Letters to the Editor

Syracuse University professor urges administration to value academics over sports

I am repeatedly being sent a letter from the assistant director of student-athlete development that informs me that yet another student in my class will be missing classes due to their participation in athletics. In the most recent case, a team is taking an optional trip to compete and those students will miss the start of classes as a result. Here is a portion of that letter:

“As previously acknowledged by the Office of the Vice Chancellor and Provost, student/athletes are obligated to meet both their academic and athletic commitments. It is possible that required competition may occasionally conflict with class schedules and/or other academic responsibilities. We would appreciate your assistance in providing the student with an opportunity to complete any assignments, exams, and/or projects that will be missed during their absence from your course.”

Amongst the things I find remarkably disheartening about this letter is that:

  • It equates a student’s obligation to attend her classes with her obligation to play sporting events.
  • It suggests this view is shared all the way up the university hierarchy.
  • It somehow avoids considering the option that the athletic obligations should be constructed so that the students can meet their primary academic obligations.
  • It treats it as going without saying that when the obligations to academics and athletics conflict, the student will be missing class. And it asks professors to take on the burden of accommodating students whose sports draw them away from class.

Most know that the devotion to athletics have gotten well out of hand in higher education in the United States. Nonetheless I would urge us to at least pay lip service to the idea that the primary point of a university continues to be academic and not athletic.

I would urge the “academic side” of the university to send its own letter to the athletics department. It might read:

“As previously acknowledged by the Office of the Vice Chancellor and Provost, student/athletes are obligated to meet both their academic and athletic commitments. It is possible that required examinations and class attendance may occasionally conflict with athletic schedules and/or other athletic responsibilities. We would appreciate your assistance in providing the student with an opportunity to complete any practices and competitions that will be missed during their absence from your events.”

Sincerely,

David Sobel

Irwin and Marjorie Guttag Professor of Ethics and Political Philosophy, philosophy department

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