Sports is one aspect of The Ann Arbor News’s reporting that has always had an edge to it. The otherwise conservative publication has produced some fine maverick columnists who eventually moved on to work in bigger markets. Chris McKosky of The Detroit Free Press, Mike Downey of the Los Angeles Times and Jason Whitlock of the Kansas City Star come to mind.

Now comes Jim Carty. I, for one, find his work a breath of fresh air. In a town filled with people who see the Big House as a kind of athletic Vatican and dissent from the Bo doctrine as tantamount to blasphemy, Carty tells it like it is. His columns on Rich Rodriguez’s duplicity in taking the Michigan job and his troubling conclusion that the commodification of the head coaching position has become ubiquitous in Division I college football were right on target. Tradition – the intangible aura that once surrounded programs like Notre Dame and Michigan – has been replaced by market forces. Carty rightly points out that universities and coaching candidates alike take the attitude of consumers, not loyalists, to any particular alma mater or philosophical principle. Thank you, Jim Carty.

My comments here then should not be taken as a disagreement with Carty, John Heuser and Nathan Fenno’s four-day series on the state of athletics and academics at the University as much as the perspective of an insider who wasn’t one of the 87 people interviewed.

As an English instructor who works in the Comprehensive Studies Program, I appreciate rhetorical skills of Carty et al. After all, I teach college writing. What’s missing from this conversation is the issue of assessment, a topic of constant debate among academics as it should be, given the ever-changing nature of teaching and the ways evaluation has to be recalibrated to address these changes.

I will confine my comments to the humanities only, which would include psychology, a central focus of investigative articles. An ongoing topic in current debates about assessment has to do with “longitudinal progress,” the question of how improvement over time figures into grading. Key to this idea is the controversial notion that rather than comparing students to other students, students should be measured according to their own progress.

This is not to suggest that rubrics should be abandoned. It simply means that rubrics are one of many tools in the assessment process. The controversy arises when those students who can achieve As without really trying are outraged that less gifted students should be rewarded for attendance, effort and improvement. The fact is, however, that these “A” students oftentimes show much less improvement than their hard-working colleagues.

While Carty’s article offers one perspective on Chad Kolarik’s academic experience, one need only read a Daily article on his experience in my classroom and how it influenced his decision to keep a diary, as well as his attitude about writing in general, to get another perspective (Dear Diary: Kolarik shows improvement, 11/17/2005).

I also had Jake Long in a spring English 325 class on essay writing, and he was – excuse the athletic parlance – a flat-out great student: smart, conscientious and dedicated.

A final example from my experience is that of Jack Johnson. Too many students look at the pursuit of a degree as simply a way to make money. Although he was drafted into the NHL in 2005, Johnson elected to stay in school. Seeing how Johnson addressed his university experience taught them a lesson about the value of an education that I could never impart.

In 2006, however, the possibility of injury and the offer of instant playing time and a multi-year, multimillion-dollar contract made it impossible for Johnson to hold out. At the time, he was in my English 225 class on argumentative writing. It was late winter with about three weeks left in the semester. He came to me and said, “Dr. Tessier, I have to report to the LA Kings for their last six games, but I want to finish up here so I can continue my education next year on the West Coast. If you’ll allow me to work on my papers for the week and a half in L.A., I’ll return to class with my completed essays and be in class for the last week.”

Even though Jack was set for life financially, he was of a mindset that a degree was something with an intangible value that can’t be measured with a monetary yardstick. The other students were blown away.

While I have taught many student-athletes in my time (I would say that Peter Vignier, who is now a lawyer in Arizona, was perhaps the brightest), these are just three examples of the kind of work ethic Carty’s article failed to emphasize.

Randall Tessier is a University professor in the Comprehensive Studies Program.

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