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Campus commitment needed to prevent academic misconduct

All three NCAA divisions will consider over the next year how to combat the problem.

Katherine Sulentic, NCAA associate director for enforcement, and Kim Durand, president of the
National Association of Academic Advisors for Athletics (N4A) and associate athletics for student development
at the University of Washington, discus how campuses and student-athletes should guard themselves from academic misconduct.

When Fort Lewis College President Dene Kay Thomas was an English graduate student teaching freshman composition, the future Division II Presidents Council member had her first encounter with academic misconduct by a college athlete.

The way she handled it, she said, was only “half-right.” While she gave a failing grade to the athlete who turned in a National Geographic article as his own work, she didn’t report it to anyone – neither the school nor the athletics department.

“I truly believe in the integrated student-athlete. It’s important that we all work together to know our responsibilities,” Thomas said. “I had no business blaming the NCAA or the athletics department or the team when I did nothing to improve the situation. I’m a believer in academic integrity and looking closely at our rules and how we enforce those rules.”

Thomas’ perspective as a former faculty member and current president of an NCAA school was just one of several presented at a Thursday morning session on academic misconduct at the NCAA Convention outside Washington, D.C. NCAA staff members Diane Dickman, managing director of academic and membership affairs, and Katherine Sulentic, associate director of enforcement, outlined the current rules, how they are enforced and what decisions must be made by members over the next few months.

In addition to Thomas, joining the session as panelists were Kim Durand, associate athletics director for student development at the University of Washington and president of the National Association of Academic Advisors for Athletics, and Josh White, associate athletics director at the University of Nebraska Omaha and president of the National Association for Athletics Compliance.

Durand shared some highlights of best practices developed by the N4A, including monitoring of online education for college athletes and encouraging students to be responsible for their own educations.

“(Academic misconduct) is the single biggest concern we have in our field. How do we manage risk?” she said. “We need to look at our practices to make sure we’re doing all we can to prevent it. … It’s really a starting point that student-athlete support programs and campuses as a whole should be looking at, identifying what their policies and procedures are and making any adjustments that may help to reduce or eliminate the risk in those areas.”

White noted that no matter what kind of safeguards a school has in place, academic misconduct can still occur, but athletics administrators can make some decisions that help minimize the risk. For example, his campus decided to get the faculty athletics representative involved in the academic lives of athletes and how the athletics department provides academic support.

“It may seem like a small thing, but it’s symbolic of what we’re trying to do with the entire institution – having athletics and academics operate as one,” he said. “It’s vitally important that the athletics department follows the mission of the institution.”

The session is a precursor to work that likely will be done to help clarify how the NCAA handles academic misconduct issues in the future. Over the next year, all three divisions will consider how to identify when an incident of possible academic misconduct should be reported to the NCAA and when an incident becomes a violation of NCAA rules.