AUSTIN, Texas — A seven-month review of Texas Athletics Student Services division by Gene Marsh, a national expert on academic integrity, has found that the university strongly supports its student-athletes academically and follows NCAA rules and internal procedures — but could be doing even more to challenge those students in the classroom.
UT Austin President Gregory L. Fenves, who commissioned the review after taking office last year, received the 49-page report of findings Tuesday and has directed Athletics Directors Mike Perrin and Chris Plonsky to begin to implement 14 recommendations it contains.
“I thank NCAA compliance expert Gene Marsh and his team for their work and for taking so seriously the charge I gave them last June,” Fenves wrote in an email to Athletics staff members and student-athletes Wednesday.
“The report gives me an even fuller understanding of how we, as a university, serve our student-athletes, what we are doing well — and what we can do better,” Fenves wrote. “Most of the findings are positive, but there are opportunities to improve the programs and experiences for student-athletes. Most importantly, the Marsh report recognizes our staff and faculty members’ commitment to student-athletes’ success.”
Along with a related letter from Marsh, the findings conclude:
There is no evidence to support the 2015 allegations in the media that several former student-athletes received improper academic assistance, committed academic misconduct and violated university policies. In addition to Marsh’s letter on this matter, the NCAA issued a “Case Closing Letter” in September 2015.
By several measures, student-athletes excel academically at UT. Their cumulative GPA entering fall 2015 was 3.08; none was on academic probation; and seven Longhorns teams earned NCAA Public Recognition Awards last year for their academic progress rate (APR), more than at any other Big 12 university.
Texas Athletics offers extensive advising, tutoring and mentoring to student-athletes; requires them to dedicate significant time to study; and documents student-athletes’ academic experiences more thoroughly than other programs nationally.
Marsh and his team interviewed 83 students, coaches, staffers and faculty members among others and studied university data, committee reports, self-study reports, manuals, meeting minutes, protocols, catalogs and handbooks.
The report concluded that, “UT is not afraid to evaluate the academic experience of its student-athletes, report findings to the academic community and other interested parties, and affect positive change where it is warranted.
“There are often contentious issues in play where athletics and academics meet, but we generally found people of good will who are dedicated to UT and love the University and were receptive to the views of others. A few people were locked in to the idea that something was right ‘because we’ve always done it that way,’ but most demonstrated an openness and flexibility in their thinking that was helpful,” the report found.
However, it also asks whether the university is challenging student-athletes in the classroom as much as possible. It suggests some may be enrolling in majors that are perceived to be less demanding than their first choice and questions whether UT is overly focused on student-athletes’ GPAs rather than their total learning experience.
It also finds that between 60 and 80-plus percent of UT’s football, baseball, men’s and women’s basketball players — and more than 70 percent of African American athletes — are pursuing majors inside the College of Education.
“UT’s College of Education is an outstanding school that is consistently ranked among the top public programs in the nation,” Fenves wrote in his letter to campus. “But we must better understand why student-athletes enroll in it as frequently as they do and whether they are exploring the opportunities in the wide range of degree programs on campus.
“To that end, I have directed Athletics Directors Mike Perrin and Chris Plonsky to develop plans for implementing the recommendations included in the report.”
Among the recommendations are:
Examine overrepresentation of student-athletes in the College of Education and explore ways to encourage a wider selection of majors for select subgroups of student-athletes.
Examine whether the Office of Athletics Student Services should report to an academic unit, such as the Provost’s Office, in addition to the Athletics Directors.
Establish a working group to examine whether additional oversight and examination of the most academically at-risk prospective student-athletes in the admissions process is warranted.
Examine the availability and use of study centers to ensure they are comfortable and available for all student-athletes, alleviating student-athletes’ concerns of overcrowding and noise in their study centers.
“Our highest priority at Texas is to make sure our student-athletes receive a world-class education and are prepared for life after college,” said Perrin, the men’s Athletics director. “The Marsh Report highlights our many successes but also identifies the areas where we can improve.”
“This review is invaluable and gives Texas Athletics a strategic path forward to enhance our students’ total university experience,” said Plonsky, the women’s Athletics director. “We will work closely with campus leadership on all recommendations in the report.”