The Faculty Senate heard reports on the University’s athletics program and the review process for undergraduate majors at its Thursday meeting.
Director of Athletics Bernard Muir opened the session’s agenda by reviewing the first quarter of his tenure at the Department of Athletics, jesting that the process of integrating himself fully into the role was still ongoing.
“I feel like some of our freshman athletes,” Muir said. “I’m not quite sure where to turn.”
After recounting his own experience in collegiate athletics, including stints at Notre Dame, Butler, Auburn and the University of Delaware, Muir turned his attention to the current state of the athletics program and acknowledged the pressure on Stanford athletes and coaches to maintain consistent success.
“At Stanford, the expectations are high,” Muir said. “Part of the job, as an athletics director, is to manage those expectations.”
Muir framed the direction of the athletics program as overwhelmingly positive, citing the ongoing streak of 18 straight Directors’ Cups—awarded to the top all-around collegiate athletics program—as an enduring facet of Stanford athletics.
“Coming out of the fall standings, we are ranked No. 1…I’m thrilled we have the opportunity to go after [No.] 19,” Muir said.
An increasing number of accolades will also be matched by an increased number of sports next quarter, according to Muir, as sand volleyball becomes the University’s 36th varsity sport.
Muir also emphasized the academic accomplishments of student-athletes, noting that Stanford’s athlete graduation rate has historically tracked closely to that of the Stanford student body and remained far above that of rival institutions. He acknowledged, however, that student-athletes occasionally struggle to integrate themselves fully into certain aspects of academic life such as introductory seminars.
“We would love for our student-athletes to get more involved,” Muir said. “We are trying to promote that as best we can, but it does continue to be a challenge.”
Muir identified a range of concerns facing the athletics program in the future such as the high growth rate of the program’s costs and the impact of media contracts on event scheduling. He also noted the challenge of recruiting athletes given Stanford’s academic requirements and recruits’ tendencies to commit to schools at earlier ages.
Faculty questions focused on the role played by the athletics program within the University as a whole and the significance of Stanford’s athletic success for the University’s national profile.
Tom Wasow, professor of linguistics, expressed concern about the broader professionalization of college sports, citing the rapid growth of athletics programs’ budgets and calling for increased transparency in athletic expenses.
“[Professionalization] has led to an arms race in facilities and coaches’ salaries,” Wasow said.
“We think there should be greater transparency,” Muir agreed. “This is something that other institutions are facing…that there should be a dialogue on where we’re investing.”
Rob Reich M.A. ’98 Ph.D. ’98 emphasized the potential for the University to leverage the success of Stanford student-athletes into a national platform for advocating similar accomplishments.
“We have a hell of a story,” Reich said.
Following the discussion period, Wasow—who chairs the Committee on Committees—put forward minor changes to the responsibilities of the Committee on Review of Undergraduate Majors, including increased reliance on individual departments and schools to internally review majors offered.
The Senate adopted the revised charter by voice vote after little discussion.
The Senate will hear a report on the future of federal research support at Stanford at its next meeting on Feb. 21.