by John Dankosky - As the UConn men’s basketball team gets ready to compete in the “Sweet 16″ round of the NCAA basketball tournament, the university’s incoming president is addressing criticism of the program’s graduation rates.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan called out UConn in an op-ed in the Washington Post. He cited the 30 percent graduation rate among men’s players as one of the worst among teams still in the tournament.
Incoming President Susan Herbst starts her job in June. But speaking on WNPR’s Where We Live, she said the academic record of the men’s program must change.
“The current graduation rate there is unacceptable. Period. And, it needs to move up, and I look forward to working with the athletics department on this,” she told me.
When asked about setting specific goals for the program, she told me that to make change, it’s more important to create a “culture of student success,” than to set strict targets to meet. ”It’s about supporting the faculty, the coaches, the deans the administrators who work on this…it’s not about threatening them.”
But, it’s not just the program’s graduation rates that have been a problem. UConn was hit with sanctions from the NCAA over recruiting violations, and “failure to create an atmosphere of compliance.” That’s resulting in probation, and a three-game suspension next season for coach Jim Calhoun. When told that Calhoun can be the grumpy type when questioned about his program, Herbst said she’s looking forward to working with him and all the coaches.
“The university itself has to create a very strong culture of excellence and compliance, and we have to get out ahead of this. We have to make sure coaches and students understand all the rules and not just wait for the NCAA to come along and investigate us,” she said.
“Y’know you’d rather be a clean program that is well within all the rules and regulations than a successful one. And, you know, many universities have struggled with this. You know success at what cost? And, these are student-athletes. We are an academic organization. The sports are wonderful, they bring attention to us internationally, but we’re there for one reason, and that’s to teach and graduate students, and all this other stuff is, in fact, secondary.”
And she added that in academic achievement in athletics, she wants UConn to be a model. That model might be the UConn Women’s program. Which is not only a favorite to win its third straight national title, but faces no sanctions from the NCAA – and graduates more than 90 percent of its students.