Michigan president’s apology to coach highlights debate

Following widespread backlash against a comment he made regarding student-athletes’ academic performance records, University of Michigan at Ann Arbor President Mark Schlissel apologized to the school’s head football coach and athletics director last week.

In a faculty meeting, Schlissel had expressed concern that the university was admitting students on the basis of their athletic ability rather than the possibility of their succeeding academically. He had observed that, until two years ago, the graduation rates for the school’s football team members were approximately 30 to 40 percentage points lower than those of students who were not involved in football.

After his apology, Schlissel explained that his comments were inspired by an incident at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where student-athletes were directed into corrupt classes designed especially to keep their GPAs robust.

He said his school’s administration has taken steps to prevent a similar incident, noting that classes more than 20 percent of whose students are involved in athletics must submit periodic performance reports to a review board.

We are disappointed that Schlissel felt the need to apologize for what we feel was a rather benign comment. Regardless of how people feel about the relationship between academia and sports, the president of a major university should be able to speak his mind on the subject without fear of reproach. That this question is apparently off-limits for debate only testifies to how dire an issue it has become.