Tag Archives: Robin Hughes

Slam-Dunking Sports Myths: Thoughts from a “dumb jock” professor

By Robin Hughes

newlastword-robin_hughesAs a professor, one of my major jobs is to choose or follow something called a research agenda. Once chosen, we devote lots of time learning about that particular area, becoming somewhat of an expert and parlaying the information back to larger audiences (in theory, although some of us, quite frankly, do not). I study people, students-athletes in particular. They are a fairly easy population of folks to study, since athletes make up a large portion of the student population on most campuses — specifically Division II and Division III schools. In fact, I would assume that many of my colleagues in the behavioral sciences, education and the like would have similar interest and focus. Au contraire, mon frère.

I am often asked, why study student-athletes and who really cares? My knee-jerk reaction is to play the academic dozen. After all, I grew up in Stop Six, Texas, and many of us could take on the winner of that television show, “Yo’ Momma.” Somehow, however, I have been able to contain myself. Instead, I offer my standard intellectual answer, if I must call it that, “Why do we care about how any student experiences college?” While I am quick to speak up to such nonsense, I often wonder why this question tends to arise when I teach my class focused on student athletes, and never seems to take place when I mention that I teach a course on student developmental theory. The focus of both courses is on the student! I would venture to say, I am a real scholar dependent upon the title of the course. When I mention the word athlete, I become a dumb jock professor. I become what Dr. James Satterfield and I termed “Athletisized” or legendary creations of the institution, complete with the suburban myths. For athletes, unlike other student groups who participate in outside activities, say, like a musician or an actor, these myths tend to besmirch their character. Like all myths, however, there is some truth, but there is also whole lot of untruth.

Myth one – They do not graduate

One of the most troubling myths is this notion that student-athletes do not graduate, and their graduation rates are just too low. OK, well, the graduation rates are low. However, let’s be clear; they are not the only folks who are not graduating. When we really tease through the statistics about graduation rates, we find out that on many campuses, student-athletes not only graduate in general, but they are more likely to do so at a higher rate than or at least at close to that of all students.

Before the tomatoes are thrown, let me explain. There are other factors, which quite frankly, are typically not considered. Traditionally, we do not consider who is compared to whom. For instance, the graduation rates tend to be reported as a single data point for all groups. Those who participate in revenue-generating sports, like basketball and football in most states, and those who do not are lumped together. Single participant sports (like golf or tennis) make a big difference when calculating the overall graduation rates (another story – and quite interesting). In addition, when reports do disaggregate the data by sports, they tend not to sort by race. Can you recall having seen a report that compares the graduation rates for Black males who do not participate in athletics to the graduation rates of Black males who play revenue-generating sports. If you did, you might be surprised. In other words, the statistics can tell a thicker story. In the case of Black males who do not participate in sports, the data tell us that unwelcoming campus environments have something to do with whether a student stays in school. We (yes, us folks in the ivory tower) also fail to mention that the campus climate tends to be warm and sunny over in the athletic department. This leads me to the question: just what are they doing in athletics that we need to replicate on the rest of college campuses?

Myth Two- they are not so bright: The dumb jock

Athletes are supposedly less intelligent than other students. We hear; “they are only here to play ball.” They are just dumb jocks. They do not study, and they have lower “test scores.” Sadly, some folks still believe that standardized scores are the ultimate academic predictor and crystal ball of knowledge.

Never mind that research supports the fact that there are not only 7 or 8, but multiple intelligences. There is something called Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence — or the ability to use one’s mental abilities to coordinate one’s own bodily movements. There is also significant research that suggest that athletes have fined-tuned spatial awareness. Their brains are better wired spatially than the average person — similar to that of mathematicians. Again, Satterfield and I have argued that not only does the research support an athletic intelligence, but we also argue that elite athletes clearly must possess some mental and physical calculator. Otherwise, as Dr. Michael E. Dyson has suggested, how would elite athletes be able to effectively create the illusion of defying the laws of gravity by hanging in air? Borrowing from Dyson, if one is mesmerized by the musical genius of a Itzhak Perlman, and Wynton Marsalis, they too should be equally mesmerized by Michael Jordan’s ability to appear to hang in the air and sip a cup tea.

Myth three – it’s just not in the odds

Typically we hear that athletes should be cautious about pursuing professional athletic careers. The likelihood to land a position in professional sports from Division I sports is about 1 percent. This figure is supposed to serve as a deterrent. However, I would have to say that I like those odds, especially if I were thinking about playing the lottery. I would suggest that we just need to find another statistic to report. Better yet, why not report the odds of most hard to secure jobs out there? For instance, post the number of Black CEOs of Fortune 500 companies or the odds of anyone who has an interest in becoming the president, or the odds of becoming an astronaut or an actor. Could you imagine, posting the odds of the many seemingly impossible careers and feats out there? Should we tell folks to give up that idea of president — it’s just not in the odds. So you want to become a brain surgeon? Well, it’s not in the odds. We could kill all kinds of dreams in one fatal swoop. I must say, I am elated that we do not post those statistics, and I hope we never do. Lastly, I would hope that we never post the number of Black professors who teach at institutions like mine. That figure is about 1 percent — one in one hundred — about the same odds to make it to the NBA from Division I ball. Hey, perhaps that’s why my students often ask me whether I ever played ball — the odds seem to be about the same.

Dr. Robin L. Hughes teaches courses in Higher Education Student Affairs in the school of education at Indiana University, Indianapolis.


Ain’t I A Professor?

Ain’t I a professor?
Living an Authentic Academic Life as a Black Intellectual

By Robin Hughes

newlastword-robin_hughesIn the last couple of months, I have mulled over an audience participant’s comment, which occurred during a national conference. To put it mildly, it has been quite bothersome. The comment/question was directed towards me. I took it as what seemed to be a passive aggressive assault on a paper that I had presented. During that presentation, I noted that it was a waste of time engaging in what some professors refer to as “playing the game”. I went on to state that other colloquialisms need to be reconceptualized as well. I stated that as scholars, we should not play games. We should care less, instead of being careful. We should consider tipping the boat over, instead of not rocking the boat, and that we should blow up the bridge instead of not burning any. My point being that these colloquialisms have influenced academic life, research, writing, and service to such an extent that it continues to mimic and perpetuate the same “mainstream and meaningless” jargon with little variation or voice from marginalized or underrepresented individuals. The audience member went on to state that he really wanted to learn about what he should be doing to keep his job. He asked what he should be doing in his present job. “ I want my job,” he lamented, in an almost sing-songy sort of voice. He laughed as if he had some great secret that he wanted to share with the rest of the peons. “He, he, he, I just want to get along…and plus, you cannot possibly be taken seriously or make it without some game playing.” In other words, ‘you gotta do what you gotta do in order to fit in.’ I took it to mean, ‘if you must publish in certain in places, then so be it. If you must write in a certain way, then so be it. Shut up until spoken to, otherwise your word is just mud.’ I play that day over and over again.

I had to ask myself, do I play games as a professor, and if I do, what do they look like? I have come to the conclusion, for now anyway, I guess in a sense some political maneuvering might be necessary—I think. However, I still refuse to endorse the boot licker, which he, the inquirer, clearly wanted me to support. So, following several months of mulling, I must conclude that playing the game, as he described, is still an indignant game. Now, instead I ask, why should I or anyone for that matter have to play games? Now, I am not saying that there are not certain things that you must do while a professor, but my contract, and interpretation of the promotion and tenure document, which I have now read several times, still does not list boot-licking as a criteria for personal and academic growth. I ask, ain’t I a professor? Ain’t we professors?

Now there are certain things that are expected of a faculty member in order to live in an academic space. However, I also know that one can live in an academic place and maintain one’s integrity. I would argue that the real question becomes somewhat close to the very question with regards to women that Sojourner Truth asked. I ponder, ain’t I a professor, and what does being a professor mean? In order to live in an academic place must your life be predicated by others who dictate exactly what you should be doing, writing, saying, thinking, publishing, teaching? I cannot help but refer to chapters one and four of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and think that this very notion sounds vaguely and grotesquely reminiscent of Freiere’s philosophies—a little Pedagogy of the Oppress’ish to me. However, many of us are inclined to follow those perceived rules of engagement. We make like Nike, and just do it. I would argue again that we do “it” because it is too risky to do otherwise. We all fear being pulled over for thinking, engaging and just plain old writing while black?

Think about requirements for tenure? Be prepared for folks to tell you exactly where you should write, submit to tier one journals only, and how you should write, use certain theoretical frames and write in a jargony fashion and you will be assured of tenure. I wake up some early mornings from the same frightmare that goes something like this: A full professor in sunglasses, driving a 1960’s model car with flashing red lights, pulls me over and says, “Keep your hands on the wheel and let me see your license to profess.” He hands me a citation. I am quickly reminded that I better keep to the rules of the academic police lest I getpulled over for writing while Black (WWB).

A student actually informed me that she was told to write stuffy in order to get published in certain journals and wanted me to help edit to make the piece stuffier. I cringed. I also said, no. I asked her what she meant by stuffy. You know, she replied, scholarly. I imagine that stuffiness to sound a little like Professor Henry Higgins forcing Eliza Doolittle to talk like civilized “folks” in the 1950’s scene from My Fair Lady. The result now, however, is even more comical and utterly ridiculous in many instances. Stuffiness might sound like, if you could imagine, a new-aged Cruella Deville, the dog napper from the Disney movie, a fiendish and “stuffy” accent coached by Professor Henry Higgens. Followed by of chorus, a long song and dance number to the tune of “The Rain in Spain” lies mainly in the plain, yadda, yadda, yadda……. I can’t help but ask, what is the purpose of higher education? I am under the assumption that at its crux is that of affecting change. However, some of our very students, the ones with whom we are to train, think that one purpose is to serve as a repository for garbally, gookish, gunky educational crud? I suddenly hear the annyoing voice of Steve Urkel, did we, faculty, do that? When in fact we know that the purpose of higher education, and education in general, is supposed to be much more. Admittedly, I, too, must be brought back to earth after seeing one’s name in lights (a hit on a CV). That is really not the goal. I often seek refuge in the writings of other scholars, those who assist me in the sanity and humanity of it all. One such scholar, Cornel West, writes:

“The academic system of rewards and status prestige and influence, put a premium on those few black scholars who imitate the dominant paradigm . And if one is fortunate enough to be a spook who sits by the door, eavesdrops on the conversation among the prominent and prestigious, and reproduces their jargon in relation to black subject matter, one’s academic career is set.”

It is clear from West’s writings as well, that assimilationist intellectualism and garbally, gookish gunk are not the intention of living an academic life. Much like W.E.B. Dubois advances with the idea of the talented tenth and the double conscious, he presents educators with the very real concept of living an authentic intellectual life. We, academicians, have just seemed to get it all confused. We get authentic scholarship and intellectualism sort of confused with reproducing the status quo, intellectual work which typically does not push the envelope and only scratches the surface of bigger social problems. Some how, the notion of living with a double-conscious and the talented tenth have become associated with Black bourgeois’ preoccupation with mainstream run of the mill, academic, good old folks network affirmation. This affirmation makes us too hungry for status to be angry (Cornell West) or to be cognizant that we have not only sold out to black heritage, but just sold to getting ours—whatever the ours maybe—White male affirmation so it seems. This affirmation clouds our thinking, and ability to live an authentic academic life.

W.E.B. Dubois’ philosophy of the talented tenth spoke to notions of exceptional people who would help to uplift Black America. He talked about folks like Ben Banneker, Phyllis Wheatley, and Sojourner Truth; men and women who strove to uplift their people. Somewhere along the line, however, many of us misinterpreted Dubois intention. A man who spent his last few years out of the public eye and in exile for his strong views, he was not talking about assimilating one tenth of the population of Black folks so that they could drive a Black man’s wish (BMW), wear tweed jackets, and walk the “forever fall campus” (a term by Diana Natalicio, president of University of Texas El Paso). His intentions were well spelled out, keeping strong ties to Black culture, performing service to Black communities, and working to uplift Black folks. In the talented tenth, he described living an authentic life as an American—yet remaining authentically Black and American in a racist world, and how those two things play out or if they can play out.

I still ask myself, can there be a happy marriage between the two—in the academy. I think so. But how does this happy marriage play out in the academy? How does one remain authentic, writing and professing while black? Can you live in certain spaces comfortably and remain authentic?

Yes, and I would argue that it begins the minute that future academicians set foot on the door step of the ivory tower–during the interview. I tell folks that you better know what you are saying yes to, before you sign on the dotted line. Because once you have made your promise to do and be a certain type of person, then that is who folks expect to see in the office come Monday morning. You cannot be Angela Davis in the morning and fill-in-the-blank, right-winged, identity-confused Black scholar in the evening. You have to know which face you are going to wash every morning, and living a double, assimilationist life might become a little confusing. Besides, once you have gone pseudo-Black, it’s hard to go back. But, my dear audience member would more than likely ask me, how many folks do you know who have been successful at not playing the game? I can name a few—a lot.

There are many scholars in the field who remain authentic, and have enjoyed fruitful careers. Think about the folks with whom you know and respect in the field. Think about what they write about, and ask what got them there. What got them through? What are they doing? Who respects their scholarship? Who respects them? There are a host of usual suspects who write from a critical framework, an Afrocentric framework who have been able to live an authentic academic life. Although I am quick to name full professors and associate professors, those who we consider to be pretty well-protected; there are others. There are junior professors whom we respect for “getting there” as their authentic selves, for daring to take a stance, to ruffle some feathers. There has been an influx of newly minted assistant professors, who at the time of writing of this article, convened several edgy presentations, and who dare to introduce Critical Race Theory to conference audiences, and traditional publishing houses, and to those who may never have the opportunity to indulge in such experiences (or who have ignored the writings and thus the experience). There has been a critical appearance of junior professors to the academy, who are speaking up about how they should write, to what audience, unique theoretical frames, teaching styles, content and authenticity and where they live academically. This is the talented tenth to which DuBois spoke. The talented tenth, who at times appears to be the talented 99% (actually I think everyone is talented—not all authentic though), is beginning to walk through the doors of the ivory tower, letting everyone know not only where they will publish, and to whom, but how they will teach and what. And , most importantly, how and where they will live in this academic space and the importance of an intellectual life and authenticity.

Dr. Robin L. Hughes teaches courses in Higher Education Student Affairs in the school of education at Indiana University, Indianapolis.

Predicting Academic Success Using Shoe Size: Affirming the Action in College Admissions

By Robin Lee Hughes

newlastword-robin_hughesMany higher educational institutions no longer rely exclusively on standardized tests as a primary indicator of future academic success. However, the courts continue to be bombarded by numerous allegations of rampant reverse discrimination, and public outrage that stems from students’ performances on standardized tests. In light of the insurmountable testimony from students and subsequently courts that profess that such policies undercut the university’s traditional colorblind, equal opportunity approach to admissions, educational affirmative action policies have come under considerable attack. And that approach, inevitably entails the overwhelming use of standardized scores as an indicator of subsequent success and admission.

Meanwhile, there has been no significant testimony to prove that the ATs (SAT, MCAT, LSAT) and GREs accurately predict academic success. In other words, a 1400 on the SAT still does not assure us of a rocket scientist. William Bowen and Derek Bok, in “The Shape of the River,” and researchers from the social, political and other sciences have unequivocally shown that exclusive use of standardized test scores are poor predictors of school success. In fact, academicians routinely disagree on the predictive nature of the SATs—the end result, multiple interpretations and somewhat murky conclusions and possibilities. Many believe that the SAT under-predicts the potential collegiate scholastic achievement for African-Americans and others, although few present supportive evidence to the contrary. In contrast, SATs are thought to be better predictors for Anglo academic achievement, and then, they still remain elusive in their predictive capabilities. Noted critic of affirmative action, Roger Clegg, in many of his articles appearing in The Chronicle of Higher Education, claims that the ATs are valid cognitive test for everyone. On the other hand, Critical Theorists such as Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic in “Critical Race Theory” argue that, in fact, they provide little predictive value at all.

These conclusions should neither be considered good nor bad — just research that supports either argument. But, most importantly, all of the arguments support the fact that exclusive use of the ATs may be poor predictors of academic achievement—for everyone. Moreover, these seemingly complex admissions computations (which are not really that complex, they are typically basic mathematical manipulations of GPA, class rank, and test scores that assume students are disconnected variables, and only describe tangible variables –like grades) force us to be believe that intellect can be easily measured and predicted—or so one would be led to believe.

It could be argued that academic predictions and predictors may glean something relevant from the physicists. They know all too well how difficult it is to predict an event (Egon Guba and Yvonna Lincoln used this same argument years ago. See Naturalistic Inquiry, 1985). When Newtonian physics didn’t quite cut it, Schrödinger used something called quantum mechanics to calculate the probability of finding ONE electron in an atomic orbital. In fact, those equations require Hamiltonian operators to explain just where an electron is located at any given time. In fact, many physicists use supercomputers to do the calculations, and they still call it an estimate of where that ONE electron is located.

In fact, it is quite evident that, one should require more than algebra to describe human interaction, psychology, physiology, sociology and a host of other ologies. Especially, since none of us can seem to even predict something as simple as what college kids will wear to class from year to year. I would contend that these “prediction” equations would have some use, if you could supply… oh, about 1600 (1 for each of the AT points) variables to describe the complexity of each student—perhaps, and we would certainly need a supercomputer to derive the computation. For instance, a traumatic event, listening to music , walking early, playing some musical instrument, and parental education could all be weighted and assigned some human function (like the wave functions in quantum mechanics); or, perhaps we could consider shoe size. I would argue shoe size may be most cost effective. Accordingly, institutions of higher education may require a foot imprint on the application for the sake of authenticity. It would be much simpler. Ludicrous, perhaps, but do remember many current equations attempt to predict academic success by mathematically manipulating a few variables with a heavy emphasis on the power of a standardized score in an algebraic equation (not a differential equation, which would be more accurate given the assumption that one can predict the future).

The question then becomes, why is there an emphasis on prediction equations ? I have two hypotheses: First, there is the growing rhetoric and continuing assumption that standardized tests constitute an egalitarian system of selection (an oxymoron in and of itself) of students to higher education. However, they are routinely used throughout students’ educational careers to sort and select, i.e. by tracking, thusly perpetuating a system of inequality as early as kindergarten, and often times well before. Secondly, because, quite frankly, it’s efficient and cost effective. I submit as an example, if university X receives 16,000 applications for 7,300 freshmen spots, and the university has less than 10 admissions readers, it’s just easier to ‘chuck’ the applications with low test scores or test-GPA combinations (the algebraic equation).

So what should institutions of higher education do? What should we be doing? Many people, including myself would like to see a portfolio and interview process put forth into policy and action. Schools like Sara Lawrence College dropped the SAT altogether. Sara Lawrence College administrators describe studying for the SAT as an unhealthy obsession in an already stressful time. So instead, people who are interested in attending Sara Lawrence are expected to show academic success as reflected by course rigor and grades, teacher recommendations, and their ability to write.

Critics of this system argue that it is time consuming, and expensive to thoughtfully read and critically analyze this sort of thick descriptive data. But, is this not one of the main reasons why many choose a profession in higher education—research, rigor? Unfortunately, still others argue that it is a waste of time to interview potential candidates or look at portfolio information when we have bills to pay and no time to waste? Plus, we already have that prediction equation. Simply put, it makes good institutional economical sense to use numeric descriptors— that prediction equation. And, quite frankly many people honestly believe that they are some type of academic crystal ball that accurately predicts who will succeed and who will not. So, for now, I guess higher education will continue with this sort of skewed psychic hotline approach to admissions, where shoe size might one day become a variable for predicting academic success.

Dr. Robin L. Hughes teaches courses in Higher Education Student Affairs in the school of education at Indiana University, Indianapolis.