Monday, June 18

UCLA’s Kenny Donaldson helps teams balance grades, games

The UCLA basketball team is preparing for its toughest test of the season this week, the NCAA Tournament. Because UCLA is on the quarter system, the Big Dance also not so conveniently coincides with finals week on campus.

While their classmates are here cramming for exams, the Bruins will hit the road, taking their playbook and their textbooks with them. Several players will have to take their tests in hotel meeting rooms, which is where Kenny Donaldson – the Academic Coordinator for the men’s and women’s basketball teams  – comes in.

With the permission of professors, Donaldson proctors the exams on the road. He sat down with the Daily Bruin’s Sam Strong to talk about the process and scheduling difficulties.


Daily Bruin: I wanted to get an overview of how you decide when and where the players will take their exams. Take me though that process.

Kenny Donaldson: What we normally do is somebody kind of scopes out where everything is ahead of time. There are meeting rooms and different facilities. We look at what the best situation is for however many students we have. We don’t know how many guys are going to have finals because of the day. Preemptively, I have to contact every one of the team’s professors, whoever is having a final Tuesday and after because we could leave Tuesday at the earliest and Wednesday at the latest. We just say, ‘Hey, hypothetically, there’s a possibility that we may be having to proctor exams on the road.’ Typically, the way it works is they’ll email me the exam. I hold onto the exam until I give it to them. I proctor the exam and then I take it to the business center and fax them or have it scanned and emailed to professors. Usually, it’s anywhere between five and 10 finals.


DB: I imagine there are timing issues at play here. How do you ensure that everything is fair and in accordance with what a given professor wants?

KD: The only time we have real difficulty is let’s say a professor says the student has to take it at the same time as the rest of the class because we don’t want any unfair advantage. One of our students could take it earlier and contact somebody else in the class or our student could take it later and be contacted by someone else in the class. If something prevents that, like let’s say our game is the same time or if there’s anything else, I let the professor know that I’ll make sure there are no integrity issues. If I have to, I’ll give them the exam right after we finish the game. I’ll give them time to shower and cool down but we’ll take the exam the same night. Our main thing is keeping the integrity of the classes. We don’t want our student-athletes to have an advantage over any other students but by the same token, because of what they’re doing, they have so many things on their mind. We want to give them time to adequately study for whatever they have to do.


DB: Is there any trepidation or hesitation from the student athletes to study as hard as they need to be with all the time constraints they are placed under?

KD: They want to put it off. They say, ‘I’ll get to it in a little while’ and I’ve been doing this for 10 years. They get so slammed by things. They don’t understand how tournaments work and how games come back-to-back on top of walkthroughs so I try to tell them to get it done so we’re not slammed for time. I try to strike a balance with the guys. There are certain guys who are very focused and know what they have to do. It’s low maintenance. There are other guys who you have to guide along. Sometimes I’ll split it up into half hours if they don’t want to do an hour. We don’t know what’s going to happen with games, we’re taking planes and buses. Sometimes we won’t get home until 2 or 3 a.m. and then they will be too tired to work until the morning.


DB: What kind of a relationship do you have with the professors? It seems like there would have to be a lot of trust there.

KD: I’ve been working with a lot of the professors for 10 years so they understand I’m all about integrity. The worst thing I can do is get an exam and let a student do something that’s not fair to everyone else in the class. That damages our integrity as an academic staff, the university, the athletic department and the basketball team. My main focus is making sure academic integrity is always upheld.


DB: I know there aren’t any rules that say professors have to be willing to let you give the exam, but how flexible are they in working with you?

KD: We’ve never had a professor say no way. We’ve had a professor say no and we’ve had to go to higher-ups in the university who spoke to the professor. They might not have been happy about it or they don’t understand the process. Once we educate them about it, they realize they had to do it. We’ve never had a professor refuse to let a student take one on the road and be in danger of failing the class.


DB: So no one has been in danger of failing?

KD: I work with the men’s team and the women’s team. When it comes to the teams, they’ll understand 95 percent of the time. We run into difficulty with managers, trainers and people like that. The professor will say, ‘This person is not on the team, why is it necessary for them to travel?’ Even our walk-ons, ‘This person doesn’t play. This person doesn’t do much. Why is it so necessary for them to travel?’ They don’t understand that everyone is putting in the same number of hours, blood, sweat and tears. They deserve the same accommodations that Shabazz (Muhammad), Kyle (Anderson), Travis (Wear) or David (Wear) deserve too because they’ve been working just as hard as everybody else to make sure the team is successful.

Email Strong at [email protected]

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