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by Suze Myers

"I felt like there was more support at my public high school than there was at the entire University," one former football player told us. The adversaries Columbia varsity athletes encounter in their four years here tend to number far greater than those they face on the field. These antagonists often sit beside them in the classroom, pass them in their dorm—even deliver their lectures and grade their papers and exams. It's no secret that athletes, who represent roughly 13 percent of enrolled students at Columbia College and the School of Engineering and Applied Science, tend to be stigmatized by students and faculty. Others believe that athletes largely form an insular, distinct community, cutting them off from the University at large. As Columbia's athletic department wraps up construction on a new $50 million athletic facility 100 blocks north of campus, it's hard for many to see a future in which the troubling status quo—with attitudes toward athletics from many outside the program somewhere on the spectrum between disregard and disdain—is meaningfully changed. "Obviously, one goal is to have winning teams and compete successfully against our peers. We are doing that at Columbia," Athletic Director M. Diane Murphy writes. However, evidence is largely to the contrary. Over the last three seasons in three of the most prominent Columbia sports—football, men's basketball, and women's basketball—only two teams have finished higher than sixth place in the eight-team Ivy League: the men's and women's basketball teams, which tied for fifth and fourth respectively in 2010. The recent marks for futility are endless. With the football team winning only three games over a 22-game span from 2010 to 2012 (lowlighted by a recent 69-0 blowout to Harvard and the lack of a road win since 2009), the women's basketball team losing by over 60 points to Princeton in consecutive seasons and recently winning its first road game in two years, a 3-98 conference record for women's lacrosse since its inception in 1997, and only one Ivy League title in any sport over the last three years, it's hard to ignore the hard abysmal facts—however much the athletic department tries to spin the often-fruitless on-the-field performances as successes. Balancing the Budget Unlike across the Harlem River, where Yankees fans are outraged by their team's recent thriftiness in pursuing top-price talent, many of the nonathlete students we spoke with oppose the large portion of University funds that they perceive goes to athletics. "I sort of wish we weren't spending as much money on it," Grace Rosen, a Columbia College junior, says. "I know a lot of it is sponsors, but you see athletes walking around with full Columbia Athletics outfits." Rosen has plenty of company in that attitude. "I'm from Europe, where we don't really take athletics that seriously," one first-year says. "I don't really see the point." Statements from Columbia's athletic department, though, suggest the athletic financial picture may be different from what many students believe it to be. According to government data mandated by the Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act, Columbia's $20 million annual expenditures are exactly offset by its revenue. Judging by the nearly empty venues for many games, that may seem impossible, but Murphy cites Dodge memberships, student term fees, fundraising, and other sources to round out that total—including significantly more than pure operating revenue as a means to achieve that balanced budget. Not all students assume athletics to be a drain on University resources. Although the athletic department does not release its donation records to the public, Alex Harstrick, a former rower who quit the team after one semester and graduated in 2012, believes that the athletic department lines Columbia's pockets rather than drains them. "You can't eliminate a D-1 football team and then expect alumni to donate to the rest of the school," he says. "A lot of people may be angry about that, but it's the reality. If you want to fund the science lab, you have to have the football team." "What the Fuck Are You Doing Here?" Many students have more than a strong suspicion that athletes take a slightly different path toward admission. The primary element of this recruitment process is the infamous Academic Index, a metric Ivy League schools apply to potential athletes. The AI made news last year because the Ivy League raised the minimum score a student could receive and still be admitted. According to the New York Times, , which translates to about a 3.0 GPA and an 1140 on the combined math and critical reading sections of the SAT. While the Times notes that few athletes are actually admitted at this level, students have no way to differentiate who among their peers is at that level and who is well above it, leading to a blanket assumption of lower academic pedigree for all athletes. Once coaches have picked out their desired athletes and received approval from the admissions office, they can issue what is known as a "likely letter" to potential recruits after Oct. 1. This letter serves as a de facto admission letter, barring any significant drop in academic performance before graduation. Jessamyn Conrad, who has taught both Lit Hum and Art Hum, is strongly against what she refers to as affirmative action for athletics—admitting students with lesser academic credentials because of their athletic prowess. She believes that bringing in students who aren't up to the academic challenge posed by Columbia causes both those individuals and their classmates to lose out, particularly in the intimate environment of Core classes. "If you have people who can't do as much, especially in the Core Curriculum, where you're basically in a seminar and where much of the learning that you get out of it has to do with the kinds of conversations you have among the group in your class, it's a loss for everyone," she said. The idea that recruiting athletes isn't fair to other students at Columbia, or to other applicants, is far from new. For Conrad, though, the more pressing issue is the psychological toll she believes this system can have on the recruited athletes themselves. "My main problem with it is that it's terrible for the students. What it does to the students' psychology, when they really can't perform, is extremely unfair," Conrad says. "I think it's immoral to bring in students to these situations in which they cannot succeed." Conrad stresses that the vast majority of athletes are capable, some even exemplary, but says that those who struggled have stuck in her memory. The experience of a football player she taught, she says, is indicative of the negative consequences of athletic recruitment in the Ivy League. "I remember him saying, ‘I know I'm never gonna get a B at Columbia, but I just want to not get a D,'" Conrad recalls. "And my heart just sank for this kid. He wasn't bright in the way that Columbia students are bright, but he wanted to do well—he was willing to work. I mean, he was a good kid, but there was no way for him to succeed, and he knew it ... I think that he probably would have had a better education if he were not at Columbia." These judgements are prevalent in the student body—even among athletes themselves. "It's definitely true that standards are lowered a little bit," says Columbia College junior Walker Harrison, who walked on to the baseball team. "That's what creates the sort of idea that academically they're at a lower tier." Dario Pizzano, a former member of the class of 2013 who left after his junior year to enter the Major League Baseball draft, also acknowledges that the numerical standards are lowered for recruited athletes. In his experience, knowledge of this fact sometimes led members of the Columbia community, particularly certain professors, to automatically view athletes in their classes through a negative lens. "Realistically, athletes are admitted to the school with lower scores because they're being accepted for athletics," Pizzano said. "We maybe couldn't get SAT scores like 2200 to get into Columbia, but we were admitted, and some people were a little bit bitter about that. Some people have that negative attitude, like, 'They were already given a favor getting in here, so they just want to keep getting favors.' That was kind of the attitude with some teachers, and I felt that." Despite this widely-acknowledged differential in minimum academic standards, Murphy maintains that "all student-athletes are subject to the same admissions process as other students." "All student-athletes," she writes, "are admitted on the basis of their potential as students. The athletics program does not set the academic standards for admission, nor does it admit students to Columbia." Contrary to Murphy's implied claims of standard process, almost every athlete we spoke with readily acknowledged that he or she would not have been accepted to the University under normal admissions standards. Many justify their system, though, by attributing many of their standardized test scores and GPA drop-offs to the significant time drain associated with their athletic involvement in high school. "My test scores weren't the best—they were good for a middle-of-the-pack school but not for the Ivy League. Sports helped me out there," sophomore basketball center Cory Osetkowski says. "But, if I wasn't playing sports in high school, maybe I could have had more time to dedicate to schoolwork or studying for those tests." Former football player Colton Bishop, a sophomore who left the team after one season due to injury, is equally candid. "I don't think that being a white male from a middle-class public school in Arizona that I would get accepted into this school without football," he says. "But I'd also like to point out that if the time that I spent playing football growing up was spent doing other stuff—whether that's academics, or clubs, or hobbies that students have here—then it might be a different answer." However, this raises the question of why students who devoted their high school lives to equally demanding nonathletic extracurricular pursuits still have to maintain near-perfect GPAs and SAT scores to be competitive in the eyes of admissions officers. Harstrick isn't so quick to admit that many athletes would have been denied admission had it not been for the recruiting process—in fact, he doesn't think recruiting matters that much. "I think any athlete who can make it through and graduate deserves to be there," he says. "The goal of college is to get a degree," and athletes tend to graduate in the same proportion as other students. Additionally, Osetkowski believes that recruiting athletes creates a more diverse student body. "Rather than having people that are just dedicated to schoolwork and getting that degree, you have athletes that have different lifestyles, different personalities," he says. Conrad also strongly believes in socioeconomic diversity among students, which she thinks increases the value of the Core. However, while some may be more naturally disposed to the particular exigencies of Core classes, she believes a certain expectation of ability should apply to all. "Everybody has a set of capabilities and different kinds of intelligence—different things that are intuitive for them or not," she says. "But you need to have people who can jump in that ring and engage." Ali Seybold, a Columbia College junior and former walk-on rower, believes that one qualification for preferential treatment in the admissions process should be a student's ability to bring success to Columbia's sports team—a trait she and others have found to be conspicuously absent in student-athletes here. "Should we go out of our way to recruit sub-par intellectuals and at the same time sub-par athletes? No," she says. "One of my problems is, if you're not good at sports, and you're not good at school, then what the fuck are you doing here?" A Day in the Life Harrison, like senior football player Shad Sommers, views athletics as a benefit to his academic performance. "You have to get up earlier. You can't go out every night," he says. Liz Malone, a junior and a women's field hockey forward, agrees. "I think it's difficult, but I also think that having a structured schedule really helps," she says. Core professor Susan Pedersen shares those sentiments, stating that she has no problem with student-athletes in class and that they tend to be disciplined and responsible. "I don't know why—perhaps they're healthier and just get sick less?—but if anything, they probably miss class less than than the student average for such things," she says. However, for every athlete who believes the discipline of athletics has helped them in academic life, there seems to be another who has felt crushed under the pressure of unrealistic time commitments. Harstrick, for one, feels that his participation in athletics was a serious drain on his academics. "My grades fell considerably being on the rowing team," he says. "I found that the work-life balance that was advertised to me wasn't true." This seems to contradict Dean of Student Affairs Kevin Shollenberger's statement: "Advising deans from the Center for Student Advising work closely with all student-athletes to create a support system to ensure they reach their academic and personal goals." Pizzano, who stuck with his sport all the way to the pros, also had to face trade-offs. "I saw my friends stop playing as I got older, and they were doing that internship stuff, and I was still playing baseball. ‘If I don't make it, I'm not going to have any internships on my résumé was always a thought in the back of my mind," Pizzano reflects. "I never actually considered it, because since I was five years old and swung a bat for the first time, I knew that's what I wanted to do, and I was gonna play baseball until they took the bat out of my hands—until they told me, ‘You're not good enough.'" For those players who don't have realistic professional aspirations, and who make up the vast majority of student-athletes here, Nathan Pilkington, a Lit Hum instructor, wants to see a change in the culture such that it becomes more acceptable for student-athletes to sacrifice athletics for academics on occasion, rather than just the other way around. He mentions a system by which coaches send him a note when one of his students has to miss class for a game or practice. By the same token, he says, when he takes his class on a museum tour outside of class time, he should be able to release a student from practice with no consequences for that student. "That practice isn't the end-all be-all of why you're here right now," he says. "The kids still believe they're D-1 athletes—they still worry about losing their starting spots for going on a Met tour. As things are currently constructed, that's fucking ridiculous." Women's soccer head coach Kevin McCarthy makes clear that, for his athletes, their life as students takes priority. Men's basketball head coach Kyle Smith echoes this. "If they come to me and say they have an essay due, I kind of say, ‘That's on you—you have to balance your time.'" But for things like tests or academic trips, he's happy to accommodate. "I'm probably too soft," Smith says. Smith does, however, express some concern that his athletes might not tell him when they have something like a visit to the Met for fear of losing playing time. Seybold says that, in her experience, Smith and McCarthy's claims of support are borne out in practice. "They say school comes first, and they mean it. They know that we're here for a reason," she says. "I think here, school really does come first." The Dodge Divide Before they even set foot on campus, athletes are divided from their peers by structure. "When we first got here for freshman orientation, we missed a lot of that, so we didn't get to interact with a lot of the students that don't play sports," Sommers says. "So right from the get-go, you're kind of separated." Columbia College junior Chris Carrano says the divide is clear. "There's definitely a social role in the way we see these gray pants and sweaters, and you immediately identify them as an athlete," he says. "It's almost like, 'he's an athlete,' rather than, 'he's an engineering or CC student.'" Despite the perceptions of many nonathlete members of the student body, the segmentation of athletes into insular groups defined by their teams does not seem to always be self-imposed. One former rower, who left the team to escape that culture, describes the directions from the coaches as "militaristic," specifically mentioning their strict requests for teammates to room together and spend as much time in each other's company as possible. On the other hand, Osetkowski considers athletes and nonathletes to be fundamentally integrated parts of the student body—thanks, in large part, to the Core. "I feel like, at this school, everyone's here for the same reason: to get the education. And then for athletes, it's like athletics is coming second," Osetkowski says. "Being in classrooms together—Lit Hum, CC, those classes—the athletes work with the nonathletes, and I feel like there's a strong bond." One issue commonly expressed by current and former athletes is the difficulty for members of a varsity team to take advantage of other extracurricular pursuits. "Going to Columbia and being among people who were very academic but also cerebral, I think there was more to me than being 'just an athlete,' which is how I felt being on the rowing team portrayed me," Harstrick says. "I did not really socialize outside the athletic community," he continues, noting that the rowing team at one point received an email from their coach encouraging them to spend time together. James Valentini, dean of Columbia College, says that the main difference between athletics and other time commitments is flexibility. "I think there's something special about being on a team, because someone else is determining the terms of your engagement, and when you have to show up, which probably doesn't happen in quite the same way in a purely student-run activity," he says. Harrison wrote for both Spectator and The Federalist while on the team, which he says was difficult but feasible if he budgeted his time. However, he also noted that, as an athlete who participated in other on-campus organizations, he was in the minority. "They're in their own little world," Pilkington says of varsity athletes here. "I don't feel like they're integrated in the same way. But not by choice, just by structure. Their time is just so differently and strangely constructed." Supporting this point, many of the athletes we interviewed say they are not involved with many student groups outside of their athletic teams, athletic organizations such as the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, and fraternities that generally segment themselves by team. Zeta Beta Tau (baseball), Kappa Delta Rho (basketball), and Sigma Chi (football) are strongly associated with particular sports due to their overwhelming composition by certain athletes. (The latter fraternity counts only five to six members who have never played for the football team among its 44 members, and according to its president, Columbia College junior Chris Mooney, the organization has been tied to football for over half a century.) However, Harrison—a member of ZBT—and Mooney note that their fraternities have been making an effort to remove the automatic association of certain fraternities with certain sports. "It makes sense fraternity-wise...if we're limiting ourselves to eight or nine individuals every year, that's really going against the idea of a fraternity, which is to cast a wide net," Harrison says. "That's definitely been a goal of ours the past year and coming year. Our past recruiting class was much more non-baseball, and that's hopefully something that will carry over into the future." Hanging Up Their Cleats Many teams have had high rates of attrition, with some teams, such as softball, men's lightweight rowing, and lacrosse having over 30 percent of their eligible squad quit between seasons, often leaving them with a relatively small percentages of juniors and seniors while the bulk of the squad is comprised of newly recruited freshmen and sophomores. According to Murphy, student-athlete retention is an issue across the conference, as there is no fear of losing a scholarship, and athletes are still eligible for financial aid whether or not they remain on a team. Pilkington fully supports student-athletes who decide to stop playing their sport. "When a student comes to me and says he's thinking about quitting, I always remind him he owes the University shit," he says. "They're not getting any added benefit by doing it, and they're sacrificing their own time. So if they want to do other things, then they should take advantage of what is here." Athletics hopes to retain 90 percent of first-year student-athletes for their sophomore year, Murphy says. She cites this figure as having been 87 percent for the class of 2010 and up to 98 percent for the class of 2014. Murphy also cites a program goal of a 75 percent four-year retention rate, noting that this figure has risen from 51 percent to 70 percent over the last four years. She attributes this progress to renovated facilities, increased resources, and other factors. ???Katie Day Benvenuto, associate director of athletics development, speaks about the vast increase in resources allocated for athletics to curb attrition rates that has occurred since she played women's basketball here a decade ago, noting that athletes can now take advantage of dedicated staffers in the athletic department "whose job it is to help athletes make connections with alumni and explore career opportunities." Lions Who? From the insularity of the athlete community, to the negative perceptions of recruitment, to the relative lack of success by Columbia's marquee sports, few deny the existence of widespread apathy toward sports on Columbia's campus. A considerable number of the students we spoke to said that they had little to no interest in Columbia athletics—even if they were fans of sports in general. Only a handful said they had attended more than one athletic event. "I sort of wish the student body were more aware and involved," Rosen says. Athletes tend to agree that student support is minimal, and express a desire for it to increase. "It's very surprising in a satisfying way when you do see someone who doesn't play athletics, and they, like, know who you are, or they've read an article about you, so it's nice, but it's rare," Malone says. As one former football player tells us, the lack of support for the team was something he experienced throughout his career, while a former rower cites this apathy as one of the main reasons he left the team. "I realized that, win or lose, nobody really cared that much," he says. Some students even find amusement in the futility. "As far as the big sports, I don't really follow them other than the sort of overall record at the end of the year, which we all laugh about," says Rosen. For Pilkington, though, the answer is not necessarily to develop a more winning program. It's more about creating community through tradition, something he believes that "Columbia abdicated by doing stupid things like moving the baseball diamond out of the middle of campus and way uptown." Baker Athletics Complex is located 100 blocks north of the Columbia gates, a divide many consider a deterrent to both student attendance and athlete enrollment. And while Harrison, the baseball player, believes the effects of the recently-opened, much-touted Campbell Sports Center will be positive in allowing athletes to "work meals and lifts around practice more easily," the spatial aspect remains a significant obstacle in bringing campus life into further contact with athletics. "We always joke about how it would be nice if it were like the Lou Gehrig days, when you could hit home runs off Hamilton," Harrison says. "It's definitely a challenge, because you have to build in an extra hour every day." While athletes are divided on how big a hassle the distance to Baker really is, nonathletes seem to find it an insurmountable hurdle. Carrano expressed interest in attending a basketball game but said that if they were located at Baker, "I would never do that. It's way too far." Jeremy Feinberg, a 1992 graduate of Columbia College and a 1995 graduate of the Law School, who was sports editor on Spectator's 115th managing board, was one nonathlete undergraduate who did become engrossed in athletics. He continues to support the athletic program by donating what he can (though "no one's going to confuse me for that Kluge fellow," he says) and staying involved in the community. A lecturer at the Law School, he makes himself available for guidance to any student-athlete who is interested in pursuing law after graduation. He says he likes the idea of "being able to be a face that can be counted on both to be at games and to give back to the program." Pilkington has also noticed a pervasive lack of support for athletics. "I don't think there's a stigma—I don't get that sense. The sense that I get is that nobody knows them." He feels that such indifference is just as damaging as negative stigmas—and that the lack of support doesn't end with the student body. Many faculty members, he says, have attitudes toward athletics ranging from indifferent to combative. "There's some really virulent beliefs out there," says Pilkington, who believes that athletes here have the same intellectual capacity as the rest of the student body, but also alludes to a sizable contingent of "crazy faculty that despises sports." "And that matters. Professors have to come to games too. That's why I'm saying that it's more of a mentality over the whole community," he continues. "The community has to give something to them, or the community has to make a decision that they're gonna stop making these kids sacrifice for not a clear benefit, other than maybe admission to Columbia." Feinberg may have always meshed well with the athletic program and those who participated in it, but he, too, remembers a pervasive, anti-athlete attitude that was expressed by more than just students. "The big problem when I was here was we had just gotten past that awful football losing streak that people don't talk about anymore, and everyone found it to be fun to rag on the football team about all their losing," he says. "And professors would get into the act. They'd make fun of student-athletes for things other than what happened on the field—like you'd walk into a class, and the professor would ask people who were on the football team to raise their hand, and then make a joking comment about, ‘Oh, this will help the curve, for those of you who are interested.' And that was awful." Brains vs. Brawn One Core instructor of over a decade, who chose to remain anonymous, spoke strongly about unfair, negative stereotyping of athletes he's found to be prevalent within the faculty community, even today. "You hear something like, 'How's your class going?' 'Oh, well I got a lot of student-athletes in my class this year,'" he says, illustrating the level of contempt expressed by his peers toward athletes in their classes. "And it would be like, 'What?' How is that even an issue? Even if they're not particularly enthusiastic or whatever, your job as a teacher is to get them enthusiastic. That always rubbed me the wrong way." He theorizes that such sentiments held by instructors tend to be self-fulfilling prophecies, creating something of a vicious cycle. "If I walk in there with an attitude like, 'These people aren't up to snuff,' of course they're not going to give, and of course they're gonna be turned off by you and the class," he says. Multiple players we spoke with indicated that they'd been confronted with negative attitudes toward their athletic commitments from instructors, which, in some cases, added undue stress to their academic lives. One current recruited athlete, who chose to remain anonymous, says that student-athletes he knows at other Ivy League schools generally have the same experience, unlike friends he has on sports teams at big schools, such as those in the Atlantic Coast Conference or Southeastern Conference, who "get treated like gods." "The first thing you associate with an Ivy League school is education," he says. "So I guess teachers who have been here for a while have that instilled in their head, that sports aren't really important to people's education." "I think that that has a lot to do with just being an academic," the Core instructor says, positing his own theory behind the phenomenon. "We like to think that we're totally enlightened about everything and everyone, and you certainly wouldn't find much racism among academics, right? But they have their prejudices, too, and one of the prejudices that comes out is this prejudice against athletes." He feels strongly that it's an issue that needs to be addressed. "It just requires a little reflection on the part of professors to check their own prejudices and preconceptions before they go into the classroom," he says. However, Osetkowski says that he's yet to come up against one of those professors. "They're willing to meet with me even when they don't have office hours, talking after class—they always ask how sports are going." Pizzano doesn't quite share that view. "Our coach and our advisers kind of learned over the years from other student-athletes which professors were like that, and they were kind of like, 'If you're gonna take this class, try and stay away from this professor, because they don't really reason with the athletes.'" Conrad says that, although the majority of athletes in her classes have been "absolutely capable," she has had issues with students who were recruited for athletics, particularly in certain sports. For Conrad, the problems she has seen have had more to do with ability than motivation or time management. "I see students having a lot on their plates, but the issues I've seen are largely not with the time commitment—they're with academic ability," she says. "But they weren't disengaged—they didn't not try. I didn't feel like they were killing time in the class. I think that they were good kids," Conrad says. "I just don't know what they get out of it, and I don't know, for them, that it's really preparing them to be as successful as they could be." Conrad's claims may bear some empirical traction. According to a 2011 piece in the Yale Daily News, Columbia had the second-lowest Academic Performance Rate (a metric used by the NCAA to measure athletic progress toward graduation) in the Ivy League, only ahead of Cornell. Conrad believes that, to fix these issues, a broader dialogue must be started, especially among instructors. "This is a thing that we don't talk about enough as teachers—about what's going on with students psychologically, and that's the part that I find so disruptive. It beats them down," she says. Seybold walked onto the women's rowing team her first year but then left the team due to frequent illness and the strain athletics put on her academics. She attributes a significant degree of athletes' struggles in the classroom to the intense workout schedule to which they adhere. "I personally felt like I was bringing a bad vibe because I was tired so much when I was still working out," she says. "I did fall asleep in Lit Hum, but I also felt like I was kind of disruptive in that I feel asleep all the time." Seybold bluntly acknowledges the negative stereotypes of recruited athletes held by much of the student body. "Frankly, people think they're dumb," Seybold says of recruited athletes. "I remember one of my friends who also walked on—we were talking about it one day, and she was like, ‘Wow, I cannot believe I was on the waitlist to make room for these people.'" One first-year tells us about some of the less enlightening experiences he had with athletes in classes. "I had a few athletes in my UWriting class, and they probably had the worst critical skills," he says. "There was this one guy on the golf team who tried to make every one of his papers about golf. It was completely inappropriate. Like, English is my second language, and I knew it was really bad." Henrique Teles Maia, a junior on the club men's volleyball team, denies any stigma existing against club athletes but adamantly confirms there is a stigma against varsity athletes. "If you see someone wearing all athletics stuff, just all Columbia blue, coming in sweat pants, running in late to class, then your brain automatically goes somewhere, and then when they ask a question, you just assume—so there's definitely a stigma. It's very hard to avoid it," he says. Thoughts like Maia's are the reason that Malone admits she tries "to not wear sweatpants as much as possible, so you appear as if you're not coming from practice." Unlike professional athletes, who often eschew team apparel to avoid recognition by ravenous fans, Columbia's athletes do so to avoid recognition by judgmental peers. True to his roots, Feinberg proposes a solution to the divide—whether expressed through apathy or insult—between athletes and the rest of the community: Have the players' stories told. "Give them an opportunity to get to know the players," he says. "These are wonderful young men and women, and regardless of how many losses and wins they walk away with, they're all going to be great leaders and great people once they're done here." Feinberg believes things have improved over the years, perhaps because of the higher academic achievement of recruits. "We've come a long way," he says. "There's still obviously a long way to go, but things are better." ?