Feb. 13, 2007
In recent weeks I have learned that the words “One Clemson” are easy to say but harder to live. However, any success we’ve had as an institution is the result of operating as a unified institution. That does not mean everyone at Clemson thinks the same and never disagrees. In fact, a great university is one that welcomes a free exchange of ideas, encourages debate and is not afraid of change. Such exchanges are healthy and productive. However, we are in danger of becoming deeply divided because of questions and misperceptions about our process for admitting student-athletes. To have a healthy discussion, we must all have the same facts and discuss them in an atmosphere of respect and courtesy.
Let’s start with facts about our general admissions process. Nearly 14,000 students applied to attend Clemson this fall, and about half of them will be turned down because of objective criteria such as grades, class rank and test scores. Some of those who are denied will appeal the decision, which means they will appear before a board of faculty and admissions officers who will consider each student on a case-by-case basis. It is by nature a subjective process that offers a second chance.
By NCAA regulations, our process for admitting student-athletes is similar. Those who do not meet objective criteria are sent to an appeals board comprising faculty, admissions officers and Vickery Hall staff. They consider each appeal on a case-by-case basis, with the goal of determining whether or not an individual can be successful at Clemson. The committee’s purpose is to identify reasons to admit, not deny. If they do deny admission, the decision can be appealed to the Provost by the Athletic Director. Because the process is subjective, it is not infallible. At times we admit a student who does not qualify under NCAA guidelines, and at times we deny a student who goes on to be successful at another institution.
There is evidence that our system works well. We are bringing outstanding recruits to Clemson, and our graduation success rate (a new NCAA mandate) is among the nation’s highest. There is also evidence that the process may need to be evaluated and revised. The bottom line is that our process is not perfect, but it also is not a barrier to competitiveness as some have suggested.
Any administrative process can usually be improved through thoughtful analysis and review. Few are improved through hasty changes made in anger or in response to criticism. I will commit that Clemson will conduct a thorough review of its process, with full involvement of faculty, admissions officials and athletics staff. Ultimately we may decide to keep the process we have, make minor modifications, tighten standards further, or create an entirely new system. My only directive will be that we have a process that maintains academic integrity while not putting Clemson at a competitive disadvantage. This is not a competition between academics and athletics: it’s between Clemson and all the institutions who are recruiting the same students.
One of the hallmarks of Clemson is its competitive spirit. We love to win, and we have chosen to compete at the championship level. We know that we cannot be successful unless we are able to recruit, retain and graduate talented student-athletes. But we also insist on winning with integrity, and we have proven that we can do both.
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