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OBSERVATIONS Remembering J-Term

The winter of my freshman year was a time of transition at Skidmore. Prepar- ing its new Liberal Studies program for the following year, the school was phas- ing out the 4-1-4 semester format that in- cluded a one-credit course during a four- week January term. The prospectus for the

final J-Term included a remarkable array of courses typically unavail- able during the rest of the year. Some entailed foreign travel—Italy, France, and the Soviet Union—for study of language and culture. Some analyzed the past—“Europe’s Jews from 1789 to 1945” or “Life of the Past” (a geology course)—while others examined the fu- ture, such as “America and the World in the Year 2000.” Courses ran the gamut from sociology (“The Children of Alco- holics”) to government (“National Secu- rity Policy”) to biology (“Gardening Under Glass”). While many of these ap- pealed to my wide freshman eyes, I liter- ally stopped in my tracks when I read the course title “Sports Heroes and Hero- ines in Literature and Society.” Having hosted my own drive-time sports talk show on Boston radio at age 16, and having entered Skidmore with the high school nickname of “Stats” because of my encyclopedic sports knowledge (not to mention “Crash” for my tendencies when driving), I couldn’t believe my luck that this could be a class for credit. I thought I had hit the jackpot. I imag- ined the course, taught by phys-ed pro- fessor and coach Jeff Segrave and English professor Phil Boshoff, would be fun and easy. It turns out it had the most pro- found influence on me and my career path among all the classes I would take in my four years at Skidmore. The class met Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. (I could sleep in and have Fridays off). Along with readings, it included a Celtics- Knicks basketball game in New York City




as well as a minor-league Albany Patroons game, an Adirondack Red Wings minor- league hockey game (in the movie Slap- shot, the player Dave Hanson was actual- ly the Adirondack career penalty-min- utes leader at the time), even a pro wrestling match with Andre the Giant, Jimmy “Superfly” Snooka, and Glens Falls’ own Hack- saw Jim Dugan.We also watched Rollerball, Bang the Drum Slowly, and That Championship Sea-

son. Requirements included keeping a journal of our reactions to the readings, films, and trips, as well as two short es- says and a final term paper—all packed into four fast-paced weeks.

Amid the trips, the movies, and the

showed that the “Flutie phenomenon” may increase the number of applicants, but not necessarily their quali ty, and it may bring in extra money, but only for the athletics department and not for the whole school.

After Skidmore, I earned a PhD in so- ciology and public policy from the Uni- versity of Maryland. My dissertation ex- amined how college athletes balance ath- letics and academics—not too well in Di- vision I men’s basketball and football, but pretty well in other sports at both the Division I and Division III levels. Today, as a senior analyst at the Govern- ment Accountability Office, the inves- tigative arm of Congress, I continue to apply the critical thinking skills that I learned during my J-Term class to many of the nation’s important policy prob-



books—including David Halberstam’s The Breaks of the Game, detailing the 1977 Portland Trailblazers’ champi- onship NBA season—was my introduc- tion to critical thinking about society. We learned how to look at social values and rituals, and at race, gender, and in- equality, through the lens of sports. My final paper explored the “Doug Flutie phenomenon,” where a sharp rise in ap- plications to a university occurs because of a star sports figure and successful team that bring a regional school into the national spotlight. My research

lems, including the current housing and mortgage crisis and other consumer-pro- tection issues. What I had imagined would be a frivolous month talking sports with my classmates turned into the foundation I needed to begin my ca- reer. The Liberal Studies curriculum that followed the demise of J-Term was a smashing success, but I will always be thankful that I had the opportunity to experience the last J-Term at Skidmore.

Andrew Stavisky ’88 is a senior analyst at the GAO in Washington, D.C.



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