College Park's enormous steps


Standards: Making strides in academics, Maryland's flagship university sheds its dumb-jock image.

May 09, 2004|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

THE University of Texas, Austin was the model for "Enormous State University" in the Tank McNamara comic strip. But it could as well have been Maryland's flagship campus in College Park.

Not unlike ESU, the University of Maryland has million-dollar football and basketball coaches, a $39.4 million athletic budget and fans who embarrass their school by shouting obscenities at visiting basketball players. That has been the gist of the news out of College Park in the past two weeks.

And yet there is one other headline College Park officials would dearly love to read: "Terrapins in Top Ranks Academically." While its football and basketball teams have reached post-season play, the university has been quietly raising academic standards.

As many young Marylanders have discovered, it's harder to get into College Park and harder to graduate from it. A recently published review of university performance finds College Park among the nation's top 25 public research universities in six of nine categories. Only the school's relatively meager endowment keeps College Park out of the top 50 schools in all nine categories, which include research expenditures, SAT scores and the number of professors in major scientific academies.

In short, College Park has shed its mid-20th-century image as a school for dumb jocks. It's getting better in both A's: athletics and academics.

Is that possible? Can a quality research university also be a sports powerhouse? And is there a relationship between the two? As it happens, the same report that places College Park firmly in the top tier of public research universities thoughtfully answers these questions.

To the first: Yes, says the report from the Lombardi Program on Measuring University Performance. "Some of the nation's most productive academic research institutions also support exceptionally high-profile sports programs," the report says.

As for the second question, whether sports and academic excellence are related, the report is less positive. Of 160 schools that annually spend more than $20 million in federal research money, more than half do not support Division IA sports, the NCAA's top category. And only 11 of 41 top private research institutions have Division IA sports. "Clearly," says the report, "there is no necessary relationship between sports investment and research success."

The report is clear on one thing: If a university spends discretionary dollars on athletics, it can't spend them on student quality, faculty quality or research competitiveness. Therefore, sports programs have to pay for themselves.

Fortunately, College Park athletics have stayed out of the red for 10 years, and last year's sports budget included $1.6 million to help the campus survive state budget reductions. Most big-time university sports programs, however, aren't self-supporting, says the Lombardi report, named for John V. Lombardi, chancellor of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and former provost at the Johns Hopkins University. For example, Rice University in Houston announced last week that it's losing $10 million a year on sports.

So there's good news from Maryland's Enormous State University. Winning teams bring in more revenue and indirectly spawn winning academics.

Now if they could just cut down on the profanity ...

Ravens' Ray Lewis to receive college degree

Speaking of sports and academics, Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis will receive a college degree Saturday.

Lewis will graduate from the University of Maryland University College with a bachelor of science degree.

A UMUC spokeswoman said Lewis enrolled in the summer of 2001, concentrating on management studies, and has been on the dean's list since the spring 2002 semester. UMUC is Maryland's oldest and largest continuing education college.

A management studies degree requires the completion of 36 semester hours of course work, according to the UMUC catalog. Among other goals of the major is to help students "analyze information, solve problems and make decisions from a holistic, global perspective."

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