Archive for Sunday, May 5, 1991

May 5, 1991

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Kansas University diver Michael Martz and basketball forward Misti Chennault All-Big Eight academic performers have proven "student-athlete" isn't an oxymoron.

"The reason I came to college was to get an education," said Martz, a KU swim team member. "You don't get into collegiate swimming to turn pro."

Chennault, a member of the KU women's baskeball team, said she doesn't endorse the "physically tough and mentally soft" stereotype of college athletes.

"At KU, faculty will call for a tougher academic standard for the student-athlete," she said. "There is a myth that teachers will just hand athletes grades."

In the past three years steps have been taken by the KU administration to put the "dumb jock" idea to rest, said Paul Buskirk, assistant athletic director for Student Support Services.

The Department of Intercollegiate Athletics has reorganized and expanded the duties of the Student Support Services program, Buskirk said.

"WE NOW HAVE machinery in place that can support the student athletes to do well," said Renate Mai-Dalton, associate professor of business and academic adviser to some athletes.

In addition, Buskirk said KU coaches have a renewed commitment to academic excellence, which will improve graduation rates and grade-point averages of athletes.

"If the coach is committed to academics, we see students survive in college programs," Buskirk said.

James LaPoint, associate professor of health, physical education and recreation, said basketball coach Roy Williams and football coach Glen Mason have improved KU's academic tone for athletes.

"There has been a change from a few years ago," LaPoint said. "I had a baskeball player in my class last semester and he missed the first two quizzes.

"I called the basketball office and told coach Williams that player such and such was going to get zeros on those two quizzes. He said, `We'll deal with it immediately.'"

MAI-DALTON monitors the academic performance of athletes for University Council, a student-faculty governance group. She said the academic performance of athletes is on the upswing.

A record 165 of 410 athletes were named Jayhawk Scholars for earning at least a 3.0 GPA. Fourteen athletes had a perfect 4.0 GPA, Mai-Dalton said.

The 410 KU athletes had a 2.73 aggregate GPA in the fall 1990 semester, she said.

Fourteen percent of athletes were on academic probation last fall. In contrast, 16 percent of students in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences were on probation.

Buskirk said renewed emphasis on academics should push the graduation rate for KU athletes from the current level of about 50 percent to more than 80 percent.

"I LIKE THE trend that I see here, as far as athletes are concerned," Buskirk said. "These numbers are going to get a lot better.

"In future classes, we'll see at least an 80 percent graduation rate. Of course, I have no proof. That's just talk right now."

Mai-Dalton said college coaches must set high academic expectations for athletes.

"Once you set the tone and set high expectations students will go after it. If you assume they are dumb, that's what students live up to," Mai-Dalton said.

In some instances, she said, the "university as a whole is not doing as well as it should in providing the support that makes people confident that they can do it."

Student Support Services provides athletes with a range of services, including faculty mentoring and tutoring as well as academic and personal development programs.

IN ADDITION, athletes' academic progress is closely monitored. Instructors are asked to assess the academic performance of athletes at least twice a semester. The return rate on the forms is about 70 percent, he said.

Some faculty refuse to fill out the evaluations, because it would provide athletes an educational advantage not offered regular students, LaPoint said.

Buskirk said the Student Support Service office also does some "troubleshooting" in times of crisis.

"Such as, a student will forget to tell an instructor that he or she was going to be traveling for a golf or tennis match on the same day of a test," he said.

"The student comes running to us the day before the test and we have to see if there is any way for a student to reschedule the exam. Sometimes we succeed."

JOHN TROMBOLD, a Seattle physician and All-America baseball player at KU in 1954, said the academic help athletes receive bothers some people.

"I think faculty and students have some resentment about . . . these privileges," he said.

For example, Trombold said it was unfair that KU officials allow members of sports teams to enroll for classes before non-athletes.

It's a sensitive issue for students and faculty, he said, because KU has a major problem providing some course sections students need to graduate.

"Along with early enrollment they receive wonderful counseling, which I fully endorse. But what about other students in the university?" Trombold said.

MAI-DALTON said a number of athletes couldn't go to college without special academic assistance.

"Maybe the better solution would be to give those students college scholarships and cut out the athletics," she said. "But I'm not prepared to do that. My philosophy is this: We have the athletics. We are responsible for helping them be successful."

Ideally, Mai-Dalton said, every student on campus would be provided an intensive level of academic support. The university simply can't afford it, she said.

Martz said athletes have special problems when it comes to keeping up with course work. Teams have frequent road trips, which force athletes to miss class.

In addition, Chennault said, the heavy practice schedule drains athletes of motivation to study.

"The average student has the whole day to study," she said.

LAPOINT said athletic demands of some coaches are excessive. The baseball team plays too many games and tennis road trips are too long, he said.

Buskirk also said he's bothered that KU athletes don't have enough unstructured time to explore what the university has to offer.

"A university this size has so many opportunities for students to participate in things. Some of their peers have an opportunity to meet more students," he said.

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