Bowdoin to admit fewer rated athletes
Faculty members discussed the role of athletics at their
meeting Monday, responding to growing concerns over athletics at Bowdoin
and prompted by the recent Mellon report on NESCAC athletics.
The biggest news came when Dean of Admissions Jim Miller
announced that the College will enroll roughly 20 percent fewer rated
athletes in the next class. Admissions will aim for the Class of 2006
to have 79 rated athletes matriculating, as compared to the 99 rated athletes
that matriculated in the Class of 2005 (124 rated athletes were admitted
in that class).
Rated athletes are those that coaches have marked as desirable
for admission. They are not considered to be recruited, according to Director
of Athletics Jeff Ward, because many of those athletes first approached
President Barry Mills, who led the move in cooperation with
Miller and Ward, called it "appropriate" but "risky,"
as it could potentially put Bowdoin athletics at a competitive disadvantage,
since he did not act in concert with administrators at other NESCAC schools.
Whether other NESCAC schools have made similar decisions on their own
remains to be seen.
While Bowdoin has already acted on its own in this initiative,
Ward urged that for future changes "no institution can act individually."
This sentiment, shared by many members of the athletic staff,
drew criticism from history professor Dan Levine. "I hope it's not
true that we can only do what the NESCAC is going to do. I hope we can
make some decision on our own," he said.
Still, the initiative was acknowledged to be "good
news" by members of the faculty, but only as a first step.
Noting that Bowdoin is smaller than many other NESCAC schools
but fields as many or more teams as other larger schools, professors expressed
concern for what they see as both financial and intellectual costs of
supporting such an extensive program.
Several faculty members argued that too many athletes prioritize
athletics over academics, and the results are noticeable in the classroom.
Students' commitments to athletics, they said, cause great infringements
on class attendance and coursework. In the words of one professor, many
athletes have "wacko priorities."
There was wide agreement, though, that different teams foster
different commitment levels in students.
Professors said that students often miss classes weekly
(especially on Friday) so they can go to their athletic events. Not only
that, they said, but many athletes frequently tell professors that they
cannot complete their work on time because of a sports event.
"There's nothing I can say to that," music professor
Jim McCalla said.
Ward assured faculty that coaches and members of the athletic
department routinely tell athletes that they never have to miss class
for practice or competition, and he said that his goal for next year is
to have students miss no more than one class for an away competition.
However, that didn't provide comfort to professors who feel
that nonetheless students do not understand that they do not have to miss
class. "They're not getting it," one professor said.
English professor Marilyn Reizbaum said it should not be
acceptable for students to have to miss even one class because of sporting
In what Mills later called the most important comment made,
education professor Nancy Jennings warned against putting too much value
in the quantitative indicators that the NESCAC report used to evaluate
students. Academic engagement, and not just evaluation, should be important,
Some also said that too much preference is given to athletics
over other activities. Philosophy professor Scott Sehon questioned why
other organizations, such as the Outing Club and the Bowdoin Christian
Fellowship, were not given similar preference in the admissions process.
Noting that "we are not starting from scratch"
and therefore cannot implement equitable "fast-track" admissions
processes for all organizations, Sehon recommended that athletes' credentials
at least be on par with those of non-athletes.
According to Stefanie Pemper, coach of women's basketball,
the importance of athletics lies in teamwork, competition, and striving
toward a goal. "I don't think you can compare that to the Bowdoin
Christian Fellowship. I don't think you can compare that to the Outing
Club. I think it's different, and I think it's more important to those
Music professor Mary Hunter briefly responded that education
doesn't have to be about competition. "What's the difference between
playing and competing," she asked.
A larger question that emerged was rooted in anthropology
professor Scott MacEachern's half-joking remark that "Our students
sometimes seem to be so well-rounded that I can't get a grip on them."
The concept of the well-rounded Bowdoin student was brought up several
times, not always in the favor that the admissions office looks might
look at it.
"We make the optimistic assumption that the degree
of engagement that our students have is infinite. I'm not totally sure
that that's the case," MacEachern said. In other words, students
are not likely to be equally committed to both sports and academics (and
other activities)-one of them has to give, and, many professors believe,
that happens to be academics.
"Instead of talking about athletics in general,"
MacEachern said, "perhaps we should be talking about particular kinds
of commitments that students have."
"What we claim to do is give people liberal educations,
and all components, outside as well as inside, are important," Corish