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Speaking Out

On the Athletic Eligibility Issue

The letter below was sent last week to President Judith Rodin with copies to Dr. Robert Rescorla and Dr. Kenneth Shropshire, and to Almanac for publication. Below right, the Provost responds on the Presidents behalf, and at far right Dean Rescorla comments.--Ed

Dear President Rodin:

We are writing to convey our concern and disappointment over the Universitys handling of the events which gave rise to the news stories, Bid to Keep Penn Star Eligible is Blasted and Penn Cancels Special Class for Athlete, which appeared in the November 27 and November 28 issues of The Philadelphia Inquirer. We are concerned that certain members of the University community chose to take a matter involving a student into the public arena before there was a University hearing about the issues of the case. We are disappointed that once the matter became public no representative of the Universitys administration went on record to say that Professor Kenneth Shropshires decision was a proper exercise of his discretion as a faculty member, given the facts known to him at the time of his decision to offer the independent study.

Our first concern--that the privacy of the student, Mitch Marrow, was undermined by the University and faculty--is based upon our understanding of our role as mentors and our responsibility to protect students rights and ensure their intellectual development. The Universitys decision to make a matter regarding the conduct of a student public violates this fundamental responsibility of faculty members to students and in this case puts an academically vulnerable student at great risk for public humiliation.

Our disappointment about the Universitys actions also houses a concern. As faculty members, many of us have on numerous occasions allowed students to take independent study courses, a matter generally within the discretion of the faculty member who is willing to assume the responsibility for providing academic guidance. So far, the University has not acted definitively to support and vindicate Professor Shropshire.

Dean Rescorlas disallowing the course and his decision to launch an investigation leaves open the inference that Professor Shropshire acted improperly and outside his discretion as a faculty member. The University had an obligation, we believe, to state in a timely and public manner that Professor Shropshire acted appropriately and properly.

We choose to write now because unless the administration steps in, it is possible that this incident could have far-reaching implications for students and faculty throughout the University. It could lead to a double standard in which some faculty members are considered "more equal" than others. It is also unfortunate in that the handling of the situation gives the impression that the University is willing to expose students and colleagues to the glare of public approbation before the issues are examined fully within University guidelines.

-- Howard Arnold, Social Work
-- Houston Baker, English
-- Herman Beavers, English
-- Helen Davies, Medicine
-- Vivian Gadsden, Education
-- Antonio McDaniel, Sociology
-- Howard Stevenson, Education
-- Peter Vaughan, Social Work

Response from the Provost

President Rodin asked me to respond to your letter regarding Professor Kenneth Shropshires role in the establishment of a Penn students eligibility to play varsity football. I have appointed the committee investigating this matter and I am responsible for seeing that the investigation of the eligibility issue is carried out properly.

First, let me say that I agree with you that the public statements about this matter have been unfortunate, because they have distorted the story and revealed confidential information about the academic record of a student. The University administration has spoken publicly only to state that it is carrying out a proper investigation of the matter. We will not speak about the substance until we have received the report of the investigative committee and prepared a report to the Ivy League and the NCAA. At that time, I will report to the University, within the limits of what I am permitted to say about an individual student.

Second, you defend Professor Shropshires right to offer an independent study course and question the right of the Dean of the College to cancel it. I recognize both the faculty members right to offer independent study courses and the deans right to disallow the course in a particular semester because of administrative rules. I will not make a judgment about how those rights were exercised in this case until I have received the report of the investigative committee.

I have a great deal of confidence in the probity of the committee and, with everyone else, await its report. I expect to receive it within one week.

--Stanley Chodorow, Provost

Comment by Dean Rescorla

Since the authors generously shared their letter with me, I would like to comment on several issues that they raise about my involvement in this case.

First, I am not aware that anyone in my office has ever implied that Professor Shropshire behaved improperly. He supported a request to the College Office that one of our students be permitted to enroll in an independent study course well after the add deadline had passed. Although Dr. Frey originally approved that request, she also asked that I review her decision. I was uncomfortable enough with the level of detail provided in Dr. Shropshires letter to phone him about the request. On the basis of that conversation, I decided that there was not sufficient academic justification for the College to waive its deadline for adding a course. I told Professor Shropshire that I intended to deny the request and suggested that instead the student enroll for the independent study for the Spring Term. He indicated that he was comfortable with that decision. This process of a faculty members supporting a student request, followed by a review in the College office, is precisely how the decision about whether or not to waive a College rule should operate and does operate regularly.

Second, no further investigation of the matter was initiated by my office. The academic aspects of the case were clear and settled. As is proper in such cases, the decision to investigate the consequences for academic eligibility was made by the Provost.

Third, I am concerned that some readers may interpret my colleagues letter as hinting that the racial identities of the parties influenced my decision to deny the request. I feel absolutely no need to defend my decision against such an interpretation. But it would be unfortunate if every decision that involves people of different racial groups becomes an occasion for third parties to infer racial bias. This would be sure to destroy the collegial atmosphere that is essential to the functioning of this and every university.

-- Robert A. Rescorla
Dean, The College

Return to:Almanac, University of Pennsylvania, December 9, 1997, Volume 44, Number 15