Task Force on Academics and Athletics discusses report at press conference

Sam Engel /Staff

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A report released Friday that evaluates the academic and campus experience of student-athletes proposes stricter admission standards, improved advising resources and better integration of athletes into campus life.

The Task Force on Academics and Athletics released the report, which details more than 50 recommendations. Chancellor Nicholas Dirks convened the task force in January to address concerns after the release of NCAA data that ranked graduation rates for Cal football between 2003 and 2006 cohorts as lowest in the nation and rates for men’s basketball teams as worst in the Pac-12.

The task force met about 10 times between January and August to address topics including how student-athletes are evaluated in the admissions process, their access to academic resources and the acceptance of student-athletes by their peers.

“Whatever we do, as one Task Force member said, we should ask how we can bring more Berkeley to Cal and more Cal to Berkeley,” said Margaret Conkey, task force chair, in the report’s prologue.

Although the task force was formed largely as a response to the graduation rates of specific teams, “the scope and the goals of this Task Force have been far wider and more inclusive than identifying the factors for those graduation rates and ‘fixing’ the situation,” according to Conkey in the report.

On Friday, Conkey, Chancellor Dirks and others spoke at a press conference on the report’s recommendations. At the conference, interim Athletic Director H. Michael Williams addressed the low graduation rates that prompted the assembling of the task force.

“We were talking about a handful of students who most likely didn’t fail, but just gave up,” Williams said. “We probably failed them in not providing the services that were necessary to make their experience at Cal … what it should be.”

The admission standards for student-athletes was a focal point of the press conference and the report’s recommendations.

While student-athletes were previously assessed as a separate population from the rest of applicants to UC Berkeley, the Academic Senate — which determines academic policy and sets admissions conditions — will now consider student athletes under the larger group of applicants with “special talents,” a category that currently includes artists, musicians and others.

“We should only be admitting student-athletes as long as we have necessary resources to support their academic success while on campus,” said Panos Papadopoulos, who serves as chair of the campus Academic Senate.

The Academic Senate will make further adjustments to its admissions policy for the upcoming admissions season and will also appoint a full-time recruitment counselor for all 30 sports to develop a more specific statement detailing the academic expectations of student-athletes on campus.

The senate will also consider increasing standards for minimum GPA and SAT scores for “exception” students — students who are admitted without fulfilling all of the UC admissions standards.

“We do not want to admit somebody who doesn’t have a reasonable or better than reasonable chance of graduating,” Conkey said. “If someone doesn’t want to graduate and go to class … then there are plenty of other places they can go.”

Members of the senate conducted interviews with the majority of head coaches on campus, reviewed more than 200 responses from a survey of student-athletes and held a focus group with representatives of black athletes from various teams.

The task force also concentrated on integration of student-athletes in campus life.

According to the report, “it is well-documented that many of our student athletes experience being stereotyped and are stigmatized as athletes.”

Sam Singer, a UC Berkeley sophomore on the men’s basketball team, he said he and his team have repeatedly faced the stereotype of having only been admitted to UC Berkeley because of athletic achievement.

“I think that there are a lot of us … who would be able to compete academically if it weren’t for the hours we put into athletics,” Singer said. “I think that athletes will always face (that stereotype), just because we are held to different academic standards than non-athletes in the admissions process.”

At the press conference, Conkey said integration will mean “providing spaces where athletes and non-athletes can interact,” such as including athletes in new student orientation for nonathletes and pairing student-athletes with nonstudent-athlete roommates in the residence halls.

The report cited unique challenges for African American student-athletes on campus. The recent UC-wide campus climate survey revealed that black students felt the most disrespected of any specific group. Because at least 25 percent of African American students on campus are student-athletes, the task force called for addressing this specific issue.

Moving forward, the task force recommended convening a task force accountability and follow-up team for the coming academic year.

“We intend to be second to no other university in terms of academic success of our student-athletes,” Dirks said at the press conference.

Chloee Weiner is the lead campus life reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @_chloeew .