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Faculty discuss role of Duke student athletes

Student athletes' scholarships, schedules and academic success were on professors' minds and lips Thursday afternoon.

At an unusually brief meeting of the Arts and Sciences Council, faculty heard from Bradley Berndt, assistant athletics director, about the roles of academics and sports in the experiences of the University's student athletes.

Explaining that he wanted the meeting to be a conversation, Berndt discussed academic statistics and support programs. He also covered issues he termed "hot topics": missed class time, major choices and admissions.

"I really believe that the majority of our students want to excel athletically, but they also want to excel academically," Berndt said.

The University's 620 student athletes have a combined, cumulative grade point avergae above 3.0, he noted. Athletes' graduation rate-excluding students who leave or transfer in good standing-is 97 percent.

"That's at the top of the ACC," Berndt said. "That's where we should be."

Several professors responded to Berndt's call for dialogue, requesting more information on athletic funding and students' time commitments.

"Is athletics, as a function at Duke, self-financing?" asked Chris Conover, assistant research professor of public policy.

Berndt said the Department of Athletics brings in about 90 percent of its budget each year, and University subsidies cover the rest. These subsidies are smaller at Duke than at many colleges without revenue sports programs, he added.

"The subsidy at Princeton was much larger... even though there are no scholarships [there]," said George McLendon, dean of the faculty of Arts and Sciences, who was formerly on the faculty of Princeton University.

McLendon said the channels through which athletics funding passes are more complicated than many faculty might realize.

Some council members questioned the limitations practice time and competitions place on students' ability to study abroad and to complete academic work, particularly in language and lab classes.

"I had six football players last year, and they were lovely fellows, but they did have to practice five or six hours a day," said Caroline Bruzelius, Anne M. Cogan professor of art and art history.

Berndt noted that the National College Athletics Association limits mandatory practices to 20 hours per week. Still, he acknowledged that officially optional commitments sometimes lead students to miss review sessions and decide against studying abroad.

He noted that the sports teams that cause students to miss the most class time-golf and tennis-also have the highest GPAs.

Council chair Lee Baker, associate professor of cultural anthropology, praised Berndt for prioritizing academics in his office's work with students, coaches and faculty.

"He's been a real sort of bridge between the faculty and the athletics department," Baker said.

Berndt concluded by describing balancing academic and athletic obligations as "a constant battle... because athletics gives [students] immediate gratification in a way that the degree sometimes does not."

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