Duke students and administration remain confident about the academic performance of the University’s athletes in light of the recent controversy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The academic performance of UNC’s student-athletes came under fire when academic advisor Mary Willingham released reports indicating that a majority of the school’s athletes were reading below middle school level. According to Willingham’s research, of the 183 athletes in revenue-generating sports admitted to UNC between 2004 and 2012, about 60 percent were reading between the fourth and eighth grade reading levels and between 8 and 10 percent were reading below a third grade level. The reports have caught attention from national media, and it has been reported that Willingham has received death threats and hate mail.
“There is data to prove that our athletes are as strong academically as they are on the field,” said Lee Baker, dean of academic affairs and associate vice provost of undergraduate education for Trinity College of Arts & Sciences.
Willingham’s study is the most recent in a series of controversies involving UNC’s athletic department. Last month, a UNC professor was indicted on charges of academic fraud for teaching a “paper” course, which did not assign papers and did not meet regularly, in order to help athletes meet NCAA eligibility requirements.
Duke’s athletic department declined to comment on the controversy at UNC.
“We will not be issuing a statement pertaining to anything going on at another institution,” wrote Jon Jackson, associate director of athletics and external affairs, in an email Monday.
Though Duke Academic Advising does not report the academic data of subgroups such as the athletic student body, many students and professors expressed the opinion that UNC’s situation does not apply to Duke.
Emily Klein, professor of geology, noted that there was little to academically distinguish athletes from the rest of her students.
Similarly, Alex Rosenberg, R. Taylor Cole Professor of Philosophy and department chair, said that student athletes tended to perform better than non-athletes in his classes.
“By and large, the student athletes who have been in my classes have disproportionately been women and disproportionately done better,” Rosenberg said.
Duke athletic teams have been known for the strong academic performance of their participants. Of NCAA schools, Duke sports teams ranked No. 1 with a 98 percent graduation success rate, twelve points ahead of the graduation success rate of UNC. Of Duke’s 26 teams, nine achieved a perfect Academic Progress Rate of 1,000 for the 2011-2012 school year.
Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Christoph Guttentag said that the University takes both academics and athletic performance into serious consideration in the admissions process. Coaches participate in the process by submitting a list of potential recruits to the admissions office, but whether a potential recruit is accepted or not comes down to admissions officers, Guttentag said.
“Duke is committed to success in many fields, including athletics, and we are interested in and respectful of the views of the coaches,” Guttentag wrote in an email Monday. “But as with all applicants, the final say is in the admissions office. My sense is that the communication between the admissions office and the athletic department, and the respect we have for each other, is as good as you’ll find in college athletics today.”
Kerstin Kimmel, head coach for women’s lacrosse, said that she did not put up recruits for consideration by admissions unless she knew they had a good chance of being accepted.
“At this point in my career, I don’t take kids to admissions that they’re going to say no to,” Kimmel said. “We really try to identify students who are the best lacrosse players and students and the best fit for Duke.”
Student-athletes strongly maintain that the academic standard at Duke applies across the board to all students—athletes and non-athletes.
Freshman Alex Belaia, a member of the men’s wrestling team, added that the concept of athletes as less deserving than other students is just a stereotype.
“Athletes bring a hard work ethic,” Belaia said. “They may not be the most intelligent, but these people have determination. A lot of the athletes don’t go pro with their sports. A lot of athletes understand that—they care about the sport, but they also care about their education.”