Friday, January 25, 2013

Office of Civil Rights issues new guidelines to include students with disabilities in sports

The U.S. Department of Education declared today that schools must provide students with disabilities a fair opportunity to participate in athletic activities. 

Although the Department of Education does not foresee immediate dramatic changes, the new guidelines should probe schools to make adjustments and open doors for the students who have been—despite the previously existing ant-discrimination laws—precluded from participation.   

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) already prohibits the exclusion of persons with disability from programs and activities at federally funded institutions. But the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) took a step further today and provided specific examples on how institutions should ensure that they accommodate students with disabilities.

The OCR stated that the letter does not “add requirements to applicable law, but provides information and examples to inform recipients [school officials] about how OCR evaluates whether covered entities are complying with their legal obligations” (See full letter here.)

Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education, wrote on his blog that students with disabilities are often excluded from sports based on incorrect judgments, generalizations and stereotypes. “This is simply wrong,” Duncan wrote.

The letter requires school officials to make “reasonable modifications” to ensure that students with disabilities have equal opportunity to participate in sports.

According to Gregg Toppo’s article for USA Today, the letter was long overdue—particularly because a report from 2010 indicated that students with disabilities participated in athletics at substantially lower rates than students without disabilities. The clarification on how to enforce positive change was, thus, in order.

Some activist compared the enforcement initiatives to Title IX, an education amendment that prohibits discrimination based on sex. Title IX is credited with the tremendous increase of athletic opportunities for women and a cultural shift about women’s place in sports.

“This is a landmark moment for students with disabilities. This will do for students with disabilities what Title IX did for women. This is a huge victory,” Terri Lakowski, who has been heavily involved with coalition building and education around civil rights issues, told the Associated Press.

The Women’s Sports Foundation announced that this letter is actually a “direct result of Title IX.”

It might take some time to enforce the structural changes. But a legislative boost might eventually result in a more inclusive sporting environment and increased participation for the students who are relegated to the margins in our society.  

Perhaps increased opportunities will also eventually challenge the way we think about sport in our culture. Perhaps, such change will also encourage us to re-think the values we associate with sport—the values that contributed to the subjugation of many. 

-- Dunja Antunovic

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

NCAA cuts funding for Scholarly Colloquium

A few days ago, the NCAA announced that it would withdraw funding to the Scholarly Colloquium, which has been in existence for six years and "provided a space for (often critical) academic discourse at the association's annual convention," according to an article on Inside Higher Ed.

The NCAA officials said that the colloquium did not attract sufficient attendance and that the Journal of Intercollegiate Sport (JIS), also sponsored by the NCAA and affiliated with the colloquium, was not profitable.

Some scholars who attended the colloquiums and submitted research for the JIS said that the NCAA's main problem was not financial, but the fact that the NCAA was reluctant to hear criticism embedded in the scholarly articles and discussions. (Read more on scholars' responses in the article by the Chronicle of Higher Education here.)

It is unclear at this point if the JIS will be able to stay alive.

Dr. Scott Kretchmar, professor of Kinesiology, who also served as the founding president of the Scholarly Colloquium and the founding editor of the Journal of Intercollegiate Sport, expressed his disappointment with the NCAA's decision.

"How interesting that, at a time when most agree that all is not well in Division I athletics, the NCAA has taken steps to avoid thoughtful criticism," Kretchmar wrote in an article for the Curley Center for Sport Journalism's site.

The former NCAA Faculty Athletic Representative of Penn State, Kretchmar teaches classes in sport ethics, among others.

I concur with Kretchmar. It is, indeed, "interesting" timing by the NCAA. One might wonder what happened to the NCAA's commitment to academics. Even beyond that, whatever happened to reason?

Wouldn't you, the NCAA, as an organization, want the input of people who can provide empirical evidence that might actually help you solve at least some of the problems?

The timing is particularly interesting considering that a study recently published by the Delta Cost Project at American Institutes for Research pointed to the wide gap between spending on student-athletes and students.

Here is a paragraph from the study:

"Athletic departments spend far more per athlete than institutions spend to educate the average
student—typically three to six times as much; among Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) institutions,
median athletic spending was nearly $92,000 per athlete in 2010, while median academic spending
per full-time equivalent (FTE) student was less than $14,000 in these same universities" (p. 2).

This should raise some question. An NPR article provides some good evaluation for the study. It's worth a read.

Anyways, perhaps a continued conversation at the Scholarly Colloquium and in the Journal of Intercollegiate Sport would allow for a deeper investigation of how the NCAA can better negotiate the "academic" component in intercollegiate athletics, whether that means examining the psychological impact of sporting events on campus, economic sustainability, hiring issues related to race, gender, and/or sexual orientation,  and, broadly, academic reform. 

It is understandable that the NCAA looks to cut costs. But do the cuts really need to result in the exclusion of scholars who see intercollegiate athletics both on a micro-level through teaching the student-athletes and on a macro-level through their research that often asks questions that are different from the NCAA's primary concerns (feel free to fill in the blank here)?

Dear NCAA, please reconsider.
-- Dunja Antunovic