Monday, November 11, 2013

In Support of Colgate Athletics

by Chad Sparber
Associate Professor of Economics

I declined to sign the “Open Letter on Athletics at Colgate.” Simply put, I disagree with much of its content, and I am more inclined to recognize the positive role that coaches, staff, and student athletes play within the Colgate community.
First, I believe that Colgate maintains a competitive advantage in attracting academically-gifted students who want to play Division-I athletics at an institution dedicated to undergraduate education. This is an extremely talented demographic group otherwise underserved by the higher education market. Aside from the service academies, US News ranks Colgate as the second best liberal arts university with Division-I athletics. I appreciate the students we attract, and do not want to lose them.
Second, I have been thoroughly impressed with our athletes’ performance in the classroom. I have led student athletes on study groups and written them letters of recommendation for law school and PhD programs. I have seen our athletes develop honors theses, publish in peer-reviewed academic journals, and finish at or near the top of their courses and graduating classes. Nearly half (49%) of our student athletes earned a GPA above 3.25 in Spring 2013, and Colgate’s NCAA graduation success rate was 98% in 2011-12 and 2012-13, fourth best in the country. Though some of this information is only anecdotal, it all suggests evidence against the claim that “the time commitment among Colgate student athletes has reached a place of excess that has resulted in an encroachment on academic life in ways that are at odds with the fundamental mission of education at Colgate” or that our athletes are somehow “isolated” and “cut off from… academic life.”
Third, I am not sure what the open letter means when it argues that athletes are “cut off from mainstream campus culture,” but I do know that the comment has an uncomfortably intolerant tone, and comes seemingly close to advocating some sort of assimilation to a proper cultural behavior. I prefer to celebrate athletics as a part of campus culture. I enjoy taking my young daughters to athletic events, in part, because I see our student athletes as positive role models – disciplined individuals dedicated to competing to their best ability on “the field” and in the classroom. I value the opportunity to expose my children to that aspect of college life.
None of this is to say that conflicts between academic and athletic commitments never occur. I recall a case several years ago in which athletes complained loudly about a coach who had imposed enormous burdens on their time. That coach’s tenure at Colgate was rightfully brief. Since then, Colgate has revamped its liaison system, giving faculty members a better outlet for registering complaints with coaches. Moreover, it provides anonymity to students wishing to raise concerns without fear of retribution.
In general, I have found most of our coaches and student athletes to be proactive in managing their schedules and resolving conflicts. I would add that such conflicts occur with other extra-curricular activities that I am similarly hesitant to discourage, such as the debate team, immersive learning projects, or job interviews. I believe that Colgate athletics are a positive force in the development of our students, and I applaud their contributions to our community.


Anonymous said...

Couldn't have put it better myself.

Aaron Robertson said...

I would like to commend Chad for having the courage to publicly support athletics at Colgate. I wholeheartedly agree with what is in his post. Perhaps most insightful is that most, if not all, of the 63 who signed the Open Letter are very vocal about other forms of diversity on campus. Why is athletic diversity different? Aren't differences to be understood, bridged, and celebrated, but not eliminated?