As the University’s historically successful football program receives criticism from media and fans alike, the “Sport and the University” theme semester couldn’t have come at a better time.
Following theme semesters titled “India and the World” and “Understanding Race and Ethnicity,” the Fall 2014 semester strives to continue a 20-year tradition of focused studies within the school.
After a committee was formed several years ago to discuss the curricula offered related to sport and physical activity, the ideas for the Fall 2014 theme semester came into fruition. English Prof. Anne Curzan, one of the theme semester’s leaders and faculty liaison to the Athletic Department, said the theme offers a unique perspective to tie together athletics and academics — two defining aspects of the University’s culture.
“We decided it would be really fun to sponsor a theme semester on sport and the University to highlight all these intersections — and to see what departments would come up with related to the theme,” Curzan wrote in a statement. “And it has been exciting to see the range of events and topics that have come together around this theme.”
In conjunction with the theme semester, a series of lectures, panels and film screenings will take place throughout the fall. Some students are taking courses offered within the theme semester, including several taught by lecturer John Bacon, a prominent sports journalist and New York Times bestselling author.
“There are few places that are suited to study ways to think about sports,” Bacon said. “That’s what’s great about the University: it’s a wonderful place for ideas.”
Physics Prof. Dave Gerdes, co-organizer of the theme semester along with Curzan, said courses spanning several different departments show the breadth of perspectives from which sports can be analyzed — ranging from themes within psychology, women’s studies, economics and medicine. A marathon runner himself, Gerdes emphasized the relevance of mixing academics with athletics.
“Sports and academics are two things Michigan does very, very well,” Gerdes said. “It can give both students and faculty a better appreciation for what’s going on over in the athletic campus and realize that it’s not in some ways as much of a world apart as it may appear.”
Several events sponsored by the theme semester have already occurred, including a kickoff panel featuring prominent varsity coaches and LSA faculty members, and a lecture by Bacon during Parents Weekend.
At the kickoff, Michigan basketball coach John Beilein, one of the panelists, gave advice to students and student athletes alike on how to achieve success and face defeat. He called failure a “fertilizer for growth” and recalled his acronym, “WIN” — what’s important now. As a well-regarded coach whose team has had successful March Madness performances over the last two years, Beilein also offered advice on how to strive to grow in spite of success.
Beilein serves as an example of how the Athletic Department will contribute to the semester. Curzan said the department will sponsor several events, including a lecture by University alum Andrea Joyce, a prominent sports broadcaster, which will take place Oct. 30.
Overall, Curzan anticipates the theme semester will create a dialogue about the intersection of sports and academics at the University.
“At Michigan, you find passion for academics and passion for athletics and we don’t think that we need to see athletics and academics as inherently or necessarily at odds with each other,” Curzan said. “And many of us combine sport and academics in our personal lives in complementary, productive, fun and often inspiring ways.”