By Bill Koch
The Cincinnati Enquirer
The University of Cincinnati's new president said Tuesday that she will be "very vigilant" in overseeing the school's athletic program, with an eye toward academic integrity and the off-field behavior of athletes.
"I think there has to be a great deal of leadership and oversight of the collegiate athletic program," Dr. Nancy Zimpher said in a meeting with the Enquirer's editorial board. "I see the athletic director as a leader, the coaches as leaders. I'm a part of that equation. I'll be very interested in academic retention and graduation rates, and I'll also be a fan."
Zimpher, who took over Oct. 1 for Dr. Joseph Steger, was active in athletics as chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She was instrumental in transforming the Midwestern Collegiate Conference into the Horizon League.
She also has pushed for academic reform in Division I athletics.
"The critical connection we need to make beyond students and the student experience is in academic affairs," Zimpher said. "We have to be looking very carefully at graduation rates."
Zimpher said she will work with UC coaches, academic officers and the officers in student life to make sure athletes have plenty of support, and she said she expects athletes to conduct themselves properly off the field.
"No one wants events to occur that would suggest that our student-athletes are not mature enough to handle both the collegiate experience and the adult living/learning experience that all of our students have to grow into," Zimpher said.
She said she will wait to make her own judgments about UC's athletic program.
"In fairness to the athletic program, I should be a student of exactly what's going on," Zimpher said. "I should observe the leadership. I should get to know the players. I should understand how athletics works at UC before I make any pronouncements about whether there's a big problem or not a big problem. Suffice it to say, I will be paying attention."
While stopping short of endorsing a UC move from Conference USA to the Big East, should an invitation be extended, Zimpher said the benefits of becoming a member of the Big East would extend far beyond athletics, citing the media markets, ability to transport athletes more economically and national visibility as positives offered by the higher-profile conference.
She also said visibility from athletics shines a spotlight on a school's academic program.
"The whole world is watching collegiate athletic reform, and they're not watching the Horizon League," Zimpher said. "They're watching these six big conferences. I welcome that. I think the public scrutiny gives me a lot of ammunition internally."
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