Much of the attention in higher education circles focuses on getting more vulnerable students to and through college. We have finally acknowledged that access to and entry into post-high school education not enough; we need to focus on graduation – whether from a certificate program, a community college or a four-year college or university. We have targeted improving graduation rates as a goal that symbolizes success, enabling some to claim victory when those rates rise.
But we are mistaken. We are claiming success too early. This point – which had been gnawing at some of us for months as we have watched and listened to our current seniors – was brought to the fore in Jeff Hobbs' new book, The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace. The story of Robert Peace is poignant, examining how a kid from Newark graduated from Yale with a degree in molecular biology and ended up murdered in a drug-related crime. The lost potential is agonizing; the pain of Peace’s mother is staggering.
Robert’s story is not unique. Of course, the individual stories are not identical nor necessarily as tragic. But consider the plight of many first-generation, low-income students who leave their homes and land on college campuses (whether elite or not) where some excel academically and then graduate. Normally, we stop the story there and celebrate success. Since graduation rates are so low for vulnerable students, we assume that the awarding of a degree is the crowning achievement.
In this book and through our lived experiences, certain questions recur: What more could have been done to save Robert? Could he have been saved if colleges saw their responsibility as extending beyond the moment a degree is awarded? Think about how many high schools consider their jobs done when students get accepted to college and complete high school. Check the box. Move on. But do these high-schoolers actually get to college and graduate? High schools are cutting short the scope of their work.
We think that colleges like the one where we work now have a greater obligation than we realize. We offer our first-generation students a career-launching liberal arts education but we do not address with enough deliberateness how our students will transition from our institution into employment or graduate school. Where will they live? Should they return home? How can they navigate their friendships from before and after college? What about their families back home?
Yes, we have career services offices. Yes, we match academic programs with careers. Yes, we have graduate fairs and job fairs. Yes, we have résumé-writing workshops. Yes, we do mock interviews. We do GRE prep. But what we are missing is what would have helped Robert Peace: an effort to focus on the transition from college to graduate school or the workplace in terms of its psychological dimensions. In the toolbox of skills we provide our first generation, low-income students who are graduating, we have failed to give them the skills to “crosswalk” effectively and smoothly between their past and their present and their future.
We should know better. We have experience with our younger veterans now returning stateside. Many of these veterans understandably struggle to navigate effectively from military life to civilian life. Settling into and then succeeding in college are mighty challenges. This reinforces the need to pay attention to our college seniors – preparing them not just for graduation and a career. We need to help them transition from college back to the “outside” world. Robert Peace was left to figure that pathway out on his own and he failed. Interventions from friends and family did not help.
We recognize that there is no magic pill here. But, here are two strategies that can help.
First, if student success has been accomplished on campus by helping students believe in themselves and believe they belong in college, then the mentors who have enabled this to occur need to keep in touch with these students post-graduation – in person, online, via Skype. This is part and parcel of the workload of these mentors. These new graduates need to know that their supporters’ belief in them was not time-delimited and did not end with graduation. Distance does not change, then, the commitment mentors have to their mentees even when those mentors themselves move on to different positions. An online set of modules could be created to achieve this end – engaging graduates and their mentor on a go-forward basis.
Second, it is worth adding the following quasi-mandate for vulnerable students who graduate, outlined to them at the get-go: a commitment that they return to campus and develop a mentor/mentee with a new student who was similar to them? This accomplishes several goals. It gets graduates back to campus, back to a place where they experienced success. It creates an expectation at the beginning that with success comes a commitment to pay it forward. But here is the key: in paying it forward, graduates can appreciate how far they have come, and that in and of itself can shed light on their comfort with their own pathway into the future. Both the graduates and their mentees benefit.
Perhaps there was nothing that would have saved Robert Peace. But whether or not that is true, there is now one college president, one program director and one campus reflecting on how future Robert Peaces could be helped and what is it we can do on our campuses to improve the odds that that difficult post-college transition can be navigated more effectively.
Getting a degree is a major accomplishment; using that degree and finding a place outside the protections of academia where one can flourish and contribute meaningfully to society and handle the complexities of the different worlds in which we all move would be a success. Sadly, this is a victory denied Robert Peace.
Karen Gross is president of Southern Vermont College. Ivan Figueroa is director of diversity and the Mountaineer Scholar Program at the college.
Faculty member at Yale University are angry over the university's handling of a harassment case in which the cardiology chief is accused of punishing a young Italian researcher at the medical school and her boyfriend when she rebuffed the advances of Michael Simons, the cardiology chief, The New York Times reported. A Yale committee that investigated what happened recommended that Simmons lose his position as cardiology chief and be barred from senior roles for five years, but Yale largely ignored the recommendations, letting Simons stay in office and hold other senior positions. Faculty familiar with the case say that Yale effectively let serious misconduct go unpunished. Simmons, in a statement to the Times, admitted pursuing the woman, but denied misconduct in the use of his position. Of seeking the relationship, he said, “for this error in judgment I have apologized, and I genuinely regret my action."
Keith Miller, president of Virginia State University since 2010, announced his resignation Friday, amid growing criticism from student groups and others, The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported. The university has suffered from enrollment drops, lost revenue from those declines and cuts in state support. Many students question how the historically black institution has responded to these challenges. A statement from the university said that its board and Miller agreed that Virginia State should "move in another direction strategically." Students said that they were pleased the president was leaving, but disappointed that other senior administrators were not leaving as well.
Submitted by Jake New on November 3, 2014 - 3:00am
David Brandon has resigned as athletic director of the University of Michigan, President Mark Schlissel announced Friday. The exact reason of Brandon's resignation was not provided, but The Detroit Free Press reports that he had lost the support of students, alumni, and Michigan's Board of Regents. Michigan's football team has lost five of its eight games this season and three of the last four games it has played against rival Michigan State University. Earlier this month, student protesters demanded lower ticket prices to football games and that Brandon be fired. Students also demanded Brandon's resignation in September after a quarterback who many say was obviously concussed was allowed back on the field within minutes of sustaining his injury.
Brandon, who was athletic director for about four years, had previously served on Michigan's Board of Regents and is the former chief executive officer of Domino's Pizza. James Hackett, a former executive at the furniture company Steelcase, will act as interim athletic director.
California University of Pennsylvania has taken the unusual step of calling off a home football game scheduled for Saturday after five members of its football team were arrested in what officials called a "violent" incident, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. The university has suspended the players. The university did not provide details, but public records indicated that five people who were on the team were arrested for aggravated assault, recklessly endangering another person, harassment and conspiracy.
Custodians at Howard University are objecting to their work being outsourced in a system in which they will become employees of a private company, independent of Howard, The Washington Post reported. Outsourcing of custodial services is increasingly common in higher education, and Howard officials say it will help them become more efficient. But workers note that Howard, while grandfathering in current employees, won't commit to continuing key benefits -- such as a free Howard education -- for new workers. To many workers, this represents a shift away from a view that the historically black university was treating them as members of a community, and helping their families reach the middle class.
The authoritative report last week by the former federal prosecutor Kenneth Wainstein on the sports scandal at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that the corruption continued for at least 18 years and that the participants included at least 3100 students and multiple members of the UNC faculty, staff and administration. These numbers far transcend the usual college sports scandal, and commentators have been quick to raise a number of questions, mainly concerning how the NCAA will react to Wainstein’s findings, how UNC will gain control of the situation, etc.
However, to my knowledge and Google search, no one has asked one obvious question: how could the sports media, both local and regional, not have known about the academic transgressions and investigated them? In fact, the local paper, The News & Observer, has a long and proud history of investigating local college sports teams.
As far back as the 1980s, when Jim Valvano was North Carolina State men’s basketball coach and before his death from cancer turned him into a holy figure for ESPN, The News & Observer revealed how Valvano had brought in recruits with abysmal SAT scores -- one, Chris Washburn, had 470 out of 1600 (at the time, students received 400 for signing their names).
But where was The News & Observer during the 18-year UNC scandal? Because so many athletes, coaches, and staffers were involved, how is that the paper’s beat writers who spent enormous amounts of time, on a daily basis, with the school’s football and basketball players, and the teams’ staffers and coaches, never heard about the phony courses and phony grades? And if they heard, as journalists, how could they not have followed up on such important leads? And what about all the other journalists in North Carolina who covered the Tarheel football and basketball teams during those years?
The answer resides in the nature of sports media coverage of local college teams and players. Having lived in Bloomington, Ind., for the exact same 30 years that Bob Knight resided -- should I say reigned? -- there as men’s basketball coach, I have some insight into how a scandal can fester and never appear in the local or even the state media.
Stories of Knight psychologically and physically abusing his players circulated frequently in Bloomington, but because the local and state basketball writers were beholden to Indiana’s athletic department for access to the team, the pressbox, the media handouts, etc., and feared the department’s wrath, they never wrote about what some of them saw with their own eyes.
Finally, an outside journalist, Robert Abbott, a news -- not a sports -- producer with CNN, investigated the rumors and did the story that began the end of Knight’s years at Indiana.
I do not know the exact circumstances of the relations between the local and state media in North Carolina and UNC Chapel Hill, but I imagine that it is similar to what occurred in Bloomington, and what has long taken place in other college towns with prominent sports teams.
But will all this change in the future? Will the internet further shrink the global village and expose college sports scandals with greater speed and efficiency than has occurred at UNC Chapel Hill?
Possibly but, then again, the internet has existed for the 18 years of the UNC academic fraud and did not turn up the facts. Maybe the real solution — and the courts may impose this — is to professionalize college sports and end the pretense that all its participants are also students. When that occurs, there will no longer be any need for sham courses, sham grades, etc.
And important educational institutions like UNC Chapel Hill will not be tarnished by the fallout from similar academic fraud.
Murray Sperber teaches in the Cultural Study of Sports in Education Program in the Graduate School of Education at the University of California at Berkeley.
While most of the challenges to the theory of amateurism in college athletics come from reformers who detest the whole enterprise and would like to see it radically transformed or eliminated, the defenders of intercollegiate sports do themselves no favors by pretending that they do not pay the athletes. In fact, we in America's colleges and universities not only pay them, we compete for their services in a marketplace where the price paid per athlete varies dramatically from institution to institution.
We disguise this price competition by pretending that various things are true. We pretend that a scholarship that produces the same net cost of attendance to a student-athlete at all competitive institutions is the same thing as providing equal value for equal work. The work may be equal, defined by the rules of games that are reasonably uniform, but the pay we provide to the athlete is not at all equal.
This is because the product we give the student-athlete, let us say a four-year college education, has very different prices at the various schools. A Stanford degree costs approximately $60,000 x 4, or $240,000, while an Ohio State University degree costs approximately $22,000 x 4 or $88,000 (in-state) or $38,000 x 4 or $152,000 (out of state).
Thus a full-scholarship athlete from the state of Ohio being recruited by Stanford is being offered compensation worth $240,000 while Ohio State is only offering that same person $88,000. Even an out-of-state student being recruited by both institutions will only get an offer of compensation worth $152,000 at Ohio State, well below Stanford's offer of $240,000.
Additionally, universities bid for the services of student-athletes by offering a host of non-monetized but nonetheless valuable benefits. These include publicity, exposure on television, endless specialized training, and a wide range of other benefits that if purchased outside the university would have significant market value. Here, the recruited athlete receives these payments as in-kind compensation that builds value for future professional opportunities.
These non-monetized benefits also vary by institution. If the institution is part of a group that gets superior television coverage, the value of the benefit is much greater to the student-athlete than a similar benefit from an institution without superior television coverage.
The academic benefits are also of considerable value since only a fraction of these paid athletes will find professional sports careers. The elaborate academic advising centers, for those who use them, provide a benefit that if purchased in the outside market place for tutors and other support professionals would be a significant cost. The scale and effectiveness of these academic centers also varies significantly by institution, representing yet another variable compensation item offered to student-athletes.
Why then, when college athletics is under attack as if operating a standardized monopoly cartel that controls and standardizes competition for athletic talent and manages its affairs in constraint of trade, do the NCAA, the conferences, and the institutions not respond with the facts? These facts prove that a competitive marketplace for athletes exists, and that colleges and universities compete in this marketplace by paying much different compensation to student-athletes to recruit their services for individual institutions.
If professional football and basketball allowed players to compete right out of high school, the competition would, of course, be different, because the most marketable athletes would go pro immediately. This, however, would not reduce the competition among universities for the remaining college-level talent.
We may imagine that we can preserve the notion that athletes play for the home school because of loyalty and commitment to the institution, but the fact that we recruit talented athletes from across the nation and the world, and that student-athletes make the best deal they can for the highest value package of benefits a university provides, makes it clear that this is an open market for student-athlete talent.
It is possible we do not pay them enough, it is possible we should have different rules about how we pay them, but it is not really possible to pretend we do not pay them different amounts by school.
Some may think that recognizing the widely varying pay provided to athletes at different institutions detracts from their status as students. This, too, is not the case, since we pay different amounts to many categories of students to achieve various institutional objectives without anyone imagining that the full scholarship academic superstar is less of a student than the full-pay middle-class student without financial aid. These two students are equally students, but differentially paid by the university to attend and in one way or another enhance the institution's programs.
The resistance to external payments to student-athletes can also come from failing to distinguish different kinds of pay and the effect these might have on the integrity of the college sports programs. Right now, under the current system, the NCAA and the institutions regard athletically related income as a major violation of the rules (as the recent controversies over Johnny Manziel and the University of Georgia's Todd Gurley exemplify). This restriction will likely fade away in the face of legal challenges and already has been weakened by the settlement of the video game lawsuit. Ideally, in the future, it should only be a problem for student-athletes to earn money from leveraging their college athletic celebrity status in advertising or sports promotion (as coaches do) if there is a conflict of interest or a conflict of commitment.
The conflict of interest would occur, for example, if a student-athlete is paid by an apparel manufacturer for appearances when a different and competing apparel manufacturer has a university contract. In that case we have a conflict of interest, and the university can forbid the arrangement.
The conflict of commitment would occur if an athlete, during the season, participates in a television production that conflicts in time and place with the practices, games, and class attendance required of student-athletes. This conflict of commitment would prompt the university to forbid that deal too.
While this may seem complicated, in fact, most universities have already dealt with all these issues in their contracts with coaches. This is not just about football or basketball, and applies to other sports where there's a market for professional talent. Coaches cannot accept endorsement contracts, television appearances, or other commitments without permission of the university, which reviews proposals to ensure that there is no conflict of commitment or interest.
Take for example, a coach in a non-revenue sport, say tennis. This superstar coach is recruited by a private for-profit tennis club to provide coaching advice and training before and during a major pre-Olympic national tennis tournament. The coach wants to do this, and would be well paid, but the university, after reviewing the activities required by this opportunity, denies the request to participate. The outside activity would take too much of the coach's time during the college tennis season, thereby creating a conflict of commitment.
While it is fine to imagine that in some magical and imaginary time college athletics was an amateur activity carried out for the fun of the game and the glory to alma mater, that time probably never existed, and in any case no longer exists. We buy student-athletes in a highly competitive marketplace and pay widely differentiated compensation to these athletes depending on their value to us.
Sometimes the best defense against attacks is a clear understanding of the financial structure of a marketplace. Then we can fight about something real, rather than shadow-box about imaginary amateurs.
John V. Lombardi is former president of Louisiana State University and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He is the author of How Universities Work (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013).