Originally created 04/21/00

Teacher decries UT sports influence over athletes' academics



KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- A Tennessee teacher says the university's athletic department continues to manipulate the academic programs of its athletes in a "system tantamount to institutionalized slavery."

Linda Bensel-Meyers, director of composition for the English department, reviewed the records of 39 athletes because she felt earlier complaints were only cursorily considered.

She said she found a pattern of questionable practices involving tutoring, grades, course selection and oversight.

She alleges that academic programs within the athletic department are not intended to provide disadvantaged students a better chance at an education. Rather, she claims, the programs are designed to protect the player's eligibility "for the institution's financial profit without concern for the athlete's future welfare."

Bensel-Meyers said she filed the report to the university's faculty senate, Provost Jon Peters and other school officials.

University president J. Wade Gilley said in a statement that allegations of academic violations have been reviewed by the university, its general counsel and the NCAA in the past several months.

"In no case have any improprieties been discovered," the statement said.

The statement did not address the specific charges in Bensel-Meyers' latest report.

It noted a committee of the faculty senate also has investigated the allegations and found no improprieties.

"The University of Tennessee is committed to providing a high quality education to all our student athletes and remains open to receiving information from any individual or group that has evidence of wrongdoing," Gilley's statement said.

Last fall, Bensel-Meyers and others alleged that tutors were writing papers for athletes in violation of university policy.

Four football players were suspended for one game before the university declared it could find no wrongdoing. The NCAA investigated those allegations and reported in March that "there appears to be no need to conduct any further inquiry."

Bensel-Meyers insists the NCAA did not look deeply enough into the situation, which prompted her latest report.

"Because the NCAA has a vested interest in keeping profitable collegiate teams viable, using the NCAA to oversee academics within the Athletics Department makes as much sense as letting the fox protect the chicken farm," she wrote in a summary of her report, dated April 5.

Bensel-Meyers said she investigated student records and found that grades were changed, often to an "incomplete," which does not count against a student's grade-point average. The "incomplete" would then revert to the earlier grade, often an "F," she writes, after the season was over or an athlete's eligibility had expired.

She also questioned the policy of allowing athletes to remain on academic probation for several semesters, an allowance extended to non-scholarship students only for a semester or two.

She contends athletes are steered by the athletic department into "friendly" courses that "do not make up a coherent program of study."

As a result, she said, many athletes still do not have a major in their junior or even senior years. She also alleged the majors they choose are often less stringent academically and less valuable in the long term.

"The records trace the fracturing of a student's hopes and dreams: how an ambitious, though academically disadvantaged, student who buys into the myth of the athletics scholarship as a way to better himself fares when confronted with the economic self-interest of the institution."

Bensel-Meyers also contends the athletic department's "special needs" unit "exploits the Americans with Disabilities Act to give `at-risk' students (broadly defined) not equal access to an education, but to waive them from one."

She also repeated her complaints about tutoring done outside the control of the English Department under the protection of the athletic department.

"It is clear that the integrity of the system continues to decline, and that the Athletics Department is mandating unacceptable tutoring practices that can only be described as `institutional plagiarism."'