|To:||Robert Thomas, Vice-President for Student Affairs|
|From:||Richard A. Glenn, Faculty Athletic Representative|
|Date:||December 7, 2004|
|RE:||Conflict Avoidance Scheduling for Student Athletes|
The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) requires that each member institution appoint or elect a member of the faculty to provide a faculty perspective in athletics administration by serving in an advisory and oversight capacity. This practice helps ensure institutional control of athletic programs, a fundamental operating principle of the NCAA. The two major responsibilities of the Faculty Athletic Representative (FAR) are protecting the academic interests of the student-athlete, broadly defined; and helping maintain compliance with NCAA regulations. At Millersville University, the FAR is appointed by the President, and works closely with the Vice-President for Student Affairs and the Athletic Directors.
Over the past three years, the lion's share of my time as FAR has been spent attempting to resolve conflicts that arise between professors and student-athletes over a single issue-missed classes. Professors are often frustrated because student-athletes "miss too much class time." Student-athletes are often frustrated because professors expect them to be in class (sometimes punishing them when they are not) at the same times that coaches expect them to be practicing or competing.
Millersville University has a class attendance policy: "[F]aculty will excuse absences for . . . participation in a University-sponsored activity" (Undergraduate Catalog, Millersville University, p. 51). Several years ago, in response to complaints from numerous faculty, the athletic departments, in consultation with the FAR and senior-level administrators, adopted a policy that excused student-athletes from classes only for participation in a scheduled intercollegiate athletic contest. Student-athletes would not be excused from classes for practices, visits to the athletic trainers, study halls, team meetings, etc. In addition, this policy required student-athletes to notify faculty in writing at the earliest possible date of all scheduled athletic contests during the semester. While the policy has clearly reduced the number of conflicts over missed classes, many faculty and student-athletes remain frustrated.
Faculty remain frustrated because students are still excused from "far too many" classes. For example:
Student-athletes, many of whom want to perform at high levels both in the classroom and in competition, are frustrated because the university places separate and often conflicting demands upon their time. The faculty wants them in class; the coaches want them in contests. Obviously, it is difficult for a student-athlete expect to succeed academically when missing a significant number of classes for athletic competition (or travel to such competition).
It is clear to me that faculty, coaches, and student-athletes are dissatisfied with our current practices. I think, however, that the university can provide some resolution to the problem-to the satisfaction of faculty, coaches, and student-athletes-by adopting a policy that permits student-athletes to participate in conflict-avoidance class scheduling.
Conflict avoidance scheduling may take many forms. At some universities, for example, student-athletes are provided preferential scheduling; that is, student-athletes, because of the demands placed upon them by the university, are always permitted to register for classes before all other students. At other universities, only in-season student-athletes are permitted to register for classes before all other students. This particular advantage allows student-athletes to have the first opportunity to enroll in classes, presumably to choose those classes that are offered during hours in which athletic contests are not held. It thus cuts down on missed classes (which pleases faculty and student-athletes).
Some university constituents, however, may object to preferential scheduling on "favoritism" grounds. After all, one is hard pressed to explain to a junior or senior why some first-year student should have the opportunity to choose classes first simply because he or she happens to play a sport. A compromise method-which would cut down on missed classes and may be more palatable to other university constituents-might provide in-season student-athletes with a less pronounced advantage. For example, Millersville University students now register for classes by number of credits earned, in descending order. Those who have earned ninety or more credits may register on the first day, beginning at 6:00 a.m.; those who have earned sixty or more credits may register on the second day, beginning at 6:00 a.m.; and so forth. Under a compromise conflict avoidance scheduling method, student-athletes might be permitted to register one-day earlier than all other similarly situated students. So, if all students who have earned sixty credit hours are permitted to register beginning at 6:00 a.m., in season student-athletes who have earned sixty credit hours might be permitted to register one day earlier. Thus, student-athletes are provided a limited advantage, over only those students who are similarly situated with respect to credits (and then only if the student-athlete opts to take advantage of the opportunity). Juniors and seniors would not be excluded from courses that have been filled by first- or second-year student athletes.
This compromise method, while not eliminating root and branch the conflicts between faculty and student-athletes over missed classes, will most assuredly reduce missed classes (which will please both faculty and student-athletes).
The athletic departments and the FAR believe strongly that student-athletes missing a significant numbers of classes in any course because of conflicts with scheduled intercollegiate athletic contests is both detrimental to the academic success of their athletes and an imposition on their professors. Nevertheless, two factors have conjoined in recent years to increase the potential number of such conflicts. First, since 1999, the number of classes starting at or after 4:00 p.m. has increased 25 percent in the fall semester, and 19 percent in the spring semester. Second, the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) has increased the number of mandated contests against other PSAC schools, many of which are located in western Pennsylvania. Thus, with increasing frequency, student-athletes are faced with the dilemma of having to register for classes they need to proceed in the major or graduate but which conflict with their teams' scheduled contests.
The athletic departments did not set out to increase the number of conflicts over missed classes. But the athletic departments control neither the number of late afternoon and evening classes nor conference-mandated scheduling. A policy that allows student-athletes the opportunity to reduce the number of instances in which their classes conflict with their athletic contests would help them academically and lower the number of instances in which faculty are requested to accommodate these students-athletes who miss classes.
Conflict avoidance scheduling is not unprecedented. Eight other PSAC schools have some form of conflict avoidance scheduling.
In recent years, Millersville University has adopted numerous measures to strengthen the academic performance of student-athletes. First, the university has implemented academic performance standards for student-athletes in each semester. The NCAA and our sister schools in the PSAC only require that student-athletes be academically eligible at the beginning of the academic year. Student-athletes must have a cumulative GPA of at least 1.6 at the end of their freshmen year, 1.8 at the end of their sophomore year; and 2.0 at the end of their junior year. Their semester's GPAs (fall and spring) have no impact on their eligibility in the eyes of the NCAA or the conference. Millersville University, however, implemented in 1997 the requirement that all student-athletes earn a 2.0 every semester. Those student-athletes earning between a 1.6 and 1.99 in any single semester, regardless of their cumulative GPA, must meet the requirements of an individualized program designed by the director of athletics and FAR to remain eligible. Those student-athletes who do not raise their academic performance are suspended from practice and competition for the following semester. And all student-athletes who earn below a 1.6 in any semester are suspended from their teams for the following semester.
Second, the university has added an Assistant Director of Men's Athletics. This post, added in 1997, is filled by a faculty member who focuses primarily on providing academic assistance to male athletes. The Assistant Director initiated an orientation program for student-athletes that runs during the fall semester and addresses issues such as time management, study skills, etc.
Third, the university has strengthened its procedures for monitoring class attendance of student-athletes. At the beginning of the 2001-2002 academic year, both athletic departments implemented more stringent procedures for monitoring student-athlete class attendance and communicating with faculty about this matter.
Fourth, the university initiated a Faculty Liaison program. During the 1999-2000 academic year, each academic department identified a faculty member to serve as a resource for student-athletes, coaches, and athletic administrators on academic matters involving the respective departments. The FAR oversees this program.
Fifth, the university has regularly and publicly acknowledged its Scholar-Athletes. Since 1997, the athletic departments have hosted an annual banquet to recognize student-athletes who have been named Scholar-Athletes by the PSAC. A Scholar-Athlete is one who has maintained a 3.25 or higher GPA during the previous academic year.
These measures provide evidence of the athletic department's commitment to the academic success of student-athletes.
Since 1995, the year in which the PSAC began recognizing Scholar-Athletes, the number of Millersville University athletes earning that recognition has risen from forty-nine to 110, an increase of 124 percent. The university has more than doubled its number of Scholar-Athletes in the last nine years.
Additionally, a review of the most recent five- and six-year graduation rates of Millersville University student-athletes indicated that 66.7 percent of all student-athletes graduated in five years; and 72.2 percent completed their degrees in six years. These rates exceed the rates for all Millersville University students, who graduated at a rate of 62.1 percent after five years and 65.4 percent after six years.
This proposal would not affect in any way the current policy of excusing student-athletes from classes only for athletic contests.
I am not wedded to the particular method of conflict avoidance scheduling proposed above, but to the principle that faculty, coaches, and student-athletes will benefit from measures that reduce the number of instances in which these detrimental "class absence" conflicts occur.
I hope you and other decision-makers will consider this proposal. I look forward to talking you and others about its merits.