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Questions to the President

April 17, 2006

From Linda Ferreira-Buckley, English; Rhetoric and Writing

Please allow me to preface my question by saying that I served on the Women's Athletic Council for five years, acting as chair for the last year and a half.  I have the greatest admiration for the work of the staff, especially Randa Ryan, compliance officer Amy Folan, and director Chris Plonsky.  I am a long-time fan of college athletics who eagerly awaited a national championship in football, who so admires Mack Brown's concern for education that I asked him to be a spokesman for UTeach-Liberal Arts, and who plans to continue attending basketball and football games.

During my five years on the Council, I was impressed by Patti Ohlendorf's command of the law and attention to detail; your office is well served by her professional expertise. However, I and other former council members strongly believed that the committee also needs a representative from the University's chief academic unit, the Office of the Provost.  This representation not only will benefit our athletics programs, but will inspire faculty confidence.  This suggestion is not meant to complicate or police but rather to attend to what is the missing link: an administrator from the academic side of the University.  Although faculty members do serve on the councils, they simply do not have scheduled weekly access to the top administration as does Patti Ohlendorf. Will you appoint a member of the Provost's Office to the Councils?  If legal provisions must be attended to before such a change is official, are you willing to send a representative (who also retains a faculty appointment) from the Provost's Office, as allowed under the Open Records Act?

True, athletics has sometimes had to shield itself from the occasional cheap shot taken by a member of the faculty.  On a few occasions I was appalled by the inappropriate notes faculty members had sent to a student or staff on the women's side and imagine this sort of thing occurs on the men's side as well. More often, however, critical but valid comments and recommendations from the faculty are dismissed or ignored; the men's program often seems indifferent to advice from faculty, who seem to be viewed as outsiders, rather than as stewards of UT's educational mission. From the point of view of many of the general faculty, the appointments to the Men's Council seem odd. This year, for example, of the five faculty members on the Men's Council, three are from the College of Engineering, one from the College of Fine Arts, and one from the LBJ School. According to the data David Fowler presented at the last Faculty Council meeting, approximately 6% of male athletes major in these colleges. What's more, these colleges teach few, if any, of the core courses required outside of a student's major. These faculty members are well respected, but they do not represent the departments in which student-athletes major or take general core requirements.  It seems fair to assume that faculty from the Colleges of Education, Natural Science, and Liberal Arts can speak more specifically to the curricular challenges faced by our student-athletes and thus offer more pointed advice.  (Presidential appointments are made from a slate sent forward from the faculty.) Would you agree that the faculty appointees, whose role is primarily academic, should include ample representation from the colleges in which student-athletes take nearly all of their classes?

I suspect that most faculty believe athletics plays an important part in university life.  Many of us are also concerned that we are not doing what we should to ensure that all athletes, but especially the majority who will not enjoy careers at the professional level, graduate with the opportunities a degree from UT-Austin affords. Clearly the Athletic Department is making good progress toward this goal, but with greater transparency and an openness to using faculty expertise, it can achieve our common goals more quickly.