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March 16, 2006

Assembly rejects joining COIA

Faculty Assembly for the third time has rejected a request to join a national coalition of faculty senates advocating reform of National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I athletics.

The Assembly voted 15-1 (with five abstentions) to endorse a resolution by the University Senate athletics committee, which argued against joining the Coalition on Intercollegiate Athletics (COIA).

COIA was formed four years ago as an e-mail network of faculty leaders from more than 50 Division I schools. Among Big East Conference members, only the universities of Connecticut and South Florida and Rutgers University are COIA members.

COIA’s mission is “to promote serious and comprehensive reform of intercollegiate sports; its goal is to preserve and enhance the contributions athletics can make to academic life by addressing longstanding problems in college sports that undermine these contributions.”

In 2004, COIA members approved a “Framework for Comprehensive Athletics Reform,” establishing about a hundred integrity guidelines and standards, and calling for greater faculty involvement in student-athlete issues, such as academic integrity, governance of athletics programs and over-commercialization of intercollegiate athletics.

Jay Irrgang, co-chair of the Senate athletics committee, reported at the March 1 Faculty Assembly that his committee continued to recommend that Pitt not join COIA, as it had done twice before.

Irrgang cited the following reasons:

• COIA has no governing structure and no bylaws. “They bill themselves as an e-mail chat group with a steering committee,” Irrgang said.

• Pitt has met or exceeded nearly all the standards specified by COIA in its framework for reform.

• There are potential conflicts between some of COIA’s recommendations and the current NCAA, Big East and Pitt regulations. For example, COIA recommends awarding five-year scholarships, while current NCAA policies dictate that scholarships be reviewed annually, Irrgang said.

• Reforms already are underway at the NCAA.

• Pitt faculty serve on committees that decide on special admissions to the University and review athletics budgets. “A coach can make a case to admit a certain athlete, but coaches are not involved in the decision,” Irrgang pointed out.

Faculty also serve on the University athletic compliance committee and on other committees that review athletes’ welfare and the academic integrity of Pitt’s athletics program, he noted.

Assembly member Catherine Greeno, the lone voice arguing in support of joining COIA, said most of the NCAA reforms over the past 15 years have been mandated from outside the organization itself, she said.

“I think this touches on the University’s mission. What COIA wants is to have the governance of student-athletes in the hands of administrators, instead of commercial interests driving athletics,” Greeno said. “Universities with winning so-called revenue-generating teams come to depend of those revenue streams. This is about maintaining a university voice instead of commercialization.”

While Assembly voted to reject the offer to join COIA, members agreed to keep the door open to possible future membership, and to continue to monitor developments regarding COIA.

In other Faculty Assembly developments:

• The Senate educational policies committee agreed to discuss whether additional academic integrity policies are needed to govern the use of newer technologies in the classroom, and whether such policies should be University-wide or school-specific.

Assembly members expressed concern that with the proliferation of cell phones, PDAs (personal digital assistants) and laptops, among other technologies, cheating has become easier for students and more difficult to detect for faculty.

The University also recently announced a commitment to a wireless Pittsburgh campus, which could exacerbate the problem. (See related story this issue.)

Assembly member Nicholas Bircher cautioned the educational policies committee: “There has to be balance in any policy. Medical students, for example, now are taught to rely on their PDAs, as opposed to their memories, for factual information,” so that their mind is clear for decision making, he said. “Over the long haul, technology is increasingly being relied on in teaching and that has to be acknowledged,” Bircher said.

• Ballots for University Senate and Faculty Assembly membership, including for standing committees, are expected to be mailed to faculty by April 1, Senate elections committee co-chair Herbert Chesler reported.

• The University Senate plenary session, “Today’s Vision, Tomorrow’s Realities: Commercializing Academic Innovation,” is set for March 29, 2-5 p.m., in the William Pitt Union Assembly Room.

For more information, contact the University Senate office at 412/624-6505, or visit

—Peter Hart

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