Published: Sep 08, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Sep 08, 2012 03:49 PM
Those of us who have been in academe for a while are quite familiar with the favoritism afforded university athletes, especially football players.
Early in my teaching career at a major Texas university, I began receiving telephone calls at the end of the semester from coaches. They would ask for favors to help their athletes remain eligible to play. After you turned them down a couple of times, they quit calling.
I remember relaying these conversations to my department head. He said, Dont worry about it youll probably be receiving more
phone calls. They are looking for professors who will cooperate.
Twenty-five years later, after retiring from university teaching, it happened again. This time the athletic department and faculty members had become a little more sophisticated.
I had received a phone call from a large state university asking me to teach part-time. I accepted the position as an adjunct professor, teaching three popular courses to mostly juniors and seniors.
Most of my students were working while also carrying a full load of courses. They were struggling to balance grades and pay for school.
At the end of the semester I received the usual grade sheets from the registrars office. As I entered the final grades I noticed there were two students on one course sheet whose names were not familiar. I looked at my roll book and their names did not appear. They had never attended class.
When I asked my departmental office for an explanation, I was told the students were taking my course as an independent study.
What? Wait a minute, I said. They never attended the class. How can they receive credit for a class they never attended?
The students were assigned a paper for their independent study, I was informed. I could read it if I liked.
I cant enter a grade for these students, I said. They never attended class. Besides, a final paper does not equate to a student receiving credit for a course they never attended. There was no instruction at all, only a flimsy paper. Thats not quite ethical!
Not to worry: the department would assign a grade.
Later in the day a couple of students dropped by my office to wish me a relaxing vacation. A copy of my roll sheet was on my desk. I asked them if they had ever heard of these two students.
You dont recognize those names, Dr. Barber? Theyre both football players. Thats funny, we never saw them in class. Wish we had.
When I delivered my grade sheets to the registrars office the next day, I asked about the two mystery entries on my class roll. How did they get there? They had never attended class. They hadnt dropped the course; otherwise they wouldnt be on my final grade sheet.
Oh, dont worry about that, Dr. Barber, I was told, again. That happens sometimes when people cant attend a class regularly. We do this a lot for our athletes who have to stay eligible.
I left wondering how many no-show courses were being offered at this university. Courses where no instruction was offered and the only requirement was to submit a paper at the end of class.
I was not asked to return the next year. I never found out what grades were entered for the athletes who appeared on my roll sheets, but I can guess.
I still think about the hundreds of students who have been enrolled in my courses over the past 25 years. They graduated without any special favors; nobody was writing their papers for them and none bolted from school to receive million dollar salaries. They worked very hard to get an education.
The blame in all of this, including the recent scandal in the athletic department at UNC, lies not with the athletes, but with faculty members, department heads and athletic departments who are willing to cheat the system in order to keep athletes academically eligible to play.
As one coach told me at a party: Athletic departments, and that includes high schools, will do anything to keep their players eligible. Nothing will change unless there are major reforms. The cheating will continue. Just dont get caught!.
Will Barber is a retired economics/psycholinguistics professor. He lives in Chapel Hill.