Student-athletes talk pressure following clicker incident

by Chris Leech | 11/16/14 7:01pm

On Tuesday mornings, applause and cheering punctuated the announcement of Big Green victories as religion professor Randall Balmer read weekend sporting event results to his “Sports, Ethics and Religion” class.

It was a chance for the many athletes in the class to support one another, said Jeffrey Lang ’17, a member of the men’s golf team.

Forty-three students in the course may be implicated in an academic dishonesty case, after Balmer found a discrepancy between the number of students digitally submitting answers to in-class questions and the number of students present in class on Oct. 30. Balmer asked these students to stay after class on Nov. 11, and judicial affairs director Leigh Remy informed them of possible disciplinary action.

Provost Carolyn Dever sent a campus-wide email reminding students of the academic honor principle Wednesday morning and confirmed that “the actions of a group of students for possible violations of the honor code relating to misrepresentation of class attendance and participation are currently under judicial review.”

Varsity athletes comprise just under 70 percent of the 272-person class, including more than half of the football team, or 61 players, more than half of the men’s hockey team, or 16 players, and more than two-thirds of the men’s basketball team, or 12 players. The men’s soccer team has 10 players in the class, and the baseball, women’s soccer and women’s lacrosse teams each have nine. Athletes in the class represent 24 of Dartmouth’s 34 varsity teams, and about a quarter of Dartmouth students are varsity athletes.

Sport-by-sport breakdown of Religion 65 | Create Infographics

Varsity athletics communications director Rick Bender declined interview requests for football coach Buddy Teevens and other varsity coaches. Bender wrote in an email that athletic director Harry Sheehy “is working with the judicial review to help expedite matters in any way he can,” and declined to comment further.

Balmer said he developed the course, which looks at the history of athletic competition in America, with athletes in mind.

Dever dismissed the idea that the class was designed for athletes. She also said she has long admired student-athletes, noting that they are often poster children for balance and integrity.

After news of cheating in the class broke, varsity athletes interviewed said they hoped the incident would not reinforce negative stereotypes about student-athletes.

All students interviewed are members of varsity sports teams, but some requested they not be identified by team for fear of being associated with cheating. All students interviewed said they were not implicated in the case.

A male member of the Class of 2017 said some of his teammates were concerned that bias against student-athletes will affect the sanctions imposed by the Committee on Standards when it adjudicates the case.

“Some students and professors believe that student-athletes don’t belong at this school,” he said. “It’s foolish to not appreciate what student-athletes go through. Try balancing a 40-hour-a-week job with schoolwork. It’s a challenge.”

Most athletes and non-athletes approach academic dishonesty with the same mentality, he said.

“People will be quick to judge student-athletes differently than other students,” he said. “Of course there will student-athletes who aren’t dedicated to their studies, just like there are non-athletes who aren’t as dedicated to their studies.”

The incident has already impacted his team, he said. While coaches did not identify those who are being investigated, implicated students did not play over the weekend, he said.

A female member of the Class of 2017 said that after playing away games or after practice, athletes may have to exert extra focus to finish their work.

In some cases, the pressure may lead to an increase in honor code violations, she said.

“You get so overloaded that you just want to hibernate for a bit,” she said. “That’s when cheating becomes a problem, because you’re no longer getting your work done.”

She emphasized, however, that this does not mean that athletes are more likely to cheat than other students.

“There’s been a stigma created by athletes and non-athletes towards athletes that suggests we aren’t fully committed to academics,” she said. “I’m offended by that — I put in a lot of work.”

Dartmouth had more programs honored by the NCAA for excellent academic performance last year than any other Division I school, with 26 teams recognized, according to the Dartmouth athletics website.

She emphasized that, as a member of a varsity team, she can approach upperclassmen for both class advice and also academic and social support. While she had heard about Religion 65 from older teammates, she said similar discussions about easier classes happens in her sorority and in other student groups.

Lang said the course may have interested athletes because of its subject matter but was not geared toward them in any other way.

Another male member of the Class of 2017 said he took the class because his teammates recommended it.

“I think it’s good to have a class that is directed towards athletes because they make up a significant portion of the population,” he said. “One thing Balmer does really well is court athletes’ perspectives on class material.”

He added that he had heard the course was a “layup” – a class known to be less rigorous or time-consuming than others at the College. He said the course became more difficult after the midterm, when several students allegedly cheated.

Athletic teams pass around “layup lists,” he said, but he did not believe this practice more common among sports teams than among other student groups.

Sean Oh ’17, a member of the lightweight crew team, said he did not believe athletes were more likely to falsify their attendance than other students in the class. Teams tended to sit in blocks, he said, so he could easily notice if everyone from a team was absent.

After the incident, Oh said, his coach talked to his team about academic dishonesty, even though he said he believes none of his teammates were implicated. The incident might change how coaches involve themselves with the academic lives of their athletes, Oh said, adding that coaches may more closely monitor what classes his team members are taking and whether they need academic tutoring or support.

The female member of the Class of 2017 said the incident made her more conscious of athletes’ role on campus.

“As athletes, we are public figures, whether we like it or not, and certain weight that comes with that,” she said. “You have to realize if we are implicated in anything, you are known as a Dartmouth student-athlete.”