In January, Chancellor Nicholas Dirks convened the Task Force on Academics and Athletics to better understand the needs of student-athletes. The task force came in the wake of NCAA data released in October 2013, which reported the low graduation rates for UC Berkeley’s football and men’s basketball programs compared to other universities across the nation. The task force released its report Friday, listing recommendations to help improve the academic performance and undergraduate experience of student-athletes. These issues should not have waited to be addressed until an external force shed light on a specific student group’s experiences. Student-athlete concerns should be remedied, but it is important to recognize that many of the issues addressed in the report are shared by both student-athletes and students at large.
The task force report touches on topics surrounding the full scope of the student-athlete experience, including admission, recruitment and campus culture and inclusion. It listed more than 50 recommendations, such as advocating a mentorship program and an internship program for career development. The report also mentioned a need for UC Berkeley faculty to foster a more inclusive engagement with the entirety of the undergraduate population. Some recommendations called for increased campus attention to class scheduling, especially to graduation-requirement classes that are only offered during one semester of the academic year.
These concrete recommendations dedicated to improving the undergraduate experience and academic life offer solutions that not only help student-athletes but the student body as a whole. We commend the task force for realizing that these issues expand further than the student-athlete population.
These issues tend to be most noticeable for student-athletes because of their prominence on campus, the significant time commitments they make to their sports and external monitoring by the NCAA. Many of the problems student-athletes face, however, are not specific to them — our diverse student body includes many subsets of students who struggle with juggling full-time jobs, supporting families or demanding extracurriculars alongside striving to meet the high academic demand of UC Berkeley classes. These issues arise because of student-athletes’ time constraints, but the same constraints are felt by many students. These are systemic issues that take a toll on various students and student groups across campus.
We understand this task force was formed specifically to address student-athlete concerns, but the administration should not wait for the release of outside data to look at how it can better its student body’s experiences and be reactionary. Student-athletes are only one important subset of students who would benefit from increased attention and specific recommendations. The administration should now focus on finding solutions to these issues for not only the more than 800 student-athletes we have on campus but for the variety of subgroups that form our undergraduate population.