The damage caused by the athletics arms race

Uncontrolled expansion of athletics can cause real problems

Interesting piece in Inside Higher Ed on a paper which looks at the academic damage of an expanding independent athletics program with a particular focus on Berkeley:


When describing the approach that administrators at the University of California at Berkeley took to the university’s sports program, John Cummins consistently uses a somewhat unexpected term: ambivalent.

Unexpected, says Cummins, a former associate chancellor at the university, because Berkeley, like all other big-time football programs in the major athletic conferences, is in a “spending race” on facilities, coaching salaries and conference-related travel in order to lure – or, as the paper puts it, “in the hopes of luring” – the best recruits.

Because the university continues to admit underprepared students because of their athletic prowess, he says, despite football boasting the lowest graduation rate (44 percent) of athletes of any Division I program this year, and despite athletes consistently graduating at lower rates (especially black athletes) than non-athletes do.

And because administrators have allowed the athletics department to move further and further outside the institution and operate simply as a business, he argues, no matter what deficits, internal conflicts, scandals and National Collegiate Athletic Association violations ensue.

Given the general direction of things, that all sounds pretty purposeful, not evidence of ambivalence.

It’s a pretty scary piece overall but really does feel like a completely different world to the UK experience. Could it happen here? I don’t think so and certainly not at such scale. But it is conceivable that institutions may compromise on admissions standards in order to recruit sporting stars.


How can we help? Supporting new academic hires

Berkeley offers an extensive service for new academics

Support for newly recruited academic staff tends to be fairly limited in UK universities. And even less is offered to other groups of staff. Although you might get an invitation to some kind of induction event and a half-decent lunch if you are lucky. Inside Higher Edreports on the appointment of a concierge at Berkeley to help new faculty acclimatise to their new environment:

The concierge job is Berkeley’s way of offering a seamless service for new faculty hires, something that was previously taken care of by various departments as they went about recruiting faculty. Bagnatori, who reports to the university’s office of faculty equity and welfare, is now the one-stop shop for new faculty members, and usually their requests have little to do with academic life.

Angelica Stacy, associate vice provost for faculty at Berkeley, said the concierge position was created to ensure a good transition for new faculty members. “Our goal was to have a place to talk confidentially, be it a renting situation, elder care or what schools your children should go to,” Stacy said. “We make an investment when we hire new faculty; we want them to stay long-term.”

Stacy added that people tend to remember how they were welcomed and the kind of help they were provided when they began a new job. New hires “will be more successful if everything else is working well,” she said.

It’s a nice idea but is this really the kind of thing universities should be spending money on? After all, if staff are accustomed to the idea their new employer will find them child care or someone to look after their pets, won’t this encourage unrealistic expectations about ongoing support? Won’t this foster prima donna behaviour?

Having said that there is something to be said for this kind of co-ordination of staff support and it is arguably particularly valuable for international staff who do need more help with the practical side of living and working in a new country.

New Green World University Ranking

University of Indonesia produces its GreenMetric World University Ranking

The recently published table has Berkeley in first place and the University of Nottingham in second. From the press release:

As one of leading University in Asia, University of Indonesia come up with its new innovation in effort to build sustainable environment within its campus through UI Green Metric Ranking of World Universities 2010. This is the only rankings that measure each university participants in its commitment in developing an ‘environment friendly’ infrastructure as its indicator.

Based on research and survey conducted through on-line by the UI Green Metric team on thousands of universities in the world, which was conducted in May – November 2010, University of California, Berkeley, United States (total score of 8,213), is the best campus in terms of its environment policy. University of Nottingham, the United Kingdom ( total score of 8,201), and then followed by Northeastern University, United States (with score of 7,909) is in the third place.University of Indonesia is in the 15th place (with score of 6.875), position it as the best university in Indonesia based on its environment policy.

The criteria are not entirely clear:

But the results are quite interesting with four UK universities – Nottingham, Bangor, Sussex and Kent – in the leading group. The top 20 is below and the full table can be found here.

University of California, Berkeley US 8,213.18 1

University of Nottingham UK 8,201.55 2

York University Canada 7,909.14 3

Northeastern University US 7,885.73 4

Cornell University US 7,799.14 5

Universiti Putra Malaysia Malaysia 7,698.60 6

Washington University In St. Louis US 7,501.53 7

Georgia Institute of Technology US 7,479.51 8

University of Wisconsin-madison US 7,437.97 9

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill US 7,320.58 10

Bangor University UK 7,242.69 11

University of Sussex UK 7,087.82 12

Escuela Superior Politécnica del Litoral Ecuador 7,046.20 13

University of Kent UK 6,948.10 14

Universitas Indonesia Indonesia 6,875.82 15

Universidad de Alcalá Spain 6,863.83 16

King Mongkut´s University of Technology Thonburi Thailand 6,859.71 17

Institut Teknologi Sepuluh November Indonesia 6,817.01 18

Hokkaido University Japan 6,785.95 19

National University of Singapore Singapore 6,737.98 20

Will it catch on? Time will tell.