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Friday, September 29, 2006
Paul Haagen's Faculty Associates Plan for Duke University

Duke Law Professor Paul Haagen, who teaches sports law, is head of Duke University's Academic Council, and is a former college lacrosse player, has proposed that Duke University professors be individually assigned on a voluntary basis to Duke sports teams. (Jane Stancill, "Duke Sports Idea Roils Professors," News & Observer, 9/21/2006). The match-up would serve as a way of improving communication between the University's sports and academic programs. The professors involved would be called "faculty associates," and while they would not be expected to monitor or report on a team, they could attend practices, travel with the team, and get to know athletes and coaches. The faculty associates would be assigned by a faculty governing body--and not the coaches--and they would be periodically rotated so as to avoid the potential of becoming advocates for individual teams or coaches.

Professor Haagen's idea has been met with both enthusiastic support and scorn on the Duke campus. For instance, Duke women's lacrosse coach Kerstin Kimel believes that Haagen's idea would greatly improve dialogue between academic and athletic personnel:

"There isn't a real tremendous understanding from a faculty standpoint about what our athletes and coaches do day to day. There's been a continuous drumbeat to divide these two groups. There's just a lot of misperception."

Others, such as Duke political scientist Paula McClain, claim that "people are just aghast that it's even being considered." Apparently, Professor McClain--who is co-director of Duke's Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity, and Gender in the Social Sciences--believes that in the aftermath of the Duke lacrosse scandal, the University needs to distance itself from its sports teams, rather than embrace them.

Personally, I think Professor Haagen's idea is a wonderful one. Stereotypes and misconceptions usually diminish whenever persons from different groups can experience other groups, especially groups that would otherwise be distrusted or feared. Indeed, this has been a core finding by prominent social psychologists, including Stanford University's Claude Steel and the late Muzafer Sherif. And in a very different context, we talked about this same idea in relation to Chad Ford's ESPN work on Playing for Peace: the concept of using basketball to integrate people who would otherwise distrust one another.

As Professor Haagen alludes, putting a "human face" on the unknown is often the best way to no longer fear it. It will be interesting to see whether his plan is given a chance to prove that.


I think that Professor Haagen's idea is an intriguing one and a proactive solution to the Duke lacrosse situation which arose from a clear lack of interplay between the university and the sports teams. By marrying the twin collegiate experiences of academia and athletics, Haagen is clearly trying to enhance the overall college experience for both faculty and students by creating bridges between the two communities. Professors can benefit by keeping abreast of student life and student-athletes can quiz their professors on a wide range of academic and career-related concerns.

I am concerned by the shortsightedness of Professor Paula McClain. It is precisely at a time when sports teams are so maligned at Duke that the greatest openness to change is present. In an effort to rehabilitate their images, I suspect that the majority of sports teams, such as Kerstin Kimel, would agree to accept such oversight.

If sports teams continue to be pushed into the shadows, I believe that situations such as the Duke lacrosse scandal will repeat themselves because student-athletes will feel less accountable to their university and community. A more long-term and inclusive approach would definitely mitigate against future scandals as well as raise the consciousness of student-athletes - which is what I suspect Professor Haagen's ultimate goal to be.

Provided that the increase in interaction between student-athletes and professors does not adversely affect the attention professors can attribute to "regular" students, I have no problem with such an initiative. In fact, I hope to see such initiatives take place in all North American universities and colleges.

Anonymous Jason Chung -- 9/29/2006 12:07 AM  

I don't know if I should laugh or cry, but how "sad" is it that professors have to be assigned (on a voluntary basis) to communicate with athletic department personnel. Sounds like this affirms the idea that college athletics is a run-away train and the term student-athlete is one of the greatest oxymorons of our time.

In the end, none of this will matter. As long as athletic departments can continue to generate millions of dollars, all of this other stuff is just a smoke screen. A feel good story, yes, but just a smoke screen.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 9/29/2006 11:02 AM  

The co-director for the Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity, and Gender in the Social Sciences at Duke wants to build a wall between academics and athletics. Isn't that kind of behavior sometimes called "exclusionary" and/or "demeaning" and/or "stigmatizing" and/or "elitist"?

I'll wager that courses taught in the Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity and Gender in the Social Sciences paint those kinds of behaviors in a very negative light.

As Arte Johnson used to say on Rowan and Martin's Laugh In "Verrry interesting... but stupid."

Anonymous The Sports Curmudgeon -- 9/29/2006 2:52 PM  



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