Task force to probe

Amy Olson

One of Minnesota’s top legislators called for University President Mark Yudof to appoint a community-led task force to examine academic standards in the intercollegiate athletics program on Tuesday.
Assistant Senate Majority Leader Ember Reichgott Junge, DFL-New Hope, said Yudof should appoint a task force to look into questionable academic standards in the athletic departments.
Junge made specific reference to the allegations of academic fraud in the men’s basketball program.
“A graduation rate of one out of four male student athletes in the basketball program is unacceptable,” Junge said. “Academics must be the priority at the University — not winning at all cost.”
Yudof was out of the office and could not be reached for comment Wednesday. His chief of staff, Tonya Moten Brown, said she met with Junge last week. Brown said Yudof had suggested appointing such a group prior to Brown’s meeting with the senator.
The collegiate athletics system treats student athletes as if they are training to become professional players, said Sen. Cal Larson, R-Fergus Falls.
“This is not the minor leagues,” Larson said. “It’s a disservice to them to give higher priority to sports than academics.”
Junge stressed that the task force should be composed of community and business leaders in addition to University officials, faculty members, alumni and students, adding that the state’s reputation — as well as the University’s — is at stake.
“I think President Yudof has been clear that the charges of academic misconduct put the integrity of the whole University on the line,” Brown said. Any involvement by a task force would not be limited to the men’s basketball team and the athletics department, he said.
But Brown was quick to add that any public role of the group would likely have limited input in actually reviewing the academic standards. That role would be reserved for faculty members and administrators.
A similar task force was established in 1986 to make sure academic standards were up to par in the athletic programs. Junge said that committee defined a minimum 2.0 cumulative grade point average as making “reasonable progress” toward earning a degree.
That recommendation was made for all University athletics programs. With specific regard to the men’s basketball program, Junge said the committee suggested establishing a “firewall” between the academic counseling department and the athletic coaching staff.
“Regretfully, it appears there was a breach in the fire wall,” Junge said.
At this point, Brown said the University officials need to hammer out what the group’s task would be and decide how many people will be involved.
It is unclear when the task force would begin its work, but Brown said a group might be appointed midway through the fact-finding period in the investigation, which could be as soon as mid-summer. Brown added that she doubted the task force’s duty of making recommendations would begin until after the fact-finding phase of the investigation is over.