Professor of Economics Jonathan Goldstein's paper, "The Tradeoff Between Extra-Curricular Activities and the Academic Mission of Small Liberal Arts Colleges: Why Some Schools Are Poor Educational Investments," has been the source of an eight-month long dispute between the author and College officials since shortly after it was posted on his faculty Web page last August (see related story, "Investigation of professor's study draws to a close").

The study examined athletics in the context of small, liberal arts colleges. Goldstein said he used data from athletics because it was the extracurricular activity "for which the data is most readily available."

Goldstein examined three factors to determine his rankings: grade inflation at each school, the number of athletes as a percentage of the student body, and the philosophy of the athletic department, which Goldstein quantified by differentiating between schools that had hired athletic directors with Division I, Division II, or Division III experience, with the "notion being that Division I is a more competitive environment," he said.

Goldstein said that he decided to factor in the prior experience of the athletic director at each school largely because of conversations with coaches after Bowdoin Athletic Director Jeff Ward came to the College in 1998. Ward had previously worked in a Division I athletic department as an assistant athletic director at Brown University.

"I remember when our current athletic director took over, I happened to have some casual conversations with existing coaching staff here at the time, and two or three of the people told me that they felt pressure that their job was in jeopardy if they didn't produce a winning team under the new regime here," Goldstein said.

"So that's ultimately why I considered that factor" in the study, he said.

In an e-mail to the Orient on Wednesday, Ward wrote that the investigation of Goldstein's research "had evolved into a personnel issue and a discussion of academic freedom" and that it "would be inappropriate for me to comment about either." He did, however, take a firm stance on Goldstein's views on athletics at the College.

"I strongly disagree with most of what Professor Goldstein has said about Bowdoin Athletics," Ward wrote.

Most of the information for his study, Goldstein said, was "obtained from the Internet, college Web sites and things like that."

According to Goldstein, he weighted the three factors (grade inflation, percentage of athletes at the school, previous experience of the athletic director) equally and then ranked the schools.

"The equal weighting [of the three factors] is arbitrary and anybody can argue that, and of course there is no correct weighting, and it's a matter subject to discussion," he said.

What he found in his study was that "The schools that tended to be at the higher end of the spectrum were schools that we tend to associate with stronger academic programs: Swarthmore, Haverford, Bryn Mawr, etc."

At the bottom of his rankings "were schools that didn't necessarily have the same recognition for being academically rigorous places," he said. "A lot of the schools at the bottom [of the study] have good U.S. News and World Report rankings, which I view as the potential of the school. The question I'm interested in is the potential being realized, and that's sort of what I'm after."

Out of the 36 schools in the study, Bowdoin ranked 36th. Other NESCAC schools, including Amherst, Colby, Hamilton, and Williams, also appeared at the bottom of the rankings. According to his paper, these schools fared poorly because of the "pervasive nature of athletics" and "the failure to regulate athletics resulting in negative feedbacks on the academic mission."

Grade inflation

A major theme throughout Goldstein's study is grade inflation, and by his own admission, he is a more difficult grader than most professors at Bowdoin. In a footnote in his study, Goldstein explained that in terms of average grades he gives to his students, the Office of the Registrar once ranked him "close to the bottom": 164 out of 171 faculty at the time.

At the end of each semester, students evaluate each of their professors. These teaching evaluations, noted Goldstein, are used "for the purpose of promotion, tenure, and merit-based pay increases."

"Obviously talking about a generation involves stereotyping," said Goldstein. "I believe that, and this is a testable hypothesis, that the current generation of students tend to tie grades to teaching evaluations."

Dean for Academic Affairs Cristle Collins Judd, who has been at Bowdoin since July of 2006, said she thought that grade inflation at the College was not something that faculty had been particularly concerned about.

"My sense, at the moment, is that grade inflation has not been a front burner issue for faculty since I've been at Bowdoin," she said.

Vice President for Communications and Public Affairs Scott Hood said that grade inflation was an issue at schools across the country, and that it wasn't necessarily a Bowdoin-specific problem.

"It's certainly not something that Bowdoin should be embarrassed about," he continued. "It's something that higher education in general has to deal with, and be part of the discussion and part of the dialogue."

Toning down athletics

Goldstein also has no reservations about voicing his discontent about what he believes to be an overemphasis on athletics at the College, as well as their adverse affect on the academic mission of the school.

"We have more varsity teams than Notre Dame, Michigan State," he said. "Let's be realistic about it."

But Goldstein, who is tall with broad shoulders, is no stranger to the athletic field. During his junior year in high school, his football team won the New York City Public High School Championship. He planned to play football in college, but said he was forced to give it up because of a nagging shoulder injury. Shortly after he came to Bowdoin in 1979, Goldstein started a women's softball team, which he coached while also teaching economics. He was replaced in the early 80s by a full-time coach.

"I think people will get the wrong impression that I'm anti-athletics," Goldstein said. "I want to change things, but at the same time, look, I've played sports all my life."

Goldstein said that in place of fewer athletic teams, a larger and more competitive intramurals program could fill the gap. In intramurals "you can get the rigors of competition without devoting so much time to it."

In addition to paring down the number of varsity athletic teams, "the other thing that probably is necessary is to have minimum GPA requirements for participation in athletics of extracurriculars in general," he said. According to Ward, there is currently no GPA requirement in order to participate in athletics at either Bowdoin or in the NCAA at-large.

Goldstein said that steps taken by Bowdoin and other NESCAC schools in late 2001 to decrease the number of rated athletes (athletes that coaches have identified as desirable for acceptance) at the College was as a step in the right direction. According to a December 2001 article published in the Orient, then Dean of Admissions Jim Miller announced that the College would admit roughly 20 percent fewer rated athletes.

However, Goldstein felt that the measure did not go far enough.

"I think the faculty was appeased, unfortunately so, by President Mills' decision back in 2002 to tackle the athletics issue, but ultimately make a policy change which was marginal and had minimal impact," he said.

"This happens at the College every 10 years," Goldstein said. "It comes up, someone addresses the issue, and typically marginal changes are made to appease the faculty for another decade. But the decade's almost over now."

Judd said that she believed the College was having the "right kinds of conversations" about athletics and academics.

"I think the balance for students making choices in curricular and extracurricular activities is always one that will call for a reminder about academic priorities," she said. "That's as true of the students who are in the Chamber Choir and the students doing work in the Center for the Common Good, and the students who are in the Outing Club, and the students who have passions that so many Bowdoin students have."

"I understand that my position is not popular, particularly among the students," said Goldstein. "But I think that the goals are laudable. I'm just trying to better achieve the potential of an institution, and I think it has a lot of potential."