Professors talk Orange Bowl

Jan. 3, 2011, 3:04 a.m.

Today in Miami, the Stanford football team will make its first appearance at a Bowl Championship Series game since 2000, drawing from across the country thousands of fans and a big academic question: should these students’ absences from the first two days of winter quarter be excused by the University?

After Stanford accepted an invitation to play in the Orange Bowl, Provost John Etchemendy Ph.D. ‘82 wrote an e-mail on Dec. 13 to all faculty asking them to “remain flexible” with students who miss classes for the Orange Bowl. His letter called the game “a tremendous accomplishment for the players and a source of pride and excitement for our students and alumni.” Naming Stanford’s football team as “exceptional in its success,” he requested that faculty accommodate all students who miss classes to “show the team the support they deserve.”

Professors talk Orange Bowl
(ANASTASIA YEE/The Stanford Daily)

Students earlier signed an online petition asking President John Hennessy to excuse students from school for the Orange Bowl, but Etchemendy said the petition had nothing to do with his letter; in fact, he said he wasn’t aware of the petition until after he sent out the message. He said that the e-mail was written to assuage fears of students missing classes for the game, to give professors a heads-up and to show the football team that the University was fully behind them.

The faculty response to Etchemendy’s letter remains, in general, positive. Professors have expressed confidence in students’ ability to take initiative and make up any work they may have missed.

“For this exceptional case, I don’t see any need [for official make-up policies] and cannot imagine it would be a problem,” English professor Michelle Elam wrote in an e-mail to The Daily. “Stanford students are so committed to their own education anyway, so my experience has been that they take responsibility.”

Furthermore, the fact that students often “shop” classes for the first week of the quarter means attendance is already sporadic.

“Practically, since the Orange Bowl occurs at the start of the winter quarter, there is no real impact,” computer science professor Stephen Cooper wrote in an e-mail to The Daily. “Students are adding and dropping classes during the first week of classes. Thus a student who misses, say, Monday and Wednesday due to being in Miami is in effectively the same position as a student who decides to add a particular class after missing the first two meetings of that class.”

Professors have also cited a desire to support student athletes and the diversity of experience that their accomplishment adds to the school.

“Stanford has achieved a wonderful balance between its main (academic) reason for existence, and athletics,” wrote applied physics professor Theodore Geballe in an e-mail to The Daily. “Being excellent in both is indeed very rare. This balance is well worth preserving for reasons that have been stated many times so I don’t have to repeat them.”

Cooper did raise his concern as to whether pardoning students attending the Orange Bowl shows an undeserved preference for football over Stanford’s 33 other varsity sports.

“School spirit is a good thing…[but] I’m not sure why school spirit applies more to one sport than another,” Cooper said.

Unlike many schools whose athletic success rests mostly on the record of its football team, Stanford’s program draws strength from consistent performance in a broad number of sports, evidenced by its 16 consecutive Directors’ Cups. Of Stanford’s 99 NCAA championships, one was for football; on the other hand, men’s and women’s tennis have together won 35.

“The women’s soccer team had an outstanding year, but the provost didn’t send out an e-mail asking professors to ‘go easy’ on students who were traveling to North Carolina to attend the championship,” Cooper said. “Likewise, there was no note pertaining to students going to Ohio for the women’s volleyball regional championship.”

Regardless of these concerns, students attending the Orange Bowl have, this time around, achieved an official “blessing.” And officials remain optimistic that the issue might rise again.

“I need to figure out what we’ll do next year when the team goes to the BCS Championship game,” Etchemendy said.

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