March 09, 2011
If you attended a big-time football school, you probably knew your campus' resident "jock major" – the academic route that was considered easy enough (or willing to make itself easy enough) to attract a disproportionate number of athletes who may have never made it to a college campus if not for their freakish physicality, or who just feel like taking it easy. When I was at my alma mater, most of the football team seemed to be clustered into one of three majors: Criminal justice, construction management or (conveniently) sports administration. The programs may have been different at your school, but you probably knew what they were, and if you're the kind of person who reads college football blogs, you were probably fine with it as long as it wasn't completely fraudulent. That's just how these things are done, you see.
That's how it's done at many of the big, state-funded football and basketball schools, anyway. Then there are private bastions like Stanford, rarified academic powerhouses that only recruit the academic elite and send out former cabinet members to greet visiting prospects in place of overly friendly coeds. They would never pull punches for the jocks, would they?
Oh, they would, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, and did, for at least the last decade, through a "Courses of Interest" list available only to athletes:
A drama class in Beginning Improvising and another in Social Dances of North America III were among dozens of classes on a closely guarded quarterly list distributed only to Stanford athletes to help them choose classes. The list, which has existed since at least 2001, was widely regarded by athletes as an easy class list. More than a quarter of the courses on the list did not fulfill university general education requirements.
The classes on the list were "always chock-full of athletes and very easy A's," said Kira Maker, a soccer player who used the list her freshman year.
"Literally, when you walk into the (resource center) right next to the door, it's right there," said Ryan Sudeck, a junior on the crew team. "I never used it before this year," he said. "But this quarter it was like, 'Oh, I need an easy class to boost my GPA.' "
Obviously, that's not to suggest that all Stanford athletes take the slightly less high road – star quarterback Andrew Luck just passed up millions in the NFL Draft to finish a degree in architectural design, outgoing fullback/linebacker Owen Marecic picked up a Heisman vote last December in part because of his strong GPA in human biology, and Ryan Whalen was one of four academic All-Americans last year from all of all of Stanford's programs. And naturally, some professors whose classes were on the list bristled at the implication that their courses weren't quite up to the usual standards.
Then there was Donald Barr, whose Social Class, Race, Ethnicity and Health course made the list, and who saw no problem with jocks getting a little nudge here and there: "(Stanford) accommodates athletes in the manner that they accommodate students with disabilities." So … that means they're totally eligible for handicapped parking stickers, right?
[UPDATE, 8:02 a.m. 03/10] A Stanford student has passed along an e-mail chain making the rounds on campus that includes Donald Barr, the professor who allegedly equated accommodating athletes with accommodating students with disabilities, charging the reporters of the original story with essentially fabricating that quote, or taking it egregiously out of context. From Barr's e-mail, dated 1:09 p.m. on March 9:
"During the brief interview one of you had with me during my office hours, I explained that I, as other faculty, sometimes accommodate student-athletes’ off-campus competition schedules by arranging with the coaching staff for the proctoring of examinations. As I explained to you, we also do this for other students involved in certain types of extracurricular activities.
At no point during our brief conversation did I discuss the University’s policies towards providing reasonable accommodation for students with disabilities. Neither did I compare the accommodations provided for athletes to the accommodations provided for students with disabilities."
Barr also claims the interviewer "never raised the issue of the academic rigor of my course," and resents the implication that it's easy.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.