More than two-thirds of college presidents surveyed believe recent sports scandals have compromised the reputation of higher education as a whole, and just 13 percent think the presidents of big-time sports schools have control of their programs, a new survey finds.
The survey, of more than 1,000 campus chief executives by the online publication Inside Higher Ed, suggests widespread worry among presidents about problems in college athletics but inspires little confidence they will be able to do much about them.
Three-quarters agreed colleges and universities spend "way too much money" on athletics, but only 15 percent said too much is spent at their own institutions (at public doctoral universities, the category of most big-time sports schools, the figure was 36 percent).
One prominent college president told Inside Higher Ed the survey "confirms the need for major reforms but demonstrates why they are so unlikely to occur."
"As long as the attitude is, 'Things are awful except at my institution,' the status quo will, unfortunately, prevail," said William (Brit) Kirwan, president of the University System of Maryland and co-chair of the Knight Foundation Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics
Asked how they felt in observing recent sports-related scandals, barely half said they were confident such things could never happen on their own campus. Just under 30 percent said they believed NCAA reform proposals were likely to achieve success, and 25 percent said big-time college athletics couldn't be fixed without some type of government intervention.
An NCAA spokesman had no immediate comment.
Somewhat reassuring was that just 7 percent of presidents reported feeling outside pressure to "look the other way" in response to problems with college athletics. Two-thirds felt their boards of trustees would back them if forced to choose sides in a conflict between the president and athletic director or a top coach, including 83 percent of presidents at public doctoral universities.
The survey was released ahead of the annual meeting this weekend in Los Angeles of the American Council on Education, the leading national group for college presidents, and comes after an especially scandal-plagued year in college athletics. While the sex abuse scandal at Penn State attracted the most attention, schools ranging from Syracuse to Miami to the University of North Carolina saw their reputations besmirched by recruiting, academic and other scandals in their athletic departments.
Among other findings of the survey:
—Just under two-thirds of college presidents said they planned to vote for President Barack Obama in the November presidential election, though only 36 percent said he had "fulfilled the promise that many in higher education had for him four years ago." The proportion supporting the president was higher at traditional not-for-profit universities. At for-profit colleges, which have faced aggressive new regulatory measures from the Obama administration, just 29 percent said they planned to vote for Obama's re-election.
—Overall, just 10 percent felt the Republican presidential candidates have articulated a vision that will help higher education. But among respondents who lead for-profit colleges, the figure was 44 percent.
—Only 8 percent of presidents felt the federal government would offer solutions in the coming years to key problems facing higher education, but 84 percent expected more regulation from Washington. More than three-quarters predict significant cuts in federal funding for both research and student aid.