Colleges Column

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Contradictions and surprises abound in the topsy-turvy world of college varsity sports.

Late last month, an unusual group of important academic and athletic officials put its collective weight behind the notion of seriously tightening academic standards for college athletes who receive financial aid (one of the sharpest criticisms of such athletes being that they are simply "weekend warriors" who do not belong in college).

Meanwhile, the Miami Herald was busy reporting that the 20 "winningest" coaches in college football all earn more than $100,000 from their institutions. And at the same time, the National Center for Education Statistics reported that the average salary of those who teach those the coaches coach was $24,843.

Paul "Bear" Bryant of the University of Alabama's Red Tide rolled up an additional $350,000 last year in radio-television income and extra benefits to bring his earnings to $450,000, a figure that substantially outpaced the $270,000 earned by the University of Oklahoma's Barry Switzer, who had the second-highest income.

The four college presidents and major coaches (including Joe Paterno and Bobby Knight) who met at the University of Georgia to discuss scholarship standards recommended that entering collegiate athletes: arrive with three years of high-school English and two years of mathematics, with at least a C average, plus an overall high-school average of C; and have a combined Scholastic Aptitude Test score of at least 700, or a score of 15 on the American College Testing Program's examination.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association, to which the Georgia group will submit its proposed rules change, currently requires only that athletes have an overall high-school average of C. That standard is often waived, officials concede, in the competition for top athletes.

Two instances of violence perpetrated by adults on college campuses recently suggest that even the traditional civility of academic relationships can be strained to the breaking point when social philosophies clash.

At Dartmouth, the director of the alumni fund has pleaded no contest in court to a charge that he assaulted one of the student founders of a two-year-old conservative magazine that has provoked heated controversy on the Ivy League campus. The student, who is the son of a Dartmouth faculty member who also writes a column for the conservative National Review, was attempting to place copies of the student journal in the alumni office when the encounter took place. Meanwhile, the school's faculty, in a 113-to-5 vote, agreed to deplore "the repeated attacks on individuals and groups within the college community [that] have contributed to an undesirable atmosphere of distrust and divisiveness."

At California State University of Los Angeles, the building housing the Chicano-studies department was set afire and faculty members had their cars burned and damaged in a series of violent acts officials believe are linked to a dispute between rival factions in the department.

A faculty committee that reviewed the Chicano-studies department said part-time instructors had been trying to limit the number of full-time faculty spots in the program so that more part-time instructors could be hired. Last September, the garage and car of the department chairman were destroyed by fire.

The Los Angeles County district attorney's office has been asked to look into the situation, a central figure in which is a part-time instructor who is a self-styled "militant" community activist.

Colleges, like schools, are actively seeking to expand their relationships with business and industry--a strategy for support that apparently has the enthusiastic backing of the current Administration. But the possible effects of such ties on the educational mission of their institutions are as much discussed by scholars as by school officials, who worry that fundamental distinctions between the interests of educators and corporate leaders may be lost.

"The increasing cost of physical plant and equipment have created an economic crunch for the universities," David Noble, an assistant professor of science, technology, and society at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told academic colleagues at a recent conference convened to air the questions surrounding corporate-educational cooperation. "In their search for more funds, they are asking the private sector to shore them up. In return, the corporations are trying to get ideological sanction, and the universities have been receptive."

Administrators and faculty members attending the conference agreed that the freedom of colleges and universities to provide a forum for opposing ideas, philosophies, and lifestyles is being eroded by economic problems and worries. "The rhetoric in higher-education circles today is the rhetoric of the corporation, with questions about productivity," noted Joseph Murphy, president of Bennington College. "Although I'm not sure what productivity means in higher education--should my books be 10 percent longer?--the use of the word enforces the concept of the university as an independent corporate model with managers and increased output."

"Academic freedom involves the power to investigate unpopular, even right-wing, ideas," added Victor Rabinowitz, a New York lawyer. "Students have to be exposed to these ideas and discuss them. Anything that interferes with a wide, unrestricted debate over a wide range of ideas is a violation of academic freedom."

Since 1971, nearly four million Americans have earned their high-school diplomas by taking the General Educational Development Tests (ged) administered by the American Council on Education (ace). Last year, the organization reports, 528,233 people, averaging 25 years old, qualified for their diplomas through the tests.

About 90 percent of U.S. colleges and universities accept ged credentials for admissions purposes. Some 46 percent of those who took the tests last year said they intended to continue their education.

The ged program, begun in 1943 to assist members of the armed forces to resume their education, has grown by 80 percent since 1977, ace reports.

Copies of the 1981 ged report are available for $3.50 (prepaid) from the ged Testing Service, American Council on Education, One Dupont Circle, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036.

As in the old saw about impending hanging sharpening one's mental faculties, higher education appears rapidly to have become adept in the art of lobbying since the Reagan Administration began proposing the most dramatic reversals in the sector's fortunes in modern times. Academic organizations in Washington formed what many said was the most effective coalition that postsecondary groups had ever put together, to challenge proposed cuts in federal student-aid programs.

And now the American Council on Education, which represents 1,600 colleges and universities, is sending out a pamphlet entitled "International Education & the Federal Budget Cycle: Why you count and how you should ..." The 22-page booklet, say the authors, is designed to respond to an avalanche of requests for information on "what was really happening in Washington--and how those concerned could help." It describes the terms and procedures of the federal budget process in detail and tells the reader how and when to most effectively lobby lawmakers. Names and addresses of relevant officials are also given.

Academic officials have been concerned for several years about cuts in the programs that allow scholars to work with colleagues from other nations and that encourage the development of ties between colleges here and abroad--efforts that scholars argue bring long-term benefits of international understanding and communication among participating countries. With its brochure, the ace sends an announcement of the creation of a national Commission on International Education that will assist in the effort to convince federal officials of the worth of such programs.

Martha Matzke

Vol. 01, Issue 34

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