Report: Schlissel says football grad rate a ‘challenge’

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

The University of Michigan faces a “challenge” in closing a gap between the graduation rate for football players and students overall, according to the school’s new president.

“We admit students who aren’t as qualified, and it’s probably the kids that we admit that can’t honestly, even with lots of help, do the amount of work and the quality of work it takes to make progression from year to year,” UM President Mark Schlissel said, according to a report Tuesday by the student newspaper, the Michigan Daily. “These past two years have gotten better, but before that, the graduation rates were terrible, with football somewhere in the 50s and 60s when our total six-year rate at the University is somewhere near 90 percent, so that’s a challenge.”

Schlissel made the remarks this week before the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs. UM’s football program has been engulfed in controversy this fall, culminating in the resignation Oct. 31 of Athletic Director Dave Brandon.

During his 40 minutes of comments, Schlissel voiced concerns about the academic prowess of athletes, especially the football team.

“The thing you have to keep in mind is there’s football and there’s everything else,” he said, according to the Michigan Daily. “There are 930 or so recruited athletes and 115 of them play football, and most of those teams actually have great graduation rates, and it’s just where you’d expect we struggle.”

Schlissel overviewed efforts UM has undertaken, the student newspaper reported. He pointed to an audit conducted by English Professor Anne Curzan, who serves as faculty liaison to the Athletic Department. Every semester, she asks for reports from classes with more than 20 percent of enrolled student-athletes. She also overviews independent-study courses with a single student-athlete enrolled — which are “very few,” Schlissel said.

“For those individual classes, she and the academic support person for athletics look at the individual classes one at a time, and she has to make sure there’s nothing that shows a lack of integrity,” Schlissel said.

Referring to possible academic misconduct, Schlissel added,“It’s still pretty scary.”

He also observed that university athletics are valued more than academic accomplishment.

“The incentives are really strong for them to be as successful on the field as possible, and some of those are in dollars and others are in performance,” he said. “If we had won Nobel Prizes this year, we wouldn’t have gotten as much attention as did our AD. It’s sad but it’s really true.”