For those of us graduating later this month, April is sure to be a busy month.

Paul Wong
Geoffrey Gagnon, G-ology

But for one of those being honored at commencement, this April may be especially hectic. A month after starting his second season with the Columbus Clippers and a few days after fans lined up to claim bobble-head dolls that bear his likeness at the Clippers’ April 14 game, Drew Henson will graduate from the University.

If the list of graduating seniors posted in Angell Hall is to be trusted, Henson, the onetime Michigan quarterback turned New York Yankees minor league sensation will be trading his pinstripes for a cap and gown. It was this time last year that the heralded signal caller turned in his maize and blue for Yankee blue, pocketed a $17 million signing bonus and bid farewell to campus.

In an interview with the Daily on March 5, Henson said that he plans to finish up the requirements for his degree this spring in order to graduate on time, four years after first coming to Michigan. Make no mistake, Henson’s commitment to earn his degree in four years despite leaving school early is nothing short of impressive. But it’s what the third baseman said next that really caught my attention. Henson described how he has progressed with his academic work since leaving school by monitoring the course work by computer – “I still have to e-mail in my papers and take all the tests,” Henson explained.

Now I take nothing away from Henson, but in my four years of school here I have never once seen a syllabus that allows students to e-mail the work from out of town. I’m not saying that Henson shouldn’t take classes of this sort if they are offered by the University; I’m just wondering why I haven’t been.

I’m going to feel pretty stupid if I spent four years here and never once heard that you could take classes by e-mail. Its no secret that more professors are using the Internet as a learning tool, but Henson has perhaps stumbled upon something most of us have missed. Now, I could be misunderstanding Henson’s description of his courseload, but if he is to be believed, there are classes that require no participation or attendance, offer no lectures or discussions and allow for the work to be sent from out of state.

I have to admit the whole idea of Henson registering for courses that allow him to earn his degree from the hundreds of miles away reminded me immediately of those Sally Struthers commercials featured on daytime television a few years ago – the one where Sally tells viewers how wonderful earning a degree from an accredited correspondance school can be (“You can study a paralegal profession or even small engine repair right out of your home, please call today”).

The thing is, Michigan isn’t the type of correspondance school that Henson’s email cirriculum would indicate. We don’t need Sally Struthers to run cheesey commercials during Brady Brunch re-runs on TBS – not yet anyway. Who knows though, a few more mail order diplomas and the University may be tempted to rethink how it does business.

Now again, it’s certainly a remarkable testament to Henson to have stuck with school after joining the Yankees’ minor league system. With $17 million in the bank and a steady career fielding grounders ahead of him, Henson could have easily justified giving up on school. By comparison, Chris Webber made almost $300,000 even before leaving Michigan and he never came back to get a degree. Perhaps Webber didn’t know he could e-mail the work from Oakland.

I admit that I might be the last one on board here. For all I know everyone is taking e-mail-only classes and living in Arizona, Tampa and Columbus like Drew. But honestly I had never heard of this. If the University wants programs like this to catch on it needs to do a better job publicizing them or they just won’t take off the way they could.

Of course, I don’t mean to single out Henson, especially after he’s spent so much time earning a degree that most people in his position simply would not. And for all I know, Henson’s been a regular in his classes here on campus (although between summer baseball in Ohio, fall baseball in Arizona and spring training in Florida, this seems like a stretch). If the e-mail option is in fact open to guys like Henson it should be open to others.

I don’t fault Henson or slight his achievement; and I’m not even that bitter that a Michigan degree will be earned in Columbus, Ohio of all places. I just hope Henson’s accomplishments in the classroom (or rather Columbus area apartment as it were) aren’t compromised by standards that make his degree any different than mine.

Geoffrey Gagnon can be reached at ggagnon@umich.edu.

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