Colleges and universities prepare students for almost all professions of note -- except sports. To be sure, we have students pursuing degrees in sports management, kinesiology, and other related fields, but unlike students who come to study music performance, acting, creative writing and other talent- and performance-based professions, our students who come with athletic talent and seek opportunities to perform are left out of the academic curriculum.
This is a significant omission, for as we all know, sports is big business. It is one of America's major entertainment industries, and surely rivals orchestras, theaters, operas and movies as professional post-college employment venues. We provide degrees in music performance, we have superb academic programs in opera focused on the production of major entertainment products by the university, and we have countless theatrical productions produced on campus by students majoring in acting.
When we teach our students the profession of sports performance, however, whether in football, basketball, tennis, or track, we deny them the structure and benefit of a focused curriculum and degree.
It's time for the sports performance degree. As anyone who watches the college sports enterprise knows, the profession of sports performance (that is, being a professional athlete, whether on the golf tour or in professional baseball) is demanding, highly technical, and requires a combination of talent, skill, training, preparation, and dedication.
One only needs to observe the increasingly sophisticated methods and techniques required of baseball and football players, or the careful analysis that goes into learning golf techniques or tennis strategy, to understand that we should provide our students interested in sports performance with similar opportunities to those we provide students seeking a career as a violinist or operatic tenor.
To be sure, academic programs in music, or theater, or dance with courses in theory and history, as well as performance, have been with us for a long time, and have well-established traditions and curriculums. Sports performance, with its tradition of amateur participation and a longstanding existence outside of the academic program as an extracurricular activity, does not have the benefit of an academic tradition.
Yet today, we know that sports performance is a rigorous, demanding, and highly professionalized career for many people. Some participate as performers; others with a performance background in college athletics move into management, coaching, and other professional roles related to sports. The skills of sports performance are nontrivial and currently have highly specialized training and study required to perform them well, and most professional athletes acquire sophisticated training and understanding of their games to ensure a successful career.
It's now time to reexamine the nature of sports performance and see if we can construct an academically viable course of study analogous to what we have done for music or dance.
How can we make the transition from sports as extracurricular activity to sports as an academic discipline? The first step is to recognize that sports as an extracurricular activity already exists in the university through elaborate systems of intramural and recreational sports, and as well through club sports that play competitions in nonprofessional contexts with other universities. But for those students seeking a career in sports performance, the requirements for a degree would need to be carefully structured and clearly specified.
The best model would follow closely on the academic requirements expected of music performance majors at many of our premier universities: Indiana, Florida State, Michigan, the University of Southern California, to take a few examples. In these programs, the students spend countless hours honing their performance skills and abilities through individual practice and have many performance requirements where they must display their skills before highly critical and expert audiences.
While an opera season at Indiana University may not draw quite the audience of an Indiana University basketball season, it surely would draw an audience that exceeds that of the IU golf or tennis team. It is not the size of the audience in any event that matters; what matters is the rigor of the preparation required of a student pursuing a performance major.
If a student wants to receive a performance degree, they not only must perform at the highest skill level (and be recruited and selected based on auditions that demonstrate the talent and commitment required to succeed), but they must also take a range of academic courses related to their profession. Music theory, composition, music history for the musician, for example. In addition, of course, they must fulfill the university's general education requirements.
In constructing our sports major, most universities already have the academic subjects that would be required through departments of kinesiology, sports management, etc. They have courses in sports history, sports law, sports finance. What they need is a structured curriculum for a student majoring in sports performance with a specialty in individual sports performance or a specialty in team sports performance.
That major would surely require participation on an intercollegiate sports team, and like those who audition and are chosen for music performance majors, they would need to have the requisite skills and abilities to compete at the highest levels. All current intercollegiate athletes already are required to participate in the general education curriculum and be on track to major. The only difference here is to have the opportunity to seek a sports performance degree.
To gain the confidence of our colleagues, we would need to ensure that the sports major achieves academic integrity. This would require an accrediting association for degrees in sports performance composed of representatives from the strong academic fields of sports management, kinesiology, business, and music performance; participation by representatives of regional accreditation agencies; and most likely engagement with the NCAA, especially using faculty athletic representatives and perhaps a designated presidential member. Periodic reviews of sports performance programs with accreditation upheld or denied, the establishment of models and norms for the organization and structure of the sports performance degree, and continuing engagement with the professional world of sports would all be part of the sports degree accreditation system.
Along with the establishment of the rigorous program for an academic degree, universities would need to create opportunities for students to move easily from college to professional performance whenever it appears appropriate. If a student in opera performance tried out for the Metropolitan Opera and was selected to become part of that organization, they would surely leave the university degree program and begin their professional career immediately, and we would celebrate that departure as a recognition of our ability to identify talent, train professionals, and launch a career, even if with an incomplete degree. Similarly, students in a sports degree program in, say golf, might well drop out and join the tour with the expectation of an early start on their professional life. Indeed, we already do this for college baseball players.
Many, but not all students in the sports performance major would receive scholarships based on their talent and performance ability, just as students in other performance related majors receive scholarships based on auditions and assessments of talent and promise. Within this context, the athletic director, coaches, and other personnel who teach the skills, strategy, and operations of athletic programs would carry faculty status, not necessarily tenure-track depending on the nature of their work. The athletic department in collaboration with the university's academic affairs office and in compliance with accreditation expectations, would develop standards for performance instruction.
The university faculty, through its normal process, would determine the appropriate credit to be granted for particular instructional and performance activity. This, too, would draw on the experience of music performance programs. Indeed, in those programs, the faculty are often superstars drawn from the professional world who teach performance in their fields on a temporary or guest faculty basis.
Will it take some effort to construct this sports performance major? To be sure. But the consequence of continuing to operate intercollegiate sports as an auxiliary entertainment enterprise are significantly damaging to the success of the college sports activity and detrimental to the success of students participating in these displays of talent and skill to require colleges and universities to take on this challenge.
What we need now is a courageous university president with a strong athletic program to launch this process and mobilize the support and enthusiasm of like-minded innovators.
John Lombardi is former president of Louisiana State University and the University of Florida and author of How Universities Work (Johns Hopkins University Press).
Some students who attended the office hours of Dartmouth College President Phil Hanlon on Tuesday refused to leave and staged a sit-in that was still going on as of 9:30 p.m. The students are demanding that Hanlon endorse the "Freedom Budget" that they have created. That document includes numerous demands, including increased enrollment (to 10 percent each) of black, Latino and Native American students; the enhancement of many ethnic studies programs; a pledge to make 47 percent of postocs be people of color; and a requirement departments "that do not have womyn or people of color will be considered in crisis and must take urgent and immediate action to right the injustice." Hanlon expressed his commitment to diversity and inclusiveness. A statement from Dartmouth Tuesday night said that students who remain in the president's office "understand, based on discussions with campus safety and security that they are in violation of college policy."
On February 24, 2014, The New York Times ran a story titled “Colorblind Notion Aside: Colleges Grapple with Racial Tension,” detailing myriad racial incidents on college campuses. However, according to a new survey by Inside Higher Ed, most college and university presidents don’t think this kind of racial tension is happening on their campuses. According to the IHE survey: “Most presidents (90 percent) say that, generally speaking, the state of race relations on their campus is good.” I was shocked to hear presidents answer in this way. How could this happen?
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Consider these incidents that have taken place on college campuses in the past year:
A student at San Jose State University was tormented and ridiculed with racial slurs and the posting of the Confederate Flag by three students for months.
Black students at Harvard University launched a Tumblr campaign called “I, Too, Am Harvard” to elevate the voices of Black students on campus because they are “unheard.”
Black males at UCLA created a YouTube video titled The Black Bruins detailing the dismal statistics surrounding Black men on the Southern California campus. Likewise, law school students at UCLA have been bringing attention to the discrimination that they face on a daily basis through a social media campaign.
The chancellor of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, an Asian American woman, experienced racist slurs when she didn’t cancel classes during inclement weather.
Black students at the University of Michigan are protesting the racial climate on campus through both traditional means and social media.
A fraternity at Arizona State University held a party at which white students dressed in "gangsta wear" and drank from hollowed-out watermelons. (Note: This article has been updated from an earlier version to delete an erroneous reference to McDaniel College.)
Given these blatant incidents taking place regularly throughout the nation, let’s run through some possible reasons that college presidents remain positive about the situation on their own campuses:
First, the presidents answering the survey, although responding anonymously, could have been worried about bringing negative attention to their campus if they answered anything less than good. Typically, when racial tensions are high on college campuses, presidents are in damage control mode, tempering how the story is played out in media outlets. Moreover, presidents claim that it is harder to recruit students of color after negative media stories surface.
Second, some of the presidents might actually believe the myth that since the election of Barack Obama (twice) to the presidency of the United States, we live in a postracial world in which people of various racial and ethnic backgrounds get along famously and have set aside their differences and misunderstandings.
Third, some presidents are not fully aware of what is happening on their campuses – in classrooms, students organizations, fraternity and sorority houses, and in the residence halls. Midlevel staff members don’t always report the day-to-day interactions among students, and deans don’t want to bring bad news related to faculty members to presidents. For instance, at San Jose State University, mentioned above, it took the midlevel management considerable time to report the horrific incidents to the president. Perhaps presidents are kept in the dark as to the minor racial incidents and race relations on their campuses; only those that draw media investigation get their attention.
Fourth, many campuses have all of the “signs” of healthy race relations – diversity offices, diversity-related administrators, cultural centers, and diversity programs infused in orientation and student affairs activities – giving the impression that race relations on campus are "good" even when they are not.
Fifth, presidents might assume that demographic diversity on campus, which is on the increase, is equal to positive interactions among students, faculty, and staff. Research shows us that oftentimes demographic diversity doesn’t lead to interaction and in fact, campuses need to be purposeful about engendering positive race relations.
Sixth, and I think the most likely reason for the presidents’ understanding of campus race relations; the majority of college and university presidents are white. Oftentimes, even well-meaning whites are oblivious to the daily microaggressions felt by people of color because they do not experience environments in the same way. More importantly, oftentimes whites create and sustain systems within academe that reinforce racism. These systems are most common in the areas of admission, faculty hiring and senior administration. For example, admission policies often privilege legacy status over the contents of the student application. Faculty member hiring systems sometimes hire candidates based on the recommendation of prominent white male professors rather than looking at the candidates that are actually in hiring pools. And upper administration, which is mainly white on most campuses, fail to notice their whiteness (intentionally or unintentionally) and the effect it has on the operations and race relations on campus.
From my own experience in academe at several colleges and universities, I have found that race relations are sometimes good depending on the circles in which I travel and they are sometimes strained. Students come to campus with varying degrees of exposure to difference; faculty members are sometimes uncomfortable "talking about diversity" and oftentimes will go to great lengths to protect white privilege and the systems that are in place that uphold this privilege; and administrative ranks at most colleges and universities are overwhelmingly white, making it more difficult to have an accurate understanding of race relations on college campuses.
I do believe that our college campuses have people who care deeply about being inclusive, promoting true diversity, and engendering honest racial dialogue. However, there are still many individuals who do not feel this way; these people occupy the faculty ranks, the study body, the administration and staff, and even the presidency. Unless these individuals push themselves (or are pushed) to see the world through another set of eyes and place themselves in situations that are different from their everyday norm, they will not be able to catch a glimpse into what people of color experience on campus. An acknowledgement of the challenges that we still have in the area of race relations on campus is the pathway to bettering these relations; top down leadership is essential.
South Carolina Lieutenant Governor Glen McConnell says he can overcome the backlash that erupted after he was named the next president of the College of Charleston, a public liberal arts college. McConnell, who has been criticized for not being an academic and for his affiliation with Confederate historical causes, said time as leader of the state Senate taught him how to bring together divided constituencies. McConnell, a former student government president at the college, said students who staged a protest after his selection that was the largest in recent memory just need to get to know him. “Most of those people have never met me,” he said. ”They don’t know anything about me. They just know what somebody told them. When you operate on a misconception, then you don’t know the truth.” (McConnell did not respond to a request for an interview for the story linked to above, but reached out after it was published Wednesday.)
The student government has already taken a “no confidence” vote in the college’s trustees. The Faculty Senate is expected to take one next month. One of the concerns is that McConnell got the job through a rigged search process – he was selected despite not being one of the search committee’s finalists, according local media reports. McConnell said in a phone interview he didn’t know for sure about that.
Faculty also worry the trustees are looking to merge the college with a separate state-run medical school in Charleston. McConnell said he wants to expand the College of Charleston's research and post-graduate work to ensure that the state doesn’t force a merger. “I’m a product of a liberal arts college – the College of Charleston,” he said.
Faculty also say the board did not do enough to stick up for academic freedom after the state’s House moved to dock the college’s allowance over freshman reading material that lawmakers found to be gay-themed and therefore offensive. The book, Fun Home, is a memoir by a lesbian; it has been widely acclaimed and was recently turned into a musical. McConnell said he believes in academic freedom but would have handled the situation differently and not gotten into a tussle with House lawmakers and instead promised to take their concerns back to the faculty. But, he said, it’s not his job to tell faculty which books to assign. “Look,” he said. “I’m not qualified to tell a professor what to teach in their course.”