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March 8, 2001


Employees' children should get same academic support athletes get

To the editor:

As a Pitt employee and the mother of a 16-year-old high school junior, I read with particular interest the Feb. 22 University Times story, "Increasing standards can spell trouble for some Pitt employees."

I find the reference to Pitt's "rising academic standards" heartening, as I would expect my son to graduate with a good education, not just a college degree. However, as I am sure you are well aware, consensus has it that these academic standards do not exist across the board. And if that in fact is true, then the University may have some explaining to do. If there is one athlete at the Oakland campus (full ride or not) who got into this University with lower scores than one child of an employee who was turned away, then all the chatter about this subject is just that — chatter. And I say this as a mother of a student who will very likely attend college on an athletic scholarship.

It bothers me to see high school athletes haphazardly pushed through their academics so they can continue to wrestle or play ball or whatever, and I find it interesting that the only mid-term grades that Pitt professors are required to submit are THOSE OF PITT ATHLETES — so they have plenty of time to get their grades back in line with the assistance of their free private Pitt tutors. If Pitt can do it for the athletes, Pitt can do it for the children of employees. This is not to suggest that standards should be lowered for the children of employees, because no matter how they do it, nobody wins. This is to suggest, however, that as long as there is a two-tier system in place, why not measure the employees' children in the athletic tier since it is clearly in existence and is not going to go away?

Statistically, 50 of every 250,000 college basketball players actually move on to the pros — so where do the other 249,000-plus players go without meaningful educations under their belts? I guess nobody truly cares.

It seems that the word "standards" is somewhat similar to the word "fair" in the University environment.

Janis McDonald

Data Manager

Department of Epidemiology

Graduate School of Public Health

Jack Daniel, vice provost for Academic Affairs (who notes he is the proud parent of a Pitt graduate), replies:

Because of our institutional determination to continually enhance the academic profiles of our entering students as well as improve our students' retention and graduation rates, students are applying in record numbers to the University of Pittsburgh. Therefore, it is simply inaccurate to suggest that our success is just "chatter." Recognizing our outstanding success, the Higher Education Research Institute Cooperative Institutional Research Program at UCLA recently acknowledged that the University of Pittsburgh had moved from a "selective" to a "highly selective" campus. Thus, it is difficult to understand why a University employee would view our many successes in a disparaging manner when, at the same time, our successes have been acknowledged by parents and students throughout the nation, public school officials, higher education leaders and many of our faculty members.

As we continue to experience success with the quality of our entering class, it should be noted that our admissions processes do not use any aspect of the so-called "across the board" standards. Rather, we use admissions guidelines which are developed differently for the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of General Studies, the College of Business Administration, the School of Engineering and the School of Nursing. In addition, these guidelines are not applied in a cookie-cutter fashion. We take considerable pride in the fact that we review all applications in a committee made up of highly qualified admissions counselors, because we know that human inputs are essential as it takes more than a computer to review and fairly assess each student's high school accomplishments.

As indicated above, the University is as interested in admissions as in the retention and graduation of our students. When reviewing applications, we take into consideration those who play college sports, in part, because we understand the tremendous time constraints on our student-athletes, and toward that end, we have developed a truly exceptional program of student-athlete academic support services under the nationally recognized leadership of Dr. Ronald Brown. And, we have enjoyed tremendous academic dividends! For example, our most recent report indicates that our student athletes and non-student athletes experienced the same six-year graduation rates of 62 percent! Moreover, those familiar with the athletic coaches at this University know well that there is zero tolerance for "…athletes haphazardly pushed through their academics so they can continue to wrestle or play ball or whatever…."

It is simply inaccurate to report that the "…only mid-term grades that Pitt professors are required to submit are THOSE OF PITT ATHLETES — so that they have plenty of time to get their grades back in line with the assistance of their free private Pitt tutors." In fact, under the enlightened leadership of Associate Dean Beverly Harris-Schenz during the 1998-99 academic year and, with the support of administrators from the College of Business Administration, the School of Nursing, the School of Engineering and the Provost's office, last year the College of Arts and Sciences began a mid-term grade project involving 141 students and 35 faculty members. This year, 37 courses in CAS and engineering are being included.

It is simply inaccurate and a disservice to our important retention efforts to indicate that only student athletes have the "…assistance of their free private Pitt tutors…," given the fact that in her Feb. 12, 2001, letter to faculty colleagues, Associate Dean Harris-Schenz indicated that all of the participating students are to "…re-evaluate their study habits, use of faculty office hours, need for supplemental tutoring, consultation with academic advisors, or utilization of other university support services…"(e.g. Learning Skills Center, Supplemental Instruction, etc.). In addition, during the last several academic years, the Provost's office has continually made funds available for additional support services for all students.

It is disingenuous to indicate that the University of Pittsburgh has a "two-tier system in place" in terms of admissions and that "…nobody truly cares…" about the fact that very few college athletes move on to professional sports. At the University of Pittsburgh, we care so much about the post-baccalaureate careers of our student athletes that we participate in the CHAMPS/Life Skills program. The basic objectives of this program include things such as providing support efforts for student-athletes' intellectual development and graduation, the use of athletics as preparation for success in life, and assisting student-athletes in making meaningful contributions to their communities.

We especially care about the children of University employees and recently the Provost's office had a very productive meeting with the leadership of our Staff Association Council (SAC). In its recent newsletter, SAC transmitted Provost James V. Maher's expression of that deep and abiding concern for employees' children being able to enroll at the University of Pittsburgh. Most importantly, however, at the University of Pittsburgh we care about all of our students' high-quality development. This is certainly not "chatter" on my part nor that of Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg and Provost James V. Maher. Rather, this is an institutional commitment which we hope becomes systemic.


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