Rawlings Panel on higher education and athletics completes report

A panel of distinguished national leaders in higher education and athletics has completed a report with recommendations about the role of athletics in campus life commissioned by UNC-Chapel Hill. The panel’s suggestions have broad implications for the national higher education community.

The panel, chaired by Hunter Rawlings, president of the Association of American Universities, was asked to make recommendations for UNC and to provide ideas for other universities in addressing a challenging issue for all of higher education. Then Chancellor Holden Thorp appointed the panel earlier this year in response to a 2012 faculty report, and the panel convened a roundtable discussion on campus in April.

“We thank Dr. Rawlings and a highly accomplished panel for the time they took to consider not only how Carolina, but how all other universities can ensure excellence in athletics and academics,” said Chancellor Carol Folt. “We will take advantage of the opportunities and insights provided by the panel to improve and to lead on these issues.”

On the panel, Rawlings was joined by James Delany, longtime commissioner of the Big Ten Conference; Bob Malekoff, associate professor and sport studies chair at Guilford College; Amy Perko, executive director of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics; and Patricia Timmons-Goodson, former justice of the N.C. Supreme Court.

One recommendation of the panel’s report is that UNC form a consortium of peer universities to look at issues facing intercollegiate athletics.

“We hope that this offers an opportunity to do some new thinking here and collect some wisdom from those who are facing very similar problems,” Rawlings said.

Rawlings said the University’s strong academic reputation and long tradition of a good athletics program made UNC a likely model for other institutions.

“UNC is in a great position for a couple of major reasons: It’s a leading research university in the United States, well known for the high quality of its faculty, first-rate research programs that have grown very strongly in the last few years and a very high-quality student body and academic program.”

Bubba Cunningham, director of athletics, said the panel’s work would benefit UNC and all of college athletics.

“It is very encouraging to know UNC already has in place strong processes and strategies to meet and maintain many of the panel’s recommendations in its various areas of governance, academics and admissions,” Cunningham said. “Some of these have been in place for a number of years, some are a result of the strategic plan, and others should be analyzed both on our campus and with our conference and national peers. It is important that we pay attention to these processes and audit them on a regular basis.”

In the past year, the University has launched several initiatives to strengthen the academic experience for its nearly 800 student-athletes. Among those are “Carolina Leads,” a strategic plan that is a roadmap for all aspects of Carolina athletics, including academics as well as the department’s alignment with the University, competition, finances, community service, and the hiring and training of coaches, administrators and support staff.

Other initiatives include the creation of the Student-Athlete Academic Initiative Working Group led by Cunningham and new Provost James W. Dean Jr.; the hiring of Michelle Brown to direct the Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes; and an increased role for the Faculty Athletics Committee, led by Chair Joy Renner.

Read the report.

Published September 3, 2013.