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The Collective
Friday, July 14, 2006
By Dr. Steven Taylor

The NYT has a lengthy, depressing and yet (unfortunately) not especially surprising tale of grades and athletes from Auburn University: Top Grades and No Class Time for Auburn Players. The surprising part has nothing to do with Auburn, per se, but with the whole “student athlete” situation in general.

The basics of the story have to do with football player taking guided readings courses with a specific member of the sociology faculty and receiving high grades, to the point that it helped the overall academic ranking of the football program.

Specifically, the interim chair [!] of the Sociology Department was offering a remarkable number of directed readings:

The number of directed readings that Professor Petee offered had jumped to 152 in the spring of 2005, from 120 in the fall of 2004. Professor Gundlach described them as fake courses and said they were undermining the department’s integrity.

Professor Petee offered 15 different courses as directed readings both semesters, along with teaching regular courses. His full-time-equivalent number on his teaching schedule for the fall of 2004 was 3.5, or the workload of three and a half professors. In the spring, it rose to 3.67. He was not compensated for the extra work.

The numbers included his in-classroom teachings and directed readings, but they did not include the time commitment for his responsibilities as interim department chairman.

[…]

After the confrontation, Professor Petee’s directed readings dipped to 25 last fall from 152. His full-time-equivalent number dropped to 1.0 from 3.67.

That is an insane amount of students and it is difficult to imagine that they were being adequately managed or instructed.

Further, the pattern of grading is suspicious as well:

Also after the confrontation in the faculty meeting, Professor Petee’s grades for the football players dropped sharply. Professor Gundlach found that before the meeting, the players received 81.1 percent A’s and 16.8 percent B’s in directed-reading courses with Professor Petee. After the meeting, those numbers fell to 40.9 percent A’s and 51.7 percent B’s.

And even with the shift, that is a highly unusual mix of combined percentage of As and Bs-certainly not one wold consider normal.

And then there is this example of the academic rigor in question:

In the fall of 2004, Mr. Langenfeld found himself in an academic bind. More than two months into the fall semester, he realized he had been attending the wrong class because of a scheduling error.

[…]

Mr. Langenfeld then went to his academic counselor in the athletic department, Brett Wohlers, with a plea: “I got dropped from a class and need a class to stay eligible for the bowl game,” Mr. Langenfeld recalled in a recent telephone interview. “I need a class, and I’ll take any class right now. I don’t not want to play in my last bowl game.”

He said Mr. Wohlers told him about a “one-assignment class” that other players had taken and enjoyed. So in the “ninth or 10th week,” Mr. Langenfeld said, he picked up a directed-reading course with Professor Petee. Semesters typically run 15 weeks.

Mr. Langenfeld said he had to read one book, but he could not recall the title. He said he was required to hand in a 10-page paper on the book. Between picking up the class and handing in the paper, he said, he met several times with Professor Petee in his office.

Such a tale is hardly the academy at its finest.

One sometimes wonders why schools don’t just design majors in football and be done with it.

Sphere: Related Content

Filed under: General, Academia, College Football | |

16 Comments

  1. One sometimes wonders why schools don’t just design majors in football and be done with it.

    I thought they did by offering a major in PE! And this way, they can encompass basketball players. :-)

    Comment by Mark — Friday, July 14, 2006 @ 11:16 am

  2. […] send a TrackBack. As soon as I get it, I will edit the post with your highlighted post. Steven Taylor, Mac, Lee, and Brian all are weighing in on the Auburn story broke by the NY Times. SJ has The […]

    Pingback by Politics In Alabama » Blog Archive » Alabama Bloggers Roundup — Friday, July 14, 2006 @ 2:23 pm

  3. You left out where there were 13 or 14 players who received benefits who were on their undefeated team including Carnell Cadillac Williams.

    Comment by Clint — Friday, July 14, 2006 @ 4:08 pm

  4. I am more interested in how the aid was given, and the actions of the professors in question.

    That football player get such treatment is not, in and of itself, a shocker.

    One guess that players on the 1992 Alabama national championship team got benefits-as did members of the Texas team last year.

    I recall a star running back, whose name escapes me at the moment, from Texas Tech who was allowed to play with a GPA of 0.

    Then there’s Matt Leinart taking Ballroom dancing and nothing else last year during the football season-hardly the model “student” athlete.

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Friday, July 14, 2006 @ 4:12 pm

  5. Leinart only took ballroom dancing cuz he only needed one more class to graduate, as in he finished the rest of his classes way before schedule. Many players do this so they can start to concentrate on having a good senior season to impress scouts and they can focus on going to combines the spring of their senior year. I think its much more respectable to do this than to take about 125 hours a semester or by taking the summers off. What this story leaves out is the percentage of football players in the sociology program.. this could be just a few players. With all of the sacs investigations in the past few years, i highly doubt this went unnoticed(that is, if it is actually going on)

    Comment by mike — Friday, July 14, 2006 @ 5:12 pm

  6. that was suppose to be 12 hours not 125. that would be suicide

    Comment by mike — Friday, July 14, 2006 @ 5:14 pm

  7. Auburn Football Players Got Top Grades for Bogus Classes

    Today’s NYT has a long feature on one particular Sociology professor who almost singlehandedly ensured Auburn’s football team had the best grades of any squad in the nation.
    A graphic popped up on James Gundlach’s television during an Aub…

    Trackback by Outside The Beltway | OTB — Friday, July 14, 2006 @ 7:51 pm

  8. Mike,

    In re: Leinart-I concur. However, it is still sham to call a guy who is taking a 3 hour ballroom dancing class much of a “student”. He was, at that point, a fulltime football player who happen to be taking a dancing class.

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Friday, July 14, 2006 @ 8:57 pm

  9. FrAUdacity!

    Since the story comes from the Times, Auburn supporters can always cling to the hope that it’s completely fabricated. At this point, I trust the Times about as much as the Weekly World News.

    Trackback by jaceonline — Saturday, July 15, 2006 @ 9:43 am

  10. The Knucklehead of the Day award Part Seven

    Our seventh and final winner today is Auburn University.

    Trackback by The Florida Masochist — Saturday, July 15, 2006 @ 7:52 pm

  11. I hate to break it to people but independent study classes usually don’t even have regular class. Even with regular classes, unless there’s an attendence policy you don’t have to attend. It’s up to you, but you’re responsible for your grade. What a crock. As for this professor’s workload, let me put for the scandalous notion that many professors just don’t work very hard normally - Poliblogger excluded of course.

    Comment by John Hay — Sunday, July 16, 2006 @ 2:05 pm

  12. The two professors are also rivals for the top spot in the department.

    Comment by John Hay — Sunday, July 16, 2006 @ 2:06 pm

  13. […] s levied by the NCAA and they still won’t learn. Just so sad really… UPDATE: Dr. Steven Taylor wonders why we don’t just create majors in football and be done with it. I’ll […]

    Pingback by The World Around You » Blog Archive » Auburn Football in Deep — Sunday, July 16, 2006 @ 3:55 pm

  14. John,

    You are right about the attendance issue, but I think you are being overly dismissive of the story. Independent studies should a) be a rarity in the life of a student, b) should still be a substantial amount of work, and c) shouldn’t be for any class (e.g, stats is not a candidate for independent study).

    There was a clear amount of academic abuse here.

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Sunday, July 16, 2006 @ 5:13 pm

  15. I don’t see the academic abuse. I took independent studies as a senior and as a graduate student; I don’t understand why they’re supposed to be such a rarity. We also have to believe that everything in the New York Times article is correct - call me skeptical. That the owner of the Tuscaloosa news is still taking potshots at Auburn really doesn’t surprise me. This is really about four in a row over Alabama and a fifth looming. Gundlach is just one of those loser tattletales that always hated the jocks. While is may be bad, and has been made to look worse, there appears to be no violations here to me. The sad part is I firmly believe Auburn does better than many SEC schools (who are probably secretly scrambling right now.)

    Comment by John Hay — Sunday, July 16, 2006 @ 7:22 pm

  16. The issue is hardly whether independent studies, per se, constitute academic abuse. The question is whether one prof teaching 152 of them in one semester is abuse. The answer is a resounding “YES.”

    Further, the idea that a student could come into a class in the 9th or 10th week of a 15 week semester, read a book and write a report and get credit is abuse.

    Further, the high percentage of such classes being taken by students is problematic, and constitutes abuse:

    Eighteen members of the 2004 Auburn football team, which went undefeated and finished No. 2 in the nation, took a combined 97 hours of the courses during their careers.

    That’s way too many hours of independent study to be considered legit.

    Further, the percentages of As and Bs in those classes is suspect. I teach undergraduates for a living, and have frequently had football players in my classes-those numbers are not reflective of reality.

    And I don’t think anyone has alleged any NCAA violations-but the fact that this is academic abuse is manifestly clear.

    I fear that perhaps your Auburn degree may be clouding your judgement here ;)

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Sunday, July 16, 2006 @ 8:43 pm

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