A quote I read in a recent issue of the News has stirred some ire within me, not so much because of the personal affront as because of the prospect that Yale is heading down the wrong path. The remark was attributed to President Levin not wanting “quite so many athletes,” as though student-athletes were some lower class of undergrads.
My view may be slanted since I was a student-athlete myself, but I think my jock brethren have made the world proud of Yale. Just from my football teammates alone, I count judges, doctors and corporate executives. And expanding my vista to the other teams (wrestling, soccer, crew, etc.) you can find many more leaders in public and private organizations. And why do we athletes go on to become leaders? Because we learn the value of teamwork firsthand through sports. Not to mention we’re usually the ones on the front lines dispelling prejudice, because we understand you cannot measure people by their sex, color, religion, or even college affiliation in lieu of their actions. Personally, I feel Yale, and the world, could use a few more student-athletes who become trained in group dynamics, problem solving, personal sacrifice for the overall good, and a host of other positive traits put to use for God and Country.
It appears that Rick Levin has bought into the “Game of Life” philosophy, published by Bowen of Princeton, that the elite universities would do better to reduce the admittance of athletes, since that would obviously provide more openings for future Nobel Prize winners. So what’s next? Will they make the same argument for other “non-academic” pursuits — like music and drama? No one is going to win a Nobel Prize in a cappella. Perhaps we should turn Sprague Hall into a science lab. Maybe it doesn’t stop there, and the momentum for elitism starts to chip away at the fringes of academia itself. Shall we ask Bowen what should be the serious, professional pursuits at Yale?
My point is I don’t think we should be going down this path. My understanding of Yale, from the day I was recruited for admission through my 30-plus years as an ASC volunteer, has always been that the whole of the student is to be developed, with excellence achieved in as many facets as possible. Yale can fill its classrooms tenfold with straight-A high school students. But Yale is about getting a group of diverse people with multiple talents and challenging them to achieve even more. That’s what separated the Ivy League from other fine schools like MIT — we could go head-to-head with them in the classroom and on the field or stage.
And by the way, athletes can be good both in the classroom and on the field. I am proud to this day when I tell people that four of my teammates a year ahead of me were drafted into the NFL, but one of them didn’t play because he went to Harvard Law School instead. The Ivies and Stanford were always a beacon for all colleges, showing that athletes can and should do well in academics, too. That’s a pretty compelling example when you tell someone Yale’s star tailback almost missed The Game because he was first attending his Rhodes Scholarship interview. It took time, but the NCAA is coming around to our way of thinking. Let’s continue to be leaders. That’s our Lux.
Finally, I think this discussion should be expanded beyond the question of what is the right balance among the various affinity groups. We can ease that burden simply by contributing to the building of the two new residential colleges so we can let more great candidates into Yale — more athletes, actors, entrepreneurs and community leaders. The statistic the administration should be focusing on is the one showing Princeton and Dartmouth with a significantly higher level of alumni fund participation. Why do their alums have greater allegiance? Maybe an elitist attitude has too many of our students feeling like “you people.” It is obvious to me that more needs to be done to make all Yalies feel included, working not only for God and Country, but also for Yale.
Charlie Zupsic is a 1976 graduate of Timothy Dwight College .