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Athletic, academic plan receives mixed reviews

If imitation is the greatest form of flattery, then consider professor Paul Haagen quite flattered by a recent parody of his proposal to improve the relationship between athletics and academics.

At the Academic Council meeting last Thursday, Haagen, a Duke Law professor who chairs the council, introduced the "Faculty Athletics Associates Program," which calls for faculty representatives to be assigned to each of Duke's 22 varsity teams.

"I was hoping to increase the connection and depth of understanding between faculty and coaches," Haagen said. "The purpose is to have better interaction in terms of each side understanding the other."

The Academic Council's Executive Committee approved the plan, and 80 faculty members have already offered their services to become part of the program, Haagen said.

But some faculty members are not on board with Haagen's proposal, and a version mocking it has circulated among some within the University.

Co-written by Fred Nijhout and Richard Hain, professors of biology and math, respectively, the imitation is entitled "Coaches Academic Associates Program." The parody statement closely mirrors Haagen's original, but coaches are assigned to academic departments instead of faculty members assigned to varsity teams.

"The purpose of the program is to increase understanding among the coaches of academic life at Duke," Nijhout and Hain wrote. "The hope is to establish a mechanism for meaningful interaction among the faculty, coaches and student scholars, to insure that there will be some coaches with an informed understanding of the experience of student scholars at Duke.

"The program is open to all members of the coaching staff of the University, although it is hoped that most of the participating coaches will come from among those who coach pre-professional athletes and winning teams."

Nijhout declined to comment, saying the parody speaks for itself.

At the Academic Council meeting Thursday, Haagen acknowledged the imitation document, joking that he was "considered worthy of a parody."

Haagen dismissed the criticism, saying even he is unsure of how successful the program will end up being, but it is worth a shot.

"It is nothing other than an experiment," Haagen said. "But did 80 people say they were interested enough to try? Yes."

Some have not been so quick to laugh off the parody. Kerstin Kimel, head coach of the women's lacrosse team, said the parody was a "step backwards" in the relationship between athletics and academics.

"Given the circumstances under which we are all examining ourselves, to me, this kind of banter is childish and completely unproductive and totally disrespectful," Kimel said. "From a coach's standpoint, we really want to extend the olive branch to help improve."

Haagen's involvement in the program began in the spring, when questions were raised about the role of athletics at Duke in response to the controversy surrounding the 2005-2006 men's lacrosse team.

Haagen, who teaches sports law and works extensively with the Department of Athletics, became aware of a program at Princeton where faculty members are assigned to teams. He thought a similar plan could work at Duke, with some adjustments to adapt to the "different conditions."

Working with members of the Athletics Department-including Director of Athletics Joe Alleva, Senior Associate Athletic Director Chris Kennedy, Associate Athletic Director Jackie Silar and Kimel-Haagen drafted the proposal.

Duke's plan calls for faculty members to serve as liaisons for no more than three-year periods and to interact with the team without being required to monitor or report.

"Dealing with a variety of people this spring, I started to get a fairly clear sense that some coaches at Duke were relatively isolated from the faculty," Haagen said. "The coaches are very clear they're part of Duke as a centrally educational university, but they were not linked to people and relationships."

The proposal was met with strong support from the athletics department, Haagen said.

"They believe they have a good story to tell and would like to expose more people to it," Haagen said.

Kimel said discussions about such a program had already begun before the tumultuous events of last spring, as similar programs have been successful at other schools such as Princeton, Trinity College and Middlebury.

"I think it will facilitate better understanding of what we do on the athletics side of campus," Kimel said. "There is a propensity to not see the real-world value of participating in athletics at this level."

Meg Bourdillon contributed to this story.

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