. Coaches have an interest in promoting that particular identification; but many of us have seen the consequences for an athlete who’s injured, or loses a starting slot, or quits for some personal frustration, and whose whole life (and then academic performance and even personal equilibrium) can be shattered by the loss of his or her primary identification. One of the questions we should be asking ourselves is how well we are doing in helping all our students, including athletes, develop as individuals during their student days: examining their values, defining their identities, and discovering both their capabilities and their limitations as persons. Faculty, coaches, deans, conductors, work supervisors, advisors—all these have roles to play; we should have some clear understandings of who does what, why, how, and in cooperation with whom else.
So: What to Do?
My experience both in public policy and in working with institutions of many kinds is this: if there is a major problem, it is unlikely that there is a single solution, a quick fix, or a silver bullet. The solution to a serious problem is likely to involve a number of smaller changes that each makes a contribution. In an interdependent world—within institutions, within athletic conferences, and within Division III—all parts of the world probably have to make adjustments.
In the academic/athletic divide, many parts of each institution acquiesced, or facilitated, or enabled, or encouraged the changes that have take place. Many of those changes, as I’ve noted, have come from outside: from society and its mores and practices, from the professions and the wider national professoriate, and from other institutions. So, we are not dealing with a simple issue.
I’m convinced that we need to reestablish a healthy role for intercollegiate athletics at our institutions, and to recalibrate the place of athletes and coaches. I believe this is very largely an issue of shifting the culture and practices of the whole institution—not just athletes and coaches. I also believe that reform at the NCAA and conference level is essential if institutions are to make the shifts that are necessary. No institution should be expected to unilaterally disarm.
Because of the changed conditions in our institutions over the past 25 to 50 years, and the centrifugal forces pulling all of them away from their core mission, if we want to have some of the good things from the past under today’s conditions, we will have to intentionally create new arrangements that fit current realities. Such a re-thinking has to start at the top: presidents and deans; faculty, trustee, student and alumni leaders; student life, admissions and athletic professionals—all have to be involved. Such re-thinking has to start with a new “tone,” and the leadership has to define the problem to be addressed (and the potential that can be realized). We need to focus on a redefinition, or at minimum a reaffirmation, of the purposes, the mission, and the culture of our institutions.
Part of what is needed, I believe, is to be sure there is broad discussion so that there is a buy in from all the relevant constituencies. This is part of the reestablishment of the social contract; people have to understand what they might lose, as well as what they will gain. I tend to see most of life as a positive sum, not a zero sum, game; I believe the leadership of institutions has to help guide the process of re-definition so that everyone understands that proposition. Naturally, some particular perks or privileges or positions of influence will be lost by some parties. But I often come back to one of Jack Sawyer’s propositions: there are at least eight separate constituencies—students, faculty, alumni, parents, administrative officers, staff, local communities, and donors—that are important; and, each one from time to time mistakenly assumes it is the most important! Shared governance is just that: shared. The leadership has to lead, and then it has to manage the process.
Of course, as one reestablishes the social contract and shifts the culture, there also will be a need to come to agreement on how to apply incentives and rewards, recognition and resources, priorities for scheduling and time commitments, as well as constraints and penalties, to make sure revised arrangements actually work.
And, if such an exercise is to be successful, real candor in our conversations is essential. During a campus controversy some years ago, I met my political science colleague Michael Zuckert on the sidewalk one afternoon. I observed that the faculty who agreed with me on issues tended to talk with me, while those who disagreed with me talked with others. I opined that such a practice was not helpful to collegial discussion. “But you have to understand,” said Michael, “that is how we’ve figured out how to get along together!” Well, folks, that approach won’t do if we are to really rethink how we are approaching the place of athletics and athletes in the academy.
What I’ve described is clearly not a “quick fix.” Since we have reached our present situation because of the evolution of our institutions over decades, it would be completely unrealistic to think that we could return to some halcyon day overnight and with a few slick tricks. To reiterate a key point, “integration” is a broad concept, and it will involve not just the academic faculty and coaches, but also the student life, residential life and other professionals on the staff. The rethinking has to include consideration of the place of club sports, intramurals and general recreation and fitness.
Rethinking also needs to include attention to how athletes and coaches are participating in all aspects of the life of the institution. A number of years ago when I was meeting with our coaches, Bob Sullivan, then our football coach, complained that other students treated his ballplayers as different from the rest of the student body and didn’t really accept them. “Bob,” I said, “I go to a lot of concerts, plays and recitals, and I hardly ever see any football players there unless they have a girlfriend who’s performing. If they want to be part of the institution, they have to reach out, too. And you have to encourage them to do so.”
Some Examples of Reform
Let me be concrete about some suggestions for practical reform as part of the overall effort. These may or may not apply to most institutions, but I offer them to provoke conversation.
Attention must be paid to scheduling of daily and weekly activities with a view to the overall effect on student learning and life. A clear understanding needs to be reached about timing for classes, labs, athletic practices, dining hall hours, other extra-curricular activities, committee and faculty meetings (presuming coaches hold faculty positions, which I hope they do). It should be clear that not everyone gets to have his or her first choices on when to teach—or when to hold orchestra rehearsals or team practices. There are multiple objectives for a college or university, especially one whose principal constituency is traditional college age students in a residential setting. An agreed schedule is an important part of the structure for success.
There should be some explicit (and ongoing) conversations among faculty of how they can best support and guide their students. Students look for cues from faculty and coaches; those cues can be helpful or perverse. During one of many discussions of alcohol use on campus, some of our student leaders observed that faculty sometimes played an enabling role by their offhand comments. At a Friday class a teacher might say, in a kidding way, “If you’re not too hung over this weekend, you should re-read the book I assigned at the beginning of the course.” Such a comment, the students said, conveyed the message that the faculty expected that students would do heavy drinking over the weekend—and that this was OK. Most faculty I know would be appalled to think they were enablers of potential alcoholics—but they were.
On the other end of the spectrum was the example of Chuck Carlin, an outstanding teacher of organic chemistry at Carleton, who advocated “creative hanging out.” He’d occasionally stop down to football practice after organic lab, since he had a lot of pre-med students on the teams. Knowing that your organic prof was actually interested in you as a ballplayer reinforced the kind of authority and respect Chuck had. It also made the students aware that their athletic lives, and their out-of-class behavior, were of interest to faculty they respected. In my experience, when coaches or academic faculty encourage students to do things, they tend to respond positively. How best to use this form of “authority” is an important issue; it should be discussed explicitly.
Many institutions today recognize that new PhDs need a good deal of help in figuring out how to manage their lives at a liberal arts college: how to teach undergraduates effectively, how to maintain a scholarly research or creative program without other specialists in residence, how to participate in governance of the institution, etc. Therefore, many of us spend substantial resources on faculty development, mentoring and socializing of young faculty. We need to do the same thing for young coaches, who may come to us from a few years at a large university, with a Division I athletic program, where they were graduate assistants in a highly specialized environment. Just as the residential liberal arts colleges have to “grow our own” academic faculty, so, too, do we need to grow our own coaches. There is a need for mentors and for programs of support.
If we’re serious about integration of coaches and athletes into the broader lives of our institutions, we also need to give recognition to the fact that successful coaches are generally extraordinarily good teachers as well. Coach Carl Samuelson gave a faculty lecture at Williams many years ago on the mechanics of swimming, and how he taught his swimmers the theory (and the physics) as well as the practice. It was a great example of cross-over interests that was highly appreciated by the academic faculty. As I’ve watched Tammy Metcalf-Filzen, Carleton’s outstanding women’s basketball coach, produce a complete turn-around in team performance from a first to a second half of a game, I often thought she should be asked to give a seminar on how she analyzes the problems so quickly and gets her players involved in finding solutions to a bad first half. There are many kinds of effective teaching; some extraordinary teaching takes place in gymnasiums and on practice fields. Our academic faculty could learn from our good coaches, and such activities would help knit our institutions together around a sense of common purpose as well.
I’m not sure how much our institutions do to socialize new students as they arrive, but my experience suggests that we could do a better job of it. And, since a part of the academic/athletic “divide” shows up in separate sub-cultures for different groups of students, some systematic programs of “orientation” that involve all students might help bridge the divides. When I said my annual thanks to resident assistants and new student week leaders the night before new students arrived on campus, I always reminded them that these students would be looking for clues and cues as to what is expected of them at Carleton, especially by other students: “For about 72 hours, you are Carleton College, so you have to decide what kinds of messages you want to send about what it means to be a Carleton student.”
As we were developing and modifying our orientation programs, it became clear that one of our challenges involved the athletes. Due to their early arrival on campus for team practices, new student athletes had undergone two weeks of socialization and acculturation by upper-class athletes and coaches. Also, unless we intervened to insist that the new student athletes participate in all the major events, gatherings and programs, they were likely to be at practice (or just playing hooky at the urging of the upper-classmen!). So, those planning new student week worked with Leon Lunder, our AD, and with the various coaches, to avoid conflicts with important orientation events.
This leads to another story, one about parents and their expectations and inclinations. One new student activity that turned out to be quite successful was a common reading. Over the summer each year we sent out a book for all new students (and resident assistants and new student week leaders) to read. The second night new students were on campus, we held an evening convocation, at which three faculty, staff or recent alumni spoke about the book (which always dealt with issues of race). We then broke up into discussion groups lead by faculty and staff volunteers, many in homes, some on campus. That event was one around which the coaches had to plan so athletes could participate. One year the first football game of the season was an away game the afternoon after the common reading convocation; the team was scheduled to stay overnight near the other college. We made it clear that the new students on the team were expected to be at the convocation and to participate in the discussion groups; they would have to travel in the morning.
The night before the convocation a telephone message was left on my office answering machine. It was from the mother of a senior on the team, berating me for this terrible decision, and making it clear that I had better reverse it. From the sound of the voice I suspected that her message was fueled by a bit of fermented grape. Her passions grew, and the message ended, “Come on, Steve, get your values and priorities straight!” I invited Leon Lunder and Coach Bob Sullivan to join me in my office the next morning and played back the message; I suggested they had a bit of work to do.
I tell this story to illustrate not just the complexity of the task in which we’re engaged but also the importance of achieving buy in at all levels, and from all constituencies. There will inevitably be compromises, but I think that if we insist on a number of major activities that integrate all students into the institution, we’ll go a long way.
Finally, there is what my colleague Mike Flynn, Carleton’s Faculty Athletic Representative, calls the “coin of the realm” issue: the win-loss record. Coaches want to win; we love to see them win; they receive peer acclaim when they win. Their incentives are to win. And, even if we provide recognition within the institution when they lose but do so with players who are terrific young people whom they have helped develop as individuals, there’s not much recognition in the conference or the division; at that level it’s W-L. I don’t have a complete response to that issue, but I come back to the question of the playing field within the conference, and within the Division. If there is truly a level playing field (in terms of the academic and other qualifications, practice time, off-season activity, financial aid packages for students of comparable economic status, etc., for the athletes on every team in the league), then won-lost records will depend more on coaching ability and recruiting skills of the individual coaches. The effect of free-agency plus the salary cap in professional football have made the NFL’s “on any given Sunday” slogan something of a reality: all kinds of upsets happen; dynasties are harder to sustain. A more level playing field, as defined by more institutional homogeneity and more “representativeness” of athletes of the whole student body at each institution, would put a different set of pressures on coaches. It would reduce a particular set of pressures on admissions committees and on financial aid officers. So, I end where I began, with the conclusion that truly moving on reform at the institutional level requires movement at the national and conference level as well.
Let me sum up my thoughts on the issue of re-integrating athletes and coaches and the rest of the academy.
There is a serious problem in most institutions in the divide between the students and coaches involved in intercollegiate athletics and the rest of the students, faculty and staff. The nature of the problem varies considerably among institutions. It probably presents substantially different kinds of challenges in the very highly selective institutions than those in less selective institutions. And, conferences with more heterogeneous institutions experience more stresses than those where institutions are more similar in selectivity and mission.
The problems we face have developed over time due to a series of societal trends, institutional choices, changes in the nature of the academy, and developments in the national organization of athletics.
The issues we now face are in part within our institutions and in part a result of changes in conferences and within the NCAA, especially the emphasis and funding of post-season national championships. Substantial progress must involve reform at all levels.
If we are to address the issues productively, institutions will have to tackle them in a very broad way, with all parties recognizing the need for change, including changes in their own behavior. This is not an issue where athletes and coaches alone need to make adjustments. In its most profound aspect, what we need to do is cause a change in institutional culture, reaffirming a social contract that defines mutual expectations and obligations of students, faculty, staff, presidents, deans, trustees, alumni and parents.
If we address these issues head on, we can improve the nature of the educational experience for all our students including our athletes. The integration project is an opportunity to redefine a whole range of relationships within our institutions.
Over the years colleagues too numerous to mention, from many institutions, have contributed to my education on this subject. For this talk I’m grateful to Gene Tobin of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the College Sports Project for inviting me to speak at the Institute and for suggestion some topics; and to Bill Bowen of the Mellon Foundation and my Carleton colleagues Mike Flynn and John Ramsay for their thoughtful comments on a draft of these remarks.