Faculty advise limited power

by Erin Ghere

University faculty members recommended significant change in academic-misconduct reporting channels Thursday afternoon, including limiting the responsibility of McKinley Boston.
According to the report, Boston, vice president of student development and athletics, “should be concerned solely with student development.”
A special faculty subcommittee of the University Senate Consultative Committee released an academic-integrity report Thursday regarding allegations of academic fraud in the men’s basketball program.
Subcommittee members presented their report Thursday to the full Senate Consultative Committee and will make formal recommendations to University President Mark Yudof in the next few weeks, said Fred Morrison, the full committee chairman.
The report makes six recommendations:
ù Limiting the vice president of student development and athletics position to student development;
ù Giving coaches “significant incentives” for improving players’ academic performance;
ù Making departments and colleges assume as much responsibility for student-athletes as for other students, but not making instructors feel it is their job to keep an athlete eligible for competition;
ù Permitting no contact between athletics and admissions officials except in written form;
ù Allowing no contact between athletics officials and faculty members unless through academic counselors; and
ù Holding coaches accountable for fostering a culture of academic progress for their players.
Tom Clayton, chairman of the Special Senate Committee on Student Academic Integrity that released the report, said the position of vice president for student development and athletics should not have been created in 1996.
“In retrospect, we think that was probably a mistake,” Clayton said.
Boston said his overriding concern about the position is that athletics and academics are not well integrated. His position is “unique to the University,” he said.
Athletics management is difficult no matter what, he said, because there will be three or four public embarrassments each year within the athletics departments.
But Boston said he did not see the recommendation as a “turf issue.”
Both student development and athletics demand great responsibility, Clayton said, but the position creates a problem because of the bias toward athletics.
Additionally, the report said student-athletes, like other students, are responsible for their own academic performance and personal conduct.
Boston agreed, but said athletes are held to a higher standard.
“The majority of student-athletes on this campus are very good students,” said Norm Chervany, one of two faculty representatives to the men’s athletics department.
Even the men’s basketball players who committed academic fraud are not “evil,” Chervany said; they just made some bad choices.
“The key to any successful organization are the skills, the energies and an environment that encourages and forces communication,” Chervany said.
He said he had spent the past eight months thinking about how things could have been done differently.
“I’m not sure you can prevent a person who wants to be bad from being bad,” he said, adding no one can be watched all the time.
“I don’t think there is an easy answer,” he said.
The committee recommended that “all contact between athletic officials and faculty members, teaching assistants or civil-service staff must be through academic counselors.”
Any time an athletics official wants to talk about “grades, eligibility, status of work and the like” with a faculty member, it should be through a counselor, Clayton said.
“There is a natural tendency of academics to feel pressed if they’re asked,” he added.
But, he said, the recommendations were not meant to prevent any “rational relationship” between faculty members and athletic officials; only contact that is “genuinely academic and genuinely athletic.”
Boston said the recommendations of limiting who and how athletics officials can talk to faculty members contradicts another committee recommendation urging coaches to participate in activities with the wider-University community.
“I believe it is very difficult to achieve in a Division-I athletics program,” Boston said. “That these coaches and administrators be integrated campuswide, while, at the same time, we are acknowledging a lack of trust in their professional judgment.”
Clayton said reforms will improve the academic-misconduct reporting process and stifle further problems, but only good coaches, administrators and faculty members can curb it significantly.
“If you start with a bad apple, you won’t end up with a prize winner at the state fair,” Clayton said.
With the right people in key positions, there is less chance things will go wrong, he said.
Tonya Moten Brown, Yudof’s chief of staff, said Yudof read the report and was impressed with its thoroughness. She said the values set forth in the report were in line with Yudof’s feelings, and he will take the report’s recommendations under advisement.
Brown said the full report regarding the alleged academic fraud committed by the men’s basketball program will be released in mid-November. She said Yudof is likely to announce any implementation of this report’s recommendations at that time.

Erin Ghere covers faculty and state government and welcomes comments at eghere@daily.umn.edu. She can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3217.