Report due this week from Cal’s Task Force on Academics and Athletics

Nine months after coming together to address poor classroom performance and graduation rates by the football and men’s basketball teams, Cal’s Task Force on Academics and Athletics has submitted a working draft of its report to Chancellor Nicholas Dirks.

Michael Williams, Cal’s interim athletic director and a member of the 18-person task force, confirmed that Dirks was spending his weekend reviewing the recommendations and that a final version of the report should be made public this week.

Williams said he isn’t sure which recommendations Dirks will accept, but said the report is more of a “strategic document” than a study of the recent past.

“It’s much more about where will we be 10 years from now than where we’ve been,” he said.

The panel’s theme focuses on “reintegrating student-athletes to the campus, making sure we have a more inclusive culture with the faculty and undergrads who are not student-athletes,” Williams said.

The task force, headed by anthropology professor and Cal grad Meg Conkey, included faculty, staff, alums and current students and came together after Cal’s football Academic Progress Rate scores in September 2013 ranked last in the Pac-12 and fifth-worst among schools from the five power conferences.

The football program’s 2013 graduation success rate, for students who entered school in the fall of 2006, was just 44 percent.

Dirks asked his task force for “bold” solutions, and Williams said the group devoted “literally thousands” of hours to exploring the issues. They spoke with campus CEOs, athletic directors and admissions officers at other universities, as well as staff, faculty and both current and past students at Cal.

“We focused on campus climate, what it means to be an undergraduate in the 21st century,” Williams said. “We tried to look at things in a thoughtful way for the betterment of our student-athletes.”


Athletics: Lt. Governor Newsom wants next Cal AD to be contractually accountable to academic improvement

California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom has turned up the heat on Cal’s search for its next athletic director.

Newsom, a member of the UC Regents, wrote a letter to University of California president Janet Napolitano reminding everyone of recent poor graduation rates by Cal athletes in football and basketball.

Newsom argued that academic improvement should be a mandate included in the contract of the university’s next AD, with the failure to do so grounds for termination.

Here is an excerpt of his letter:

“The resignation of the UC Berkeley athletic director Sandy Barbour triggered a nationwide search for her replacement; this gives the search committee the opportunity to prioritize academics. The next director must put academics first and be held accountable through direct financial and contractual obligations.

“The athletic director’s contract should stipulate aggressive benchmarks for improvement in graduation and academic progress rates or face termination, period. We cannot skirt around the edges of the problem. If our goal as a university is to educate, then we should make it a contractual priority. I propose we start with the UC Berkeley athletic director, but this is only a beginning. It is my hope that we make this the new standard for every athletic program.”


Athletics: Williams calls interim AD a `dream job’

During his days as a student at Cal, Michael Williams considered it a special coup that he knew someone with keys to old Harmon Gym, allowing him and his friends to play late-night pickup basketball.

As interim athletic director at Cal, Williams, 53, is now that guy.

“When I went up to Memorial Stadium and I had a pass that opened the football offices, it was unbelievable,” Williams said Wednesday during his first media interview since being given the keys to operate Cal’s entire athletic department.

“There are elements of this that are just a dream job,” said Williams, a former Cal wrestler now retired from a successful career in investment management. “When you think about it as a fan, I get to talk to all the coaches whenever I want. And I get to interact with the student-athletes.”

A resident of Lafayette, married with three children, Williams officially began his job Wednesday as interim replacement for Sandy Barbour, moved to a different position on campus by Chancellor Nicholas Dirks.

But Williams actually has been at work for about three weeks now, not counting volunteer assignments that include serving as a trustee for the U.C. Berkeley Foundation, working on the chancellor’s Task Force for Academic and Athletics and on the search committee for a new provost.

Dirks said Williams was the only person he asked to take this assignment, which could last close to a year. “He’s somebody for whom it was a natural,” said Dirks, explaining that he will rely on Williams’ input as he conducts the search for Cal’s next permanent athletic director.

Continue Reading


APR report: Bears make progress on some fronts, but plenty of room for improvement

The Bears made progress in football and women’s basketball but took a step back in men’s basketball, according to Academic Progress Rate scores released by the NCAA on Wednesday. 

The football program’s score, originally released on May 5, improved from 935 to 938, thanks to a 2012-13 mark of 969. The Bears’ APR still ranks just 11th in the Pac-12.

The men’s basketball team dipped from 955 last year to 939 because a perfect 1,000 single-year score from 2008-09 was pushed out of the equation for a 938 mark in 2012-13.

The Cal women’s team improved from 941 last year to 954, but still ranks just 11th in the conference.

APR scores are a four-year average that measure academic eligibility and retention or graduation. The APR is different than the the NCAA’s Graduation Success Rate, which strictly charts graduation figures.

The latest figures cover the four-year period ending with the 2012-13 academic year.

Continue Reading