Athletics and academic values don’t have
to compete at a research
BY PRESIDENT WILLIAM M. CHACE
Emory University is not known as an athletic powerhouse.
It has no football program. It has no stadium. It is without a basketball
arena to hold thousands of spectators. Students are not attracted
here by athletic scholarships. Nor, on an Emory team, are they ever
to achieve national fame in a bowl game or a nationally televised
Final Four in basketball.
What, then, gives the president of this NCAA Division
III university—“still undefeated” in football,
as the story wryly circulates among alumni—the standing to
comment on “bigtime” university athletics? I do so because
I believe we have escaped some real dangers in American higher education
and, at the same time, have established a way of participating in
athletic competition that fully protects the fundamental values
for which universities must stand. If others cannot fully emulate
our ways, Emory’s story still can serve as an ideal toward
which to aim.
James L. Shulman and William G. Bowen, in their book,
The Game of Life, ask this crucial question: “Does increasing
intensification of college sports support or detract from higher
education’s core mission?”
Not a new question. Shulman and Bowen answer it in
the negative, but with the knowledge that the issue carries powerful
emotional overtones. Here are a few of their key findings about
the thirty selective colleges and universities—Emory included—that
Shulman and Bowen studied, along with a statement of the Emory difference:
• Athletes who are recruited enjoy very substantial,
and increasing, advantage in the admission process. Yet this is
not true of Emory.
• For athletes, graduation rates are very high, but rank-in-class
is low and getting lower. Again, not true of Emory.
• Athletes enter, and leave, the university with goals and
values different from their classmates—differences that lead
to different lives. Not true of Emory.
Their conclusion? “If a culprit emerges, it
is the unquestioned spread of a changed athletic culture through
the emulation of highly publicized teams by low-profile sports,
of men’s programs by women’s, and of athletic powerhouses
by small colleges.” I would put it more pointedly: the culture
of big-time sports on a campus is one thing; the culture of academic
values is another. Again, not true of Emory.
If college athletics is bringing down academic standards,
does this mean that we cannot have the benefits of intercollegiate
sports—the positive impact it has on most participants and
the morale boost it provides for a student body—without compromising
our primary purpose as universities?
Not at all. What we need is to achieve the proper
What does Emory’s unusual and contrary experience
have to offer? That rests with our history: a history of wise decisions
luckily reached long ago, decisions that now provide our good fortune.