Scalding Hot Take Regarding: Defending Auburn Against Implied Academic Impropriety
The Wall Street Journal has a new piece that is, as far as I can gather, intended to make Auburn University’s handling of an endangered academic major look nefarious. I hate Auburn as much as the next guy, but this is a reach.
“At Auburn,” the headline reads, “Athletics and Academics Collide.”
Isn’t that a novel idea? Aren’t student-athletes supposed to be students and athletes? Shouldn’t the duality of that misnomer occasionally yield a collision? Shouldn’t we celebrate (instead of throwing out condemnation) when that actually occurs?
Here’s how the article opens:
In 2013, Auburn University’s curriculum review committee took up the case of a small, unpopular undergraduate major called public administration. After concluding that the major added very little to the school’s academic mission, the committee voted to eliminate it.
But according to internal documents and emails reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, the committee’s decision was ultimately overruled by top administrators after it met significant opposition from another powerful force on campus: Auburn’s athletic department.
Now some facts:
- 111 students were public administration majors in the fall of 2013.
- 51% those majors were athletes.
- A third of the football team was among those majors.
Those items are facts. Equally factual were the steps taken by the athletic department to preserve the major.
But to assume that everything associated with that salvaging was done out of corruption is to say that none of the athletes within that major valued a degree. And I’m not ready to go there. Per the WSJ, the athletic department’s stance was that “if the public administration program is eliminated, the [graduation success rate] numbers of our student-athletes will likely decline.”
Well no shit. Though graduation success rate measures are usually discussed within the context of the NCAA and college sports, this scenario isn’t unique to Auburn, sports or public administration majors. If the University of Georgia dropped its finance major, the graduation plans of many students would be threatened. Some would have to switch majors and gain differing credits for completion. Others might even consider transferring to another school offering a finance major. The outcome would be undoubtedly damaging to those students (at least in the short-term), regardless of the number enrolled in that major. Auburn’s athletic department didn’t want that happening to public administration majors.
But if you assume everything an athletic department does is in the interest of athletics and self-preservation and never in the best interest of the student part of student-athletes, then the athletic department’s intervention is a smoking gun.
But is it not possible that the athletic department wanted some folks to graduate? Is it not possible that a student—even one—wanted that major because political science, public service and governmental policy was of interest?
I think that is possible. I say that because hundreds of universities (including the likes of athletic athletic powerhouses like Flagler, George Mason, NYU, Johns Hopkins) offer a Public Administration undergraduate major. I don’t think those schools offer the major just to help athletes. And I don’t think the number of enrollees, demographic make up of the student body or other factors should come into play in maintaining the viability of a degree path. And undoubtedly the financial cost of maintaining a major for as few as 100 students created some instability. So why was it so out of line for the athletic department to help the budget of the program?
Heaven forbid the profitable athletic department help out the academic institution at a college. This isn’t North Carolina and no-show attendance policies (at least not yet). This is not Basketball 101 at Georgia (at least not yet). The accrediting body that oversees Auburn told the WSJ that universities must place “primary responsibility for the content, quality and effectiveness of the curriculum with its faculty.”
The athletic department helped keep some of that faculty employed, but did it change the curriculum? We haven’t seen any evidence of that. And I can’t help but think if this was an organization other than the athletics department, this would be viewed differently.
If the Auburn Business Club offered to subside the cost of the unpopular international business major because half of the students within that major were also members of the Auburn Business Club, would we be outraged? Or would we be proud to see a student organization protecting its student members?
And we can move past the idea that this was an “easy” major and therefore the one best fit for certain students, because there’s not anything wrong with that. Some majors are harder than others. Some students are more capable than others. That’s not an argument that anyone can dispute. But don’t pretend public administration was the only “easy” major on campus and don’t pretend the major was only “easy” for the 51% of students who were also athletes.
Auburn’s athletic department stepped in to protect student-athletes in the classroom. If you think that was done solely out of corruption, you’re a fool.
If this was done solely out of corruption, the major would have never been on the chopping block. If this was done solely out of corruption, the major wouldn’t have mattered because professors in another major would be bought. We’ve seen corrupted academic standards. An athletic department helping subsidize a department doesn’t necessarily fit that bill.
That’s all I got/