In 2011 it was discovered that some students took no-show courses in the former department of African and Afro-American Studies and received a number of unauthorized grade changes.
A 2012 report by former Gov. Jim Martin found these irregularities dated back to 1997 and were confined to one department. There were high proportions of athletes in some of these classes.
Senior Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education Bobbi Owen said since the Martin Report, faculty have stepped up efforts in monitoring courses with large numbers of athletes.
“In classes where athletes make up 20 percent or more of the class enrollment in a fall or spring semester, we follow up with the appropriate faculty and/or administrators to ensure that the course is being taught according to University policies,” she said.
The Martin Report also identified 187 course sections in six other departments beginning in the 1994-95 academic year which had initially been red-flagged as being suspicious but ultimately found no anomalies.
Of these, 135 were in the departments of drama, communication studies and exercise and sports science.
Political science professor Layna Mosley, who sits on the Faculty Athletics Committee, said the responsibility of monitoring clustering has been delegated to department heads and to a committee that includes the Dean for Undergraduate Education, the Office of the University Registrar, the University's Faculty Athletics Representative and, as of this fall, representatives from the Faculty Athletics Committee
She said there are many factors that lead to clustering trends.
“Some clustering is the result of certain courses satisfying general education or major requirements,” she said in an email. “Other clustering is the result of timing. Other clustering reflects student interest. It’s not surprising to see many student-athletes in, for instance, EXSS classes.”
Former drama chairwoman McKay Coble said she was one of several department heads who was asked to speak with Martin in 2012 and later was told by the Office of Undergraduate Education that faculty needed to keep on eye on courses with athlete enrollment more than 35 percent.
One of these courses was Stagecraft, which met or exceeded this threshold in 10 of 12 semesters starting in fall 2006. Coble said much of this was due to convenience.
“I taught Drama 160 (Stagecraft) for years and while several student-athletes told me the time slot was ideal for their training schedule I am also happy to report that many went on to take other, more advanced classes,” she said.
Coble said no courses were altered specifically for athletes.
“I know some Drama classes are on a list somewhere,” she said. “I am happy that we are popular and all our courses are taught with the rigor appropriate to the subject matter.”
Stagecraft instructor David Navalinsky said the numbers do not surprise him.
“The student-athletes work and play together — why not go to class together,” he said. “It is very rare that I have a student in class that does not at least have one friend in the class and apparently many times that friend is also a teammate.”
English department chairwoman Beverly Taylor also said course popularity spreads by word of mouth among student groups, a trend she does not think is specific to athletes.
“Everybody’s very aware of the issue because of the current situation, and the things we read in the news too,” she said. “And so we do pay attention to clustering of athletes because that’s the group that’s really more identifiable, honestly. I don’t know if there’s a cluster of musicians in a class I teach.”
From 2003 to 2012 several sections of ENGL 100, 101 and 102 contained more than 30 percent athletes.
In addition, one particular section of ENGL 100 which met every second summer session beginning in 2005 consisted of at or near 100 percent athlete enrollment.
Taylor said it is not uncommon for athletes to enroll in ENGL 100, a noncredit introductory writing course.
“They weren’t set up just for athletes, but for any student that came in that needed that kind of jump start,” she said.
Taylor said the clustering has not had an effect on the learning environment.
“I don’t feel we have any sections of courses in this department that are dumbed down, or where people are just known for giving easy grades and that’s the attraction,” she said.
Several courses in Exercise and Sports Science contained more than 30 percent athletes in a number of 100 and 200-level courses. One section of Sport Psychology which met each summer from 2006 to 2008 contained at least 65 percent athletes.
Department chairman Darin Padua declined to comment for this story.
Similar trends were seen in lower level courses in the Department of Communication Studies. Chairman Ken Hillis also declined to comment.
Clustering is a familiar subject to Dylan Malagrino, who teaches sports law at Western State College of Law in Fullerton, C.A., and participated in swimming and track and field when he attended Syracuse University.
Malagrino said many of his teammates ended up switching majors after their freshman year due either to scheduling conflicts, or finding that the courses were too challenging.
“I know I had teammates that came in thinking they were going to do architecture or electrical engineering and they wound up doing information studies or speech communication just because they found it was more flexible for the athlete.”
Malagrino served as head of the NCAA Student-Athlete Advisory Committee until 2004 and does not see clustering as inherently negative, but it depends.
“The question would be whether or not the athletes are being pressured into these easier courses, and I think that’s a concern that I would have if I see clustering,” he said.