The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

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The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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Athletics in disagreement with academia?

Athletics and SMU have different standards for dropping classes


According to SMU’s provost, athletes may drop classes at will, just like other students. But across campus in the athletic department, officials say just the opposite: student athletes may not drop classes, and haven’t been able to for more than a year.

 “Since the summer of 2009, the Athletic Department has a ‘no-drop’ policy for its student-athletes,” Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations Brad Sutton wrotein an Oct. 28 e-mail interview.  The change was made for several reasons, he said, including trying to decrease the number of classes student athletes drop to avoid the tuition expense incurred if he or she must take additional semesters to graduate.

On the same day – Oct. 28 – in a memo addressed to deans, department chairs, and faculty, Provost Paul W. Ludden said that it is ultimately a student’s choice whether to add or drop a class. Ludden, who copied Athletic Director Steve Orsini on the memo, made a point to single out student athletes:

All students are encouraged to seek the advice of an academic counselor before dropping a course, but it is the students’ choice whether or not to drop a course.

The Drop Policy defined in the Undergraduate Catalog also applies to student athletes…Student athletes who are considering dropping a course should consult with the Athletic Department because their eligibility for participation in intercollegiate athletics, as defined by the NCAA, may be affected by their choice to drop or add a course.    

Student athletes who are concerned about losing scholarship support should consult with their academic advisor or the Office of the Provost.


If it is a student athlete’s “choice” to drop a class, that’s news to former SMU football player Ben Goldthorpe. He said he was told by the Athletic Department via email on the day of the drop deadline last semester that he would be unable to drop a class. Dropping the class would have had no affect on his student athlete NCAA eligibility or financial aid status, but he was still forced to remain enrolled in the class, even though it was clear he would have trouble passing the class.

 “There was no verbal communication” about the drop process, said Goldthorpe, who is one of nine football players removed from the team last February as a result of allegedly not adhering to policies governing practices, study hall and other football team rules.

This past summer, the athletic department opened the Center for the Development for Student-Athletes and put the new head, Dave Wollman, in charge of an appeals process for student athletes seeking to drop a class, according to Sutton.

Student athletes who want to appeal the no-drop policy must set up a meeting with Wollman and state his or her case.  Wollman gathers information from the student athlete’s advisor and checks to see if the drop would have any impact on their NCAA eligibility or financial aid status before notifying them of his decision, according to Sutton.

But many student athletes say they have not heard of many cases where an athlete was allowed to drop a class since the policy was instituted.

Nicolle Keogh, a member of the Women’s Rowing Team, said she’s never had to drop a course. But she said she doesn’t like the “inconsistency” with which the drop policy is administered. Keogh said there may be the perception that athletes in certain high profile sports would have an easier time getting permission to drop a class.

In his memo, Ludden wrote that “any claims that any group of students will be governed by a different set of rules or criteria will be disregarded.”

The provost’s office declined to comment on the athletic department’s policy, saying that Ludden was not accepting any interview requests this week.

In a Faculty Senate report dated Nov. 3, 2009, Athletic Policies Committee Chair Dan Orlovsky said that there is “controversy” among faculty members about the drop policy adopted by the athletic department. “On the one hand the new policy reinforces our desire to see fewer drops in the university. On the other it treats student athletes differently than we treat the larger student body – a situation that we oppose. “

At SMU there are 439 student athletes, 260 of whom are on scholarship. Sutton, in his email interview, called the response to the no-drop policy “extremely positive.” 

“The number of class drops has plummeted,” he wrote. “In round numbers, student athletes had 140 drops in the spring of 2009 and just 20 in the spring of 2010.”

All student athletes are given Student Athlete Academic Services team counselors to help them with their class work, according to officials with the Altshuler Learning Enhancement Center.  The center is a resource offered to all students, but has a staff of five full-time employees specifically for student athletes. 

When asked about the Athletic Department’s no-drop policy, an ALEC official said she wouldn’t feel comfortable being a source for this article.  She said it was an “important issue” but that it only involved athletics.

SMU Student Body President Jake Torres understands the Athletic Department’s effort to hold student athletes more accountable, but has also heard complaints from educators.  “They get frustrated that the Athletic Department isn’t making decisions from an academic standpoint,” he said.

Torres believes that all 11,000 students he represents should be held to the same standards.

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