Monday, March 27, 2006

Academics or Athletics....choose! 

There is an article referenced in today's Chronicle of Higher Education online about a Tennessee State University student who lost her tennis scholarship because she decided to attend (on behalf of the university) a journalism conference instead of tennis practice.

Sounds like an open and shut case of athletics trumping academics, right?

Sometimes these things aren't quire as simple as they seem. Certainly the primary purpose of the student's presence on campus is to get an education. The student is on the staff of the student paper and the conference she attended was relevant to that experience. The article doesn't tell us what the student's major is, so going beyond that assessment is difficult. It is possible that the conference was more of a perk than an educational experience.

A question that remains unanswered is what does the student owe the university (and the tennis team) when she accepts a scholarship. Scholarships are awarded for a number of reasons, but in general they are expected to benefit the institution as well as the student. The student was the number 1 singles player on the team...but the team hadn't won a dual meet in the past two years.

Would it make a difference if this was a "breakthrough" season for Tennessee State? Should the allusion in the article to previous problems with the student's attendance at team practices play a part in our evaluation?

I'm a professor now, and I lettered in two sports as an undergraduate. I'm not certain that we can evaluate whether this was a case of athletics trumping academics or just a case of a student not living up to expectations she accepted along with the financial support of a scholarship. Regardless, the instant reaction of somebody perusing the headlines with be that athletics is running wild again.