University athletic director discusses academic standards for student athletes with faculty
Warde Manuel, University of Michigan athletic director, emphasized the seriousness he places on academics for student athletes at Monday’s Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs meeting.
“We drive our student athletes to be very successful academically,” Manuel said. “Not just for eligibility purposes, but for themselves and their lives.”
Manuel, who was appointed in January to succeed Interim Athletic Director Jim Hackett, visited SACUA for the first time since his appointment to talk about the relationship between the Athletic Department and faculty.
SACUA Chair Silke-Maria Weineck, a professor of comparative literature, said correspondence between the Athletic Department and faculty has lessened in the past few years.
“I think there’s a bit of a sense from your predecessors that the faculty and the Athletic Department have drifted apart, for lack of better words," Weineck said. "And there hasn’t been a lot of interaction between the Athletic Department and the faculty.”
Faculty members echoed Weineck’s statement, saying they felt faculty members were not given a voice due to poor communication.
“There was less and less communication and open dialogue,” SACUA member John Lehman, a professor of biology, said. “We want to make sure faculty has a very good dialogue with (the Athletic Department).”
Manuel said he wants to make every effort to connect with faculty and the campus.
“If I see something in the Daily or in the Record that I’d like to attend, I will,” Manuel said. “Part of it is my own interests in doing what I can to get out into the community and be visible to talk to faculty and students about what they’re doing.”
Manuel also said he believes faculty and athletics should support one another, as well as students.
“One thing you’ll find out about me is I’m not there because there’s PR, I’m there because I think we all need to find a way to support what each other are doing,” Manuel said.
At a SACUA meeting in November 2014, University President Mark Schlissel discussed the challenges of admiting and working with student athletes to the point of graduation, saying, “We admit students who aren’t as qualified, and it’s probably the kids that we admit that can’t honestly, even with lots of help, do the amount of work and the quality of work it takes to make progression from year to year,” he said. “These past two years have gotten better, but before that, the graduation rates were terrible, with football somewhere in the 50s and 60s when our total six-year rate at the University is somewhere near 90 percent, so that’s a challenge.”
SACUA and Manuel additionally heavily discussed the difficulties student athletes face in balancing their respective sport and schoolwork. Manuel said he believes schoolwork should be the primary focus for athletes, listing five things from student athletes: academic success, athletic success, growing as a young adult, following the rules and having fun.
He also touched on the recent controversy surrounding concussions and student athletes. A recent University study on concussions found male football players are at a 75-percent risk for concussion, and 78 percent of concussions occur during games, as opposed to practices.
“By fun, it doesn’t mean easy," he said. "It means fun doing all of that and being a student, athlete and person, and growing and learning in this environment,” Manuel said.
On campus, University practices regarding handling concussions during football games draw criticism, after the 2014 game against Minnesota in which then-Kinesiology sophomore quarterback Shane Morris was sent back in to play after hitting his head, an injury that was confirmed as a concussion after the game.
“I’m not involved in the decision-making as it relates to when somebody is able to participate after the concussion, and I’m aware enough to know of the extent of the research that’s reported publicly,” Manuel said. “I do not consider myself, nor will I ever consider myself, an expert at it. I will rely heavily on the medical staff to make the determination about students’ ability to continue playing in a game or when they come back.”
Business Prof. Dave Wright said the impact of athletics on the University’s brand is extremely high — and as such, the Athletic Department holds significant power in determining the perception of the University.
“All of us collectively work really hard for the brand and the reputation of this University, and we are really blessed and honored to work for a school that really is the leaders and best at both athletics and academics,” Wright said. “That’s a rare breed. I can screw up in the classroom, botch a piece of research or whatever and we get a little attention in my area but not much. Nothing can change the brand quicker than some of the high-profile athletes and coaches.”
After the discussion with Manuel, SACUA discussed the Office of Institutional Equity appeals policy and drafted a resolution for Faculty Senate. Weineck said the current OIE appeals policy allows faculty to appeal sanctions but not to appeal investigation findings of the OIE investigations. Since the new sexual misconduct policy, announced in March to go into effect in July, allows students file grievances with both sanctions and findings, SACUA members said the same procedure should apply to faculty.
“Currently, people can grieve the sanctions but not appeal the findings, which we think is a bit of a mismatch,” Weineck said.
The resolution states the desire for faculty to have a parallel or similar grievance policy to students. The Faculty Senate will vote on the resolution at the next meeting on April 18.
SACUA also elected Engineering Prof. Bill Schultz, current vice chair, to Chair of SACUA for the next academic year. Schulz ran against Lehman and won in a 5-3 vote. In addition, Wright was appointed to be the next vice chair.