Etchemendy Excerpts

We recently had the pleasure of sitting down for an exclusive and extensive interview with Stanford Provost John Etchemendy. The full transcript of the one hour and 40 minutes is forthcoming in The Bootleg Magazine. Here are a few of Etchemendy's offerings, prior to our print publication in your mailbox. Topics include Bob Bowlsby, football, data from 20 years of athletics admissions and more.

"Anytime you do a search, you have to look at the organization and see not only what is necessary in general for the role, but also the state of the organization right now.  You have to ask yourself whether there are any characteristics you look for in a leader that are more important at this point in time.  The first month or month and a half of the search committee's work was spent looking at the Department.  Inviting people from within the Department and inviting alumni.  Talking to athletes and talking to coaches. Getting as much input as we could about not just candidates or potential candidates but even more so about the state of the Department.  We met with the Dean of Admissions, for example.  We met with representatives of every group that we thought could provide a valuable perspective to hear.  We do think that the Department in some ways is very, very strong and remains the best Athletic Department in the country.  But in other ways we have worries.  We have concerns, both on the budgetary side and obviously the concern about the football program.  That's an extremely important piece of the athletic program."

"I also had a group that took a look at the budget and did an analysis of the budget for the benefit of the incoming Athletic Director and existing Associate Athletic Directors as well as for me.  One of the things that group said as an option – not as a recommendation but as an option – was scaling back on the number of sports.  My reaction is that before I would do that, I would rather have the University explicitly subsidize the Department.  You can argue about whether there are implicit subsidies or not, and in a university it is always unclear how funds flow.  But I would much rather explicitly put in a line item to support some of those sports."

"We have some problems Bob [Bowlsby] and I have to solve to make it possible to have more continuity in the coaching staff.  I'm talking particularly about the assistant coaches.  We're working on ways to guarantee that we don't lose five assistant coaches.  You can't run a program with that kind of turnover.  And that's not Walt [Harris]'s fault.  If it's anyone's fault, it's the high cost of living in this area.  Now we have to find a way to address that and make it possible for young coaches to come here and justify not just to themselves but also justify to their families that this is a good place, a good job and a decent way to live."

"I have all sorts of different emotions when I see the team struggling, and struggling so seriously as it has been in a few games this year.  What do I feel?  I feel frustration.  I feel for the kids.  I feel for the students.  When you play on a team and it's overall not working, that can be frustrating for every individual.  But that frustration does not necessarily translate into making it work.  That's where the coaching is really essential.  I feel for the team.  I feel for Walt and the coaches.  Does that lead me to additional concern or convince me that something needs to be done?  Well, obviously.  I would be pretty stupid if didn't look at it and say, "Something is not working this year and we need to look at it and address it."  That again is something that Walt and Bob are very capable of doing and I expect them to do.  I feel what you feel."

"We certainly get more feedback about the football program than we did immediately after going to the Rose Bowl, but it varies.  We got an awful lot of feedback when Buddy Teevens was struggling.  That died down a bit, but people are becoming concerned again.  I think in Walt and Bob we have a great team that now will be able to build a great program.  We have work to do, though."

"One thing that a lot of the coaches believe, and it may come from the fans as well, is that we have – they think – a fixed number of athlete admissions we allow each year.  A fixed proportion of the class.  That hasn't changed, yet we have added sports.  The number of athletes we are admitting is the same, but we have more sports so there is additional pressure on all of the sports to get their recruits admitted.  It turns out that is completely wrong.  I have the data.  20 years ago we were admitting 119 recruited student-athletes.  This past year we were admitting 181.  It's gone from 7.6% of the class to about 11% of the class.  Even if you cut and just look at the old sports that we had back then – some of this is from new sports – we went from 119 to 153."

"On the other side, it is true that average SATs have gone up.  It's harder getting into Stanford in general.  The average SAT has gone up for students as a whole, and it's gone up also for athletes.  The change has not been as big as people tend to think.  I get emails from fans who pay a lot of attention.  They quote me numbers and changes in SAT levels that just aren't supported by the actual data.  I can't explain that and don't know where they are getting data that doesn't agree.  The fact is that among athlete admits, from 20 years ago to this past year, the average SAT has gone up by 54 points.  The non-athlete admits, all the rest of the students, have gone up 41 points.  There is a non-significant difference in that increase.  They have both gone up by about 50 points."

"This is my seventh year as Provost, and there have been two occasions where a recruited athlete who was an extremely good potential recruit and was not accepted, which caused enough angst and concern on the part of the coach, the Department and the fans that it has led me to ask the Dean of Admissions to tell me about the case – not to second-guess the Dean.  I just wanted to understand because I would never step in and say, "Change your decision on this individual."  In those two cases, I said, "Tell me about this case. I'm curious."  In both cases they were people who were, from the external numbers – SATs and GPAs – certainly of a level we could easily have accepted..."

"Bob is intelligent, articulate, reasonable and understated – he is not a person who is going to exaggerate in order to make his point.  That kind of person instantly gets respect from everybody else at the University.  That person will hence have much more influence than somebody who bangs on the table and says, "You're doing things wrong."  It is very important, and Ted [Leland] was very good as well, for our Athletic Director to be able 1) to communicate not just with the Dean of Admissions – that is a one-on-one communication – but also to the entirety of the University what the Department is trying to achieve and how they are achieving it and 2) to convince the University that he is making sure it is being done the right way.  Bob is capable of doing that.  One of the first things I want to do as soon as possible is to get Bob to give a report to the Faculty Senate.  That will be terrific.  They will love him, and it will make them all feel good that the athletics program is in good hands."

"You should not be able to identify from the academic performance which students in your class are the athletes.  It would be a disaster if for every class you could say, "Oh yeah.  This one is an athlete."  That is not the case at Stanford.  Our students are great.  Our students are great athletically and are great academically.  That scenario is not the case now, and it would be a disaster if it were.  So, you're right, "succeed" means something more than "graduate.""


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