Auburn University's Sociology Problem

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The New York Times reports that since 2006 college football national champion contender Auburn University has dropped to number 85 from number 4 among major college football programs in a measurement (the "Academic Progress Rate") of players' progress towards graduation. The steep decline is apparently attributable to corrective action taken after the disclosure that football players had been graduating as sociology majors without taking any classroom courses in that field, relying instead on independent study.

Perhaps this placed too much emphasis on formal course work, calling to mind as it did a wonderful story related by David Halberstam in The Best and the Brightest. It seems that the Harvard Government Department recommended that future Kennedy and Johnson National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy, who was then a young faculty member, be granted tenure. Reviewing Bundy's credentials, university president James Conant (a chemist by training) was puzzled when he noticed that Bundy had never taken any graduate or undergraduate courses in Government. Assured that this was not a problem for the department, Conant approved the appointment, but said, "Well, it couldn't have happened in Chemistry."

I have no problem believing that it could in Sociology.

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Henry D. Fetter is the author of Taking on the Yankees: Winning and Losing in the Business of Baseball and has written widely about the business and politics of sports. More

Henry D. Fetter is the author of Taking on the Yankees: Winning and Losing in the Business of Baseball (WW Norton). He has written about the business and politics of sports, the American left, Jewish and Israeli history, and legal affairs for publications including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, the Times Literary Supplement, the Journal of Sport History, Israel Affairs, The Public Interest, American Communist History, The National Pastime, and the Encyclopedia of American Jewish History, and his work has appeared in several baseball history anthologies.

His article "Revising the Revisionists: Walter O' Malley, Robert Moses and the End of the Brooklyn Dodgers" was awarded the Kerr History Prize for the best article published in 2008 in the journal New York History; an earlier version of that article was presented at the Columbia University symposium "Robert Moses: New Perspectives on the Master Builder" (March 2007) and received a McFarland-SABR Baseball Research Award. He is the recipient of research grants from the Society for American Baseball Research and the Harry S. Truman Library Institute.

Fetter is a graduate of Harvard Law School and also holds degrees in history from Harvard College and the University of California, Berkeley. A native New Yorker, he attended his first major league baseball game at Brooklyn's Ebbets Field on Memorial Day 1955 and some years later followed the Dodgers to Los Angeles where he has practiced business and entertainment litigation for the past 30 years.

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