Admissions Dean Describes Vetting Process for Recruited Athletes

Last month’s indictments in a scandal involving prospective students building fake athletic resumes to gain admission to prestigious higher education institutions didn’t mention Duke, but left many on campus wanting to know: Could it happen here?

Speaking at the Academic Council Thursday, Undergraduate Admissions Dean Christoph Guttentag said vetting policies are in place to ensure that athletic admissions are legitimate.  But he cautioned that the system is based on a level of trust, “and there is always the ability to abuse trust.”

“The relationships I have with people in athletics makes me feel comfortable that people are doing the right things in the right way,” Guttentag told faculty members.  “At the same time, I’m not unaware that our peer institutions might have felt comfortable saying the same thing only to find out that was not the case.

“However, as of yet, there is no evidence yet that anyone has been compromised.”

Vetting happens at every step of the recruiting process, he added, starting when a coach provides admissions with a list of prospective students, and upon reception of the student’s application. There are four admissions officers with specific responsibilities for athletic teams. Guttentag himself is responsible for football and men’s and women’s basketball.

Guttentag said the admissions officials are in regular communication with coaches and other athletics officials and follow up with the teams after enrollment.  The office has done audits to ensure admitted students are connected to the teams that recruited them, and to date there have been no red flags, he added.

“There have been a few times where we see a name not showing up on roster, but in each instance, we have done due diligence and there is a legitimate reason why they weren’t on the list,” Guttentag said.

His presentation followed Athletic Council Chair Linda Franzoni answering questions about athletic concussions and injuries. The council is a panel of faculty, administrators, students, alumni and trustees who monitor athletic programs to ensure they meet academic and legal standards and serve to benefit students and the university alike.

Franzoni, professor of mechanical engineering and materials sciences, said the committee has discussed concussions regularly over the past five years and that Duke was an ACC leader in drafting concussion protocols. Baseline cognition testing is done for all varsity athletes, as well as for students playing in the 21 “impact” club sports (out of 34 total club sports).

“Concussion risk is actually lower than has ever been because of several factors including rule and equipment changes, baseline testing, coach and athlete education and our diagnosis and management protocols,” Franzoni said. And students are educating themselves about the dangers and acting on them, she added.  The physician for club sports told Franzoni that one result of a focus on coach and athlete education is more students are coming in to be evaluated than previously.

On another question, Franzoni told faculty that students have opportunities to report harassment or mistreatment in a confidential manner through several different channels, including regular university committees and a specific grievance procedure for student-athlete concerns. Many also raise issues through more informal channels, including exit interviews – in which members of the Athletic Council may be involved – and discussions with athletic coordinators and other senior athletic administrators.

In other business, the council received reports from the Academic Programs, the University Priorities and Global Priorities committees.

The council also took the first step toward re-electing Thomas Metzloff as university ombudsman at its May 9 meeting.  The ombudsman’s role is to guide faculty through the university’s conflict resolution practices in case of a dispute.

However, the volume of cases has increased and with agreement of President Vincent Price, a second ombudsman role will be created specifically to work on cases involving School of Medicine faculty. Academic Council chair Don Taylor said faculty and administrators are now looking for a candidate for the second position.