Academic Council hears about student-athlete concerns, potential dance master's program

At Thursday’s meeting, Duke’s Academic Council heard updates on the University’s athletics and discussed a proposed new graduate program in dance.

The proposed Master of Fine Arts in Dance program will be voted on at the Council’s next meeting in two weeks, which is their last one of the semester. The athletic updates covered student-athletes’ academics and the University’s work to prevent and treat concussions.

“I’m very optimistic about how we deal with the issues related to athletics,” said Jim Coleman, chair of the Athletic Council and the John S. Bradway Professor of the Practice of Law.

Coleman said the Athletic Council’s academic committee—made up of faculty members and deans who are on the Athletic Council—meets in the Spring to talk about student-athletes’ academic performance. They look at certain aspects of the academic experiences: the pattern of majors, participation in high impact learning experiences and whether they are taking multiple independent studies or repeatedly taking classes with the same professor.

“The kinds of things that have gotten universities in trouble in the past, we monitor to make sure that it’s not a problem here at Duke,” Coleman said.

He noted that the Athletic Council has completed a “comprehensive examination” of the Academic Support Services unit of the Athletics Department, and they found that the “unit is doing extremely well.” He noted that the council made some recommendations and would monitor them going forward.

Martha Putallaz, the faculty athletics representative to the Atlantic Coast Conference and the National Collegiate Athletic Association, said the last time she had presented to Academic Council about issues the NCAA was concerned with was May 2012. One of the major changes since her last presentation was the decision by the NCAA to allow five athletic conferences—including the ACC—to have autonomy to make some decisions related to student-athletes’ well-being and resources.

As for the effect that athletes’ practice schedules have on how they pursue academic interests, Putallaz—also professor of psychology and neuroscience—said that exit interviews with athletes have shown they may sometimes have to put off taking classes until they align with their schedules. She said that the distribution of majors among students athletes is very diverse, and the only place she has noticed a dip in relation to the general student body is in biology, which she noted might be due to the heavy concentration on lab work.

Regarding concussions, Coleman said that they were monitoring the Athletic Department to make sure that they have a policy on the issue that is understandable and that the department educates students, coaches and staff about the policy.

“We believe that the University has a policy and a concussion management plan that reflects the best practices and that they implement it,” he said.

When there is a concussion or the suspicion of a concussion, the medical staff takes over and has control of when the student-athlete is eligible to return to the sport, he said. 

Beyond physical well-being, Coleman said that the department is very much aware of mental health issues. He explained that the issues that student-athletes face differ in certain ways from other students, often because of the increased exposure that results in a lack of privacy to address the mental health problems. He said that it’s a topic that will be addressed further in the Spring.

Overall, Coleman said that he is optimistic about Duke Athletics’ work to date and going forward. 

“I think [Duke athletics] does a really good job of getting ahead of issues,” Coleman said. “They anticipate issues, and I think that when we have problems that all universities have, we engage in best practices in dealing with them.”

In other business

Academic Council heard a presentation from Purnima Shah—associate professor of the practice of dance and director of the Program of Dance—and Michael Klien, associate professor of the practice of dance, about the creation of a new Master of Fine Arts Program in Dance. Shah said that there goal would be to recruit seven students per year, and that the curriculum consists of 27 core course credits and 21 credits of electives. 

The program would have an intense focus on interdisciplinary work—with students in the program being able to focus on various aspects of dance, from arts administration to therapy—and the program partnering with the American Dance Festival. 

One issue that was raised by Steffen Bass, professor of physics and chair of the Academic Programming Committee, was the tradeoff between the educational value of MA and MFA programs like the one proposed, and the financial burden that will be placed on students. Klien said that they hope to be able to reduce the cost over time and offer scholarships down the line.

Academic Council will vote on the creation of the new graduate program at their next meeting.

The Council held an executive session to discuss awarding an additional honorary degree at 2018 commencement, and they will vote on the measure at their next meeting, according to their agenda for Wednesday’s meeting.

Correction: This article was updated to reflect that the curriculum would consist of 27 core course credits and 21 credits of electives, instead of 27 core courses and 21 electives. The Chronicle regrets the error.

Bre Bradham

Bre is a senior political science major from South Carolina, and she is the current video editor, special projects editor and recruitment chair for The Chronicle. She is also an associate photography editor and an investigations editor. Previously, she was the editor-in-chief and local and national news department head. 

Twitter: @brebradham



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