by Franette Armstrong, OLLI member

For chancellors and presidents of universities in the United States, the management of the intercollegiate athletic program is one of their greatest challenges, and UC Berkeley is no exception. This winter and spring OLLI is pleased to present a two-part class taught by John Cummins, Ph.D.: Have Big-Time Athletic Programs Outgrown Their Universities? Dr. Cummins is Associate Chancellor Emeritus, whose 36-year career served five chancellors at Berkeley. The classes will examine how history and tradition have influenced the current state of intercollegiate athletics, variously described by critics as a “cesspool” and by advocates as an important component of a student’s higher educational experience. 

These classes are the product of both frustration and curiosity for Dr. Cummins, a lifelong sports enthusiast who was in charge of the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics for two years. In 2010, Dr. Cummins returned from a year in France to find Cal’s intercollegiate athletics budget under intense scrutiny and he began to wonder how a formerly student-run extracurricular activity could morph into the big-time athletics program it is today—one that functions, in large part, as an entertainment business inside an educational institution.

This led him to a 3-year study of the management of that program from the 1960s to the present and the beginning of a forthcoming book on the subject. In June, he presented a 60-page white paper to the University’s Athletic Board with co-author Kirsten Hextrum, a Ph.D. student at Cal and two-time national Crew champion. Ms. Hextrum, who will be a guest lecturer in the classes, brings her research into the effects of gender and race on athlete graduation rates as well as the athlete’s perspective.

In the winter class Dr. Cummins will take participants behind the scenes to examine the myriad value conflicts inherent in the management of intercollegiate athletics, such as admissions preferences for student athletes and the impact of athletic budgets on academic priorities. The class will look at the connection of athletic programs and fundraising, the influence of the media, and the effects of Title IX and gender-related issues in college sports, reform efforts and the role of the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

A companion course in the spring will continue to explore these issues as they relate to Cal, helping participants understand decisions that have been made and what has gone into them. Dr. Cummins will examine the roles and perspectives of athletic and university leaders, faculty and coaches and large donors as well as other forces setting the values that have driven the program and ask whether the future will, or should, hold more of the same.

These classes are a unique opportunity to learn about the world of college sports. More  information and advance registration will be available to OLLI members.