Cal Athletics convenes task force to examine academic shortcomings

Sandy Barbour

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UC Berkeley Athletic Director Sandy Barbour announced Thursday the formation of a task force to review the academic performance of UC Berkeley student-athletes in an effort to improve their academic achievement within the Intercollegiate Athletics department.

After the NCAA’s disclosure of UC Berkeley’s nationally low graduation rates for the football and men’s basketball teams, Barbour will ask the task force to recommend changes to how Cal Athletics interacts with student-athletes and the UC Berkeley campus.

Barbour revealed plans to form the task force in an Oct. 29 letter, responding to public criticism of the graduation rates. The football and men’s basketball programs graduated only 44 and 38 percent of their players, respectively. The latest graduation rates accounted for athletes who entered UC Berkeley between 2003 and 2006.

“We cannot and will not be satisfied until we reach a 100 percent graduation rate with every one of our programs,” Barbour said in the letter.

The task force is expected to begin in January 2014 and produce a report by June. The report will be delivered to Barbour and UC Berkeley physics professor Bob Jacobsen, who serves as the faculty athletics representative.

Currently, the only member appointed to the task force is anthropology professor Margaret Conkey, who will serve as the group’s chair. Conkey, who heads the Faculty Advisory Committee in the Athletic Study Center and serves as the academic liaison for the women’s lacrosse team, will form the committee from a pool of faculty, staff, students and alumni.

Conkey “is very well aware of the multifaceted issue that needs to be addressed,” said Derek Van Rheenen, director of the Athletic Study Center.

Regarding the selection of students for the task force, Conkey said she will consider ASUC leaders, student-athletes and graduate students familiar with athletics or multicultural education.

After the selection process is complete, Conkey will lead the committee in interviewing coaches, student-athletes and faculty as well as in collecting all relevant data for the final report.

“If we can help provide a comprehensive and holistic understanding on what it is to be a student-athlete in an institution like UC Berkeley, it will be a positive,” Conkey said.

During the past two weeks, academic performance among student-athletes in UC Berkeley — especially football players — has been scrutinized by faculty, students, staff and local journalists.

On Nov. 14, John Cummins, a former chief of staff to the chancellor, and Kirsten Hextrum, a doctoral student in the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Education and a former campus student-athlete, presented a report that delved into the role and management of athletics at UC Berkeley.

Last week, Jacobsen and associate professor of linguistics Richard Rhodes released a paper called “Student-Athlete Academic Performance at Berkeley: A Look at the Facts,” which examined the “preconceived notions” about the poor graduation rates for the football and men’s basketball teams.

Conkey said she will take all reports into consideration. She expressed hope that the task force and its report will add more to the existing discourse regarding the complex issue.

“These reports will give us background,” Conkey said. “I don’t think we have a comprehensive handle on these issues.”