The anonymous faculty member who started this thread has further comments.

I whizzed through the discussion pretty fast, but I didn’t see anyone directly address another significant effect of athletics: the extent to which it determines important student choices, ranging from which classes they take or don’t (anything in the last afternoon time slot is off-limits because it prevents them from doing early practices–all official denials notwithstanding) to whether they study abroad. I can’t tell you the number of kids who’ve said to me things like, “I’d really like to go to Oxford next year, but I’m running track and can’t.” OK, life is about choices, but I personally find it sad that students are passing up important opportunities–in many cases, opportunities never again to be open to them–to play on a team, especially since they have three other years to focus on their sport. This kind of dilemma is extremely hard to get at empirically, but I’d have to say, anecdotally, that it’s more significant than most people realize. My hunch is that it may also explain why it’s been hard for the interest in service-learning and community service to get much traction at Williams: too many students are obliged to be in practice or on the road for sports events.

Funny how the debate always drifts toward discussion of athletic tips in admissions. I think that Morty did a great job of responding to this and moving Williams to a better place. The real number that people should be debating is the percentage of students who participate in varsity athletics. Last time I heard, it was about 46 percent, but perhaps you have better data. How many other colleges or universities in America come close to that figure? Some alums may take pride in it, but I find it way out of balance for an institution that prides itself on the quality of education that it offers.

1) Best data on participation is here. 36% of Williams students play on at least one varsity team. Few other colleges came anywhere near that figure.

2) I agree that Morty has done a good job with regard to tips and that the College will (and should) make similar moves going forward.

3) “[D]etermines important student choices” reads like sour grapes to me. Just because students make different choices than you (or I) might make does not mean that those choices are poor ones, either in the short or long run. If I Williams student decides not to go abroad because she loves her sport, then more power to her. That is her choice and her right. (Obviously, if coaches put pressure on athletes, that would be a completely different situation. I have never heard any accusations along those lines.)

I can’t tell you the number of kids who’ve said to me things like, “I’d really like to go to Oxford next year, but I’m running track and can’t.”

Just what does “can’t” mean in this context? The coach won’t permit it? Williams will cancel the students athletic scholarship? There is no “can’t.”

This student just means that life is full of choices and we can’t do everything that we want to do. Welcome to adulthood.

4) And just what concrete solutions is this professor proposing to fix the problem? I understand professors who want less of an emphasis on athletics in admissions or even professors who want stricter/clearer rules concerning the interference of athletics with academics (e.g., no mid-week travel, no matches during exams and so on). But there is no (plausible) policy change that solves the problem of a student choosing between track and Oxford during her junior year. She can do one or the other.

5) “it’s been hard for the interest in service-learning and community service to get much traction at Williams.” Yeah, right. More than 60% of students play no sports. That’s around 1,200 Ephs. Perhaps the reason that service/community activities don’t get much traction is that many/most students find them boring and stupid. Just saying! Until you can explain your failure with the 1,200 non-athletes, please look for other scape cows.

6) How should we interpret “way out of balance?” To the extent that there is a Williams ethos (similar to the spirit at many LACs) is is “excellence in all things.” We want students who play a sport and write for the Record and sing a capella. (Or insert your favorite extra-curricula activities.) The magic of Williams, and places like it, is that you get to do more than one thing.

Should 10% or 36% or 50% or 100% of Williams students play a sport? What is “balance?”

To me, the answer is the same as always. Williams should admit the most academically accomplished and ambitious students, and then let them choose. Provide them with opportunities, in sports, singing, art, theater, writing, dance, service and everything else under the mountains. Whatever percentage of them choose activity X is fine by me.

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