Studying Success

With the increasing emphasis on academic integrity in today's athletic departments, academic tutors can be the unsung heroes of your program. Here's a look at how the University of South Carolina gets the most out of these key players.

By Craig Curry

Craig Curry is an Assistant Athletics Director and Director of Compliance at the University of South Carolina. He has also worked in athletics administration at Albany State and the University of Michigan.

Athletic Management, 14.2, February/March 2002,

In any NCAA Division I athletic department, one area of constant concern and extreme vulnerability is academic support. If not monitored properly, the academic integrity of an entire institution can be put into question, not to mention the possibility of NCAA sanctions.

It would be naive to think that student-athletes never try to cheat academically, since 80 percent of high-achieving high school students admitted to having cheated at least once, and 50 percent said they did not believe cheating was necessarily wrong, according to an article in U.S. News & World Report. And a study done by the Center for Academic Integrity at Duke University found that 75 percent of college students confess to cheating at least once.

While academic fraud among non-student-athletes affects only the individual involved, the same behavior by student-athletes at NCAA institutions has severe ramifications. Such actions will not only cause student-athletes to lose their eligibility and scholarships, it can show a loss of institutional control.

At the heart of academic integrity, however, are people with none of this knowledge: athletic department tutors. Part-time workers who are often students themselves, tutors play a huge role in the athletic-academic equation. These people have the power to greatly boost a student-athlete's classroom success. But they also have the power to help athletes cheat.

In this article, I'll discuss how a solid hiring, orientation, and assessment program can ensure that tutors do not overstep their bounds. And, just as important, I'll delve into how you can help them excel at their important, but often overlooked, positions.

The people you hire determine the success or failure of an organization--any organization. Therefore, it's important to pay close attention to the hiring process for athletic department tutors. At South Carolina, we start by having two criteria in mind when hiring tutors:

1. They must have an intrinsic motivation to see students progress and learn. The incentive for tutors should not be getting free tickets or being seen by friends with student-athletes. They must be interested in the position for the right reason: the satisfaction of helping someone learn.

2. They must be mature enough to understand the stress that a student-athlete faces, and be able to help the athlete without getting too emotionally involved in any ups or downs the athlete experiences.

To find candidates with these qualities, we look mainly in the educational fields. Our best source is graduate students with teaching aspirations, preferably from the School of Education. Speaking with professors who teach graduate courses or passing out fliers in the department are good ways to recruit. Some students can fulfill certain teaching requirements through tutoring.

Undergraduate tutors should be hired only as a last resort. It is best to have a significant age gap between the student-athlete and the tutor, in hopes of avoiding "fans" who would be in awe of high-profile student-athletes.

We also look for candidates outside our campus. We'll post an open job announcement with teachers who work at local educational testing services or in the school systems. We've found that both new, young teachers and retired teachers are often interested in this type of work.

To apply for the job, candidates must complete an application form, be interviewed, and provide three references. We interview candidates face to face and ask open-ended questions to determine their reasons for wanting the job. We ask about their previous employment experiences, their aspirations, their teaching ideas, and how they might deal with certain situations. We also encourage them to ask us questions during the interview. Red flags are questions like, "Do I get free tickets to a game?" or "Can I work with the basketball team?"

If your tutors may associate with high-profile student-athletes, a thorough background check should also be mandatory. However, be sure to work with the school's human resource office to make sure you follow all fair hiring practices.

The difference in experience and subject familiarity will determine the position and salary each tutor will command. The subject matter makes some tutors specialists (such as physics or engineering), and some are generalists, who could tutor English, math, science, or history, depending on their degree.

Since the hiring of tutors is a constant process, at least one administrator should be able to conduct interviews, orient new tutors, explain the organization, and hire when needed at any time. In addition, a full-scale tutor training and orientation should take place at the start of every semester, with workshops scheduled periodically during the school year. These sessions should include the assistant athletics director for academic support, the learning specialist, a representative from the English department, academic advisors, the Life Skills coordinator, study hall monitors and proctors, interns, the faculty athletics representative, and the compliance officer.

A typical agenda could cover the following topics:

Introduction: Key staff members can be introduced and the department's mission can be talked about. For example, the faculty athletics representative can discuss the way the athletics department integrates the university's mission, and how the academic support program integrates this mission into its work.

Within this discussion, administrators can also explain the importance of the tutor's responsibilities. Even though tutors are part-time workers, they must know that their roles are critical. The tutors should also understand that they cannot feel sorry for the student-athletes because some are academically behind--that they must do their job without doing the work for the student.

Structure: Tutors should understand how the support program is structured and functions. They should understand the assessment and prescription process, how the office of disability services might be involved in the tutoring process, and how communication occurs. They should also be taught the roles of the academic advisors and learning specialists.

At South Carolina, assessments of student-athletes are shared with coaches, academic advisors, tutors, and the athlete. Tutors are then asked to keep logs of each tutoring session, which are reviewed daily by the student-athlete's academic advisor. Tutoring logs are filed and referred to periodically to form a profile and history of each student-athlete, and weekly meetings involving advisors, the program director, and the learning specialist are held. These exchanges also result in progress reports that are shared with coaches at least once a week.

Compliance: The compliance office should be on the agenda to cover NCAA rules and regulations. We go over rules about recruiting, what's considered an extra benefit, and eligibility. We also insist that tutors err on the side of caution: If they think something might not be in compliance with NCAA rules, they should stop and ask the compliance office.

Writing Help: The English department and writing lab director should explain to the tutors all departmental procedures on revisions, plagiarism, and use of the writing lab. At South Carolina, the writing lab insists that tutors do not mark up or revise any student papers. The lab staff wants to know the student-athlete's deficiencies and guide them through any revisions themselves. This ensures students get the best help in this important area of study--and it is an important safeguard against a tutor overstepping his or her bounds in helping an athlete revise a paper.

Relationships: It will be, of course, difficult for the tutor to not form some personal relationship with the student-athlete he or she is working with. However, we very carefully go over this rule: All tutoring should take place at locations where the participants may be easily monitored, such as the library, academic center, or computer lab. At no time should tutoring be done in a dorm room or the home of the tutor or student-athlete. If emergency situations occur, the tutor must call the supervisor or coordinator for approval to tutor outside the scheduled hours and verify an appropriate venue for the session to take place.

Confidentiality: Tutors must keep all information about the student-athlete completely confidential. If they feel the need to talk to someone about a certain problem, they should follow the proper channels for filing a complaint.

Complaints: It's very important to explain to tutors the protocol for lodging a complaint. The organizational chart is an appropriate exhibit at this time, as it helps clarify the complaint process. This process could start with the academic advisor, and if no satisfaction is achieved, move to the compliance office. If this action is still not satisfactory, the complaint may be reported to the faculty athletics representative, or the president's office.

What’s It Like?: An experienced tutor should present his or her personal experiences with the program. Some role-playing of what to expect on a typical night in study hall can also be helpful.

Other agenda items should include payroll paperwork, filling out time cards, and pay schedules, as well as dates and topics of mandatory tutor workshops, such as note-taking skills, how to integrate student-athletes' curriculum and study skills, learning styles, and identifying academic stumbling blocks.

Before Starting
After orientation, we ask tutors to do two things: take a test and sign a contract. At South Carolina, we use an exam to make sure each tutor understands the rules, and if the tutors do not obtain an 85 percent or better on the exam (they get two chances to pass), they will not tutor. (See Sidebar, "Testing the Tutors" at the end of this article.)

We also ask tutors to sign contracts that state the consequences for improper conduct. Behaviors such as academic fraud of any kind (typing, doing class assignments, or plagiarism), and gambling (including giving information regarding student-athletes who are injured) are specifically prohibited. We explain to them that sexual harassment will not only result in termination from the athletics department program, but will be met with the more severe penalty of dismissal from the university.

We also provide tutors with a 40-page handbook that further clarifies everything covered in the orientation. This includes NCAA rules, policies and procedures, expectations, academic integrity, how to prepare for tutoring, schedules and forms, and rules and regulations.

It's important to continually assess tutors' performance and watch for any improper conduct. At South Carolina, we always have at least one academic advisor monitor tutoring sessions. This person walks through the study hall, often listening in on the tutor-student interactions. He or she assesses whether the tutor is relating well to the student-athlete, if the tutor is explaining things well, if there is discussion between tutor and student, and if the student seems engaged and participating.

If the tutor appears deficient in any area, the academic advisor pulls him or her aside as soon as the session is over to provide some advice. If the tutor is not open to the advisor's suggestions, this would be a red flag that the tutor might not be working out, and we monitor him or her more closely.

If the tutor is doing a good job but the student-athlete is not responding, we encourage the tutor to continue what he or she is doing and we talk to the student-athlete individually. We will also get the athlete's coach involved, if needed.

It's also important to monitor the tutors for compliance. The things we must watch closely for include the student-athlete becoming dependent on the tutor and the tutor wanting to do too much because of the student-athlete's lack of preparation. We must also be alert to emotional swings based on what happened at practice or home (demotion from first team or an illness in the family, for instance), coaches having too much control over a tutor or advisor, and tutors developing into athletes' girlfriends.

At the end of the semester, we ask student-athletes to fill out a form that evaluates the tutors. The questions on the form are fairly general and concern the tutoring program as a whole ("Was your tutoring effective?" "What didn't you like about the tutoring sessions?"). But we also have a space where students can comment on the specific tutors who worked with them. We use the comments on the form primarily for feedback to the entire group of tutors. But we also look into any negative comments about specific tutors.

Goal of the Program
From the interview to the assessments of tutors, we always try to keep the goal of the athletic program in mind: the development of independent men and women who will contribute to society positively during and after their athletic careers. Too often, we have seen the student-athlete who has been catered to and coddled to the point of not knowing how to handle simple life-skill activities. Educating the whole person, academically, athletically, emotionally, spiritually, and socially--that is the goal that all tutors should understand and accept.

Tutor training and a department structure with clear lines of organizational reporting should prevent the launch of academic fraud. It will also help your student-athletes be the best they can be in all settings.

Testing the Tutors

The following test is given to all potential tutors at the University of South Carolina. They must receive an 85 percent or better score to be able to work with student-athletes.

1. It is permissible to give a current student-athlete a ride to class, the library, or study hall daily, especially if he/she does not have a car. True or False?

2. It is permissible to allow student-athletes to use my personal library for class research as long as I take the student-athlete from and return them to campus. True or False?

3. It is permissible to buy a student-athlete lunch or give them a birthday gift. True or False?

4. It is permissible to take a student-athlete as my guest to a country club or heath spa until the academic year is over. True or False?

5. It is permissible for a student-athlete to sell me their complimentary tickets if their parents live out-of-state and cannot make the game. True or False?

6. It is permissible for a student-athlete to use my washer or dryer when the institution's regular laundry facility is inaccessible. True or False?

7. It is permissible to allow a student-athlete to use my telephone or credit card for personal reasons without charge or at a reduced cost. True or False?

8. It is permissible for a student-athlete to receive services (movie tickets, dinner, etc.) without charge or at a reduced rate. True or False?

9. It is permissible for me to provide a student-athlete with free or reduced rate storage during the summer. True or False?

10. When a student-athlete is required to remain on campus during a vacation period for practice or competition, it is permissible to provide transportation to them. True or False?

11. It is permissible for an institution or its representative to post bond for a student-athlete. True or False?

12. It is permissible for a tutor to type papers, write papers, or complete projects for student-athletes. True or False?