I love Gregg Easterbrook’s weekly TMQ column on ESPN’s Page 2 during football season, even though I tend to disagree with some of what he says on a weekly basis. Recently, though, I have taken some umbrage with his disparaging remarks about the University of Miami and the scandal in which they are embroiled. Specifically, Mr. Easterbrook exhibits some lazy journalism regarding Miami’s academic prestige, something university president Donna Shalala has referenced in recent months. He seems to think Shalala is being deceptive when referencing academic prestige regarding Miami’s student-athlete, but that simply does not paint an accurate picture of the academic prestige in Coral Gables.
His first shots came on September 6th, when he writes that the Hurricanes only graduate 67% of football players (or 64%, depending on which number he thinks is right — he puts down both). He wrote that in response to president Shalala’s claim that Miami student-athlete academic achievement is mentioned in the same breath as Notre Dame and Stanford. While I do agree there might be some hyperbole involved in that statement, using one outdated graduation rate for one sport reeks of bias. I am fairly certain that, while the scandal involves the prominent football program, Shalala was talking about student-athletes as a whole.
At any rate, even if we are just talking about the football program, Mr. Easterbrook should probably use better data. Miami’s graduation rate among football players has improved over the years, and they are currently tied for third in the ACC with an 81% graduation rate. While perhaps not in the same league as Notre Dame (96%), Stanford graduates 86% of its football players, just a few percentage points better. By comparison, the other schools Mr. Easterbrook recently derides have average-to-terrible rates — Ohio State graduates 63% while Oklahoma graduates just 44%. Donna Shalala’s claims of academic prestige are not so misleading after all, it seems — ambitious, perhaps, but not deceitful. Incidentally, the ACC is the nation’s top academic conference when it comes to graduating football players. Going back to student-athletes as a whole, Miami graduates a healthy 86% overall, and they continue to strive for excellence.
More importantly, what can we say about the academics of the University of Miami as a whole? I remember President Shalala specifically aiming to improve the university’s academic prestige when she took over for Tad Foote during my undergraduate career. Did she succeed? Well, Miami has steadily risen in academic rankings over the past decade — they are currently the no. 38 ranking in the nation according to U.S. News, a ranking which has gone up dramatically during Shalala’s tenure at the university. Not only are student-athletes graduating at a great rate, but they are receiving one of the best educations in the country. “Sun Tan U” is long gone.
While I have come to understand and even accept the national negativity aimed at the University of Miami, gross misconceptions like these are worth addressing and hopefully correcting. Miami has risen to become one of the best universities in the country all around while boasting top-flight medical and law schools for decades, among other great programs. One football scandal will do nothing to change that. While Nevin Shapiro’s poison runs its course through Miami’s system — make no mistake, once it runs its course the Hurricanes will be back — critics would be well served to find something else to aim at when trying to take cheap shots.