Last weekend, hundreds of student-athletes from the University competed in nine sports in three time zones.

The women’s softball team flew to the West Coast to play three games in the Judi Garman Classic in Fullerton, Calif. A half-dozen wrestlers represented Michigan in the NCAA championships in St. Louis. The rowing team competed on Griggs Reservoir near Columbus, Ohio; across town, members of the women’s swimming and diving team took to the pool in hopes of NCAA titles. The top-ranked hockey team hit the ice at Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena for the CCHA championship.

Here in Ann Arbor, pitchers and catchers, tennis players and gymnasts filled the University’s fields, mats and courts to compete against their national rivals.

The life of a student-athlete competing in Division I sports is exciting, demanding, exhausting and rewarding. But it is not easy, neither on the playing field nor in the classroom. More than 700 student-athletes represent the University in a wide range of varsity sports, and the University is known for its commitment to help them achieve their greatest potential – in both the classroom and athletic arena. When The Ann Arbor News implies, as it did in its four-part series last week on academics and athletics at the University, that the academic experience here for student-athletes does not meet our standards or expectations, we must cry foul.

Our job as faculty and administrators is to help these student-athletes succeed academically, just as we are committed to the academic accomplishments of all University students. As with their peers, student-athletes are encouraged to pursue any major and degree program they want, depending on their interests, ambitions and abilities.

Of course, student-athletes face exceptional demands: In addition to their classes and coursework, players must devote time to daily practices, physical training, travel and competition. Balancing the demands of both academics and athletics requires commitment and flexibility.

To support these students, we provide one-on-one academic counseling, tutors and study space at the Ross Academic Center, where they find resources and quiet time. This commitment breeds success: The University of Michigan has one of the highest graduation rates among institutions with major sports programs.

Is there room for improvement? Absolutely, and working with our coaches and faculty we continually strive to see more student-athletes earn their degrees. Through our own rigorous reviews, audits and assessments we are constantly implementing changes and improvements to ensure that all standards are met as we support the success of our student-athletes.

We are also committed to full compliance with NCAA and Big Ten regulations. When the issues publicized by the News were initially raised within the University, we not only reviewed them internally, but also notified the Big Ten and the NCAA. We stand ready to rectify any irregularities that may surface at any time.

At the heart of the academic experience of the college athlete is our faculty. The academic integrity of the University is firmly rooted in standards established, judged and upheld by the professoriate. The faculty alone determines academic degree requirements; whether students represent the football team or the fishing team (yes, we have one), they must meet these standards to receive their diploma.

In educating students for their degrees, University faculty employ a variety of teaching styles, including group lectures, multidisciplinary team teaching, online exchanges and independent study. Although the News may question the value and rigor of independent study, University faculty throughout 19 schools and colleges endorse its effectiveness for discovering and acquiring knowledge.

We were deeply disappointed in both the approach and tone of the News’s coverage of this important issue. The overall treatment did not lead to accuracy or balance, and did not fairly represent the University’s serious commitment to the academic success of our student athletes.

Intercollegiate athletics is an integral part of the Michigan experience. And the tradition, enthusiasm and loyalty fostered by the play of our student-athletes resonates far beyond the borders of the campus and deep into American culture.

We take great pride in our athletic accomplishments. We take even greater pride in the academic prowess of the University. Only by succeeding in the classroom are student-athletes given the privilege of representing Michigan on the playing field.

Mary Sue Coleman is the University’s president. Teresa Sullivan is provost and executive vice president of academic affairs. Bill Martin is the director of intercollegiate athletics.

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