By Michael E. Miller
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In 1991, with only two dissenting votes, the 260-member UW senate demanded that the chancellor delay the scholarship cuts for a year to allow the students relying upon them to transfer to other universities. "We returned in September to learn that Dr. Shalala had paid no attention to our attempt to keep faith with our students," Beck says. "She had her own idea of what is important in a university, and that was football, basketball, and ice hockey. The upshot was that in order to find more money for the big-money sports, many nonmoney sports had to suffer."
Other professors also thought Shalala's academic priorities were skewed. "I went in to see her about the terrible watering-down of her undergraduate education here," recounts Robert Kimbrough, a professor emeritus in UW's English department. "Students were not getting the concentrated education they used to get. All she wanted to talk about were her budget problems and how if she didn't have these deans of these various schools and colleges, she could really run the place. It was quite clear she didn't want to hear my agenda. She had her own agenda. So after about fifteen minutes I said, 'Chancellor, I won't take any more of your valuable time,' and walked out.
"She's willing to put athletics out in front for bringing in the money and the rah-rah-rah," Kimbrough adds. Despite that, he doesn't think Shalala would knowingly permit the University of Miami's academic reputation to suffer under her administration: "I think she's too smart to get caught in that trap. I don't think she'd expose herself there."
Shalala, who assumed her post this past June, seems to have the UM faculty senate on her side, at least for the time being. "I would place her athletic boosterism in the context that she is a passionate advocate for students having a wonderful experience at their university," says senate chairman Green, who praises her for initiating "profound" changes on the academic side. "She has challenged the faculty," he reports, "to reconsider and revise the curriculum, and to do it in a way that makes more sense educationally and makes more sense to students looking at it, so that it's something other than a shopping list of courses without any rhyme or reason to it."
Some faculty members are hoping Shalala will also usher in some profound changes in the academic expectations placed on football players. Thomas Petersen declines to comment on the specifics of the Johnson case, but he believes UM's president should take action to address issues surrounding sports and scholarship. He envisions the formation of a committee of athletic-department staff, professors, students, and administrators that would work toward making sports and academics "mesh better" at UM. (Since 1995 only 41 percent of the school's football players have graduated, according to figures the university provides the NCAA. Stanford University, another private college that recently fielded a Rose Bowl contender, had an 83-percent graduation rate in the same period.)
Petersen also thinks UM needs a kind of judicial reform. "There should be a way they justify a decision to overrule the Undergraduate Honor Council by citing precedents," he says. "Unless you do that, the perception is that they're being arbitrary." He rejects a disclaimer posted on the honor council's Website that reads: "There is no precedent taken into account when determining a sanction." Scoffs Petersen: "I don't know what the hell that means. There's a whole body of law around administrative proceedings. Like in a judicial proceeding, you cite your precedents. You say why you're doing it. Whenever you have a decision-making body making a decision and not saying why, you're leaving yourself open to criticism, and that's what's happening here. What is the real story? What are the precedents nobody wants to discuss?"
In contrast to Shalala's silence, Green speaks candidly about the issues arising from the Johnson case. For example he believes appeals of honor-council decisions should be eliminated. "The problem with appeals is not limited to athletes," says Green, who was an honor-council member at the California Institute of Technology in the early 1960s. "The problem is that whenever there is a reduction in a sentence imposed by the honor council, I think it creates a problem. I'd rather see the entire thing stay within the honor council and not have administrators second-guess what the honor council decides."
Green allows that there might be "a rare, occasional instance" in which a student was so emotionally distraught that an appeal should be heard. "I'm speaking not with regard to athletics at all," he elaborates. "One can imagine that a student is so emotionally upset and going through a really tough time because a parent or sibling or spouse is in a terminal-disease state, and a student takes a stupid shortcut academically that's a dishonest shortcut and is found guilty and receives a penalty." Under such circumstances, he believes, the appeal should be heard by a separate group of independent students, not administrators.
Green is one of the few UM faculty members willing to broach such subjects publicly. Professors teaching in the university's sociology department -- popular among football players -- are reported to be particularly cautious. Recently they have been in a state of "fear and loathing" and in a "bunker mentality," according to a department source who requested anonymity. An assistant professor in the department warns, "I can tell you nobody is going to talk to you from their [campus] office."