Professor Denies Favoritism of Athletes

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UC Berkeley ethnic studies professor Alex Saragoza told investigators from the Pac-10 conference Friday that he did not give preferential treatment to athletes.

Saragoza, a key figure in the conference's ongoing investigation, said in an interview yesterday he was worried that football players Ronnie Davenport and Mike Ainsworth abused his reputation as an understanding professor.

"Student athletes will sometimes take advantage of the instructor who's willing to give them a break," he said. "Students have occasionally taken advantage of me. When I do give students a break, it's not based on whether they're athletes or Chicano or politically to the left."

The investigation centers on whether Davenport and Ainsworth attended Saragoza's class before the final two weeks of the Spring semester. The athletes took the final exam then retroactively added the class prior to the first football team practice last August.

Both football players left UC Berkeley in the fall due to failing grades and are currently enrolled in community colleges.

Although the Pac-10 alleges that the athletes attended class only in the last two weeks, Saragoza said the football players attended the class during the entire semester.

"Both were in the class," he said. "Both attended the class, one more sporadically than the other. I never knew why they never added the class on time."

An earlier campus investigation did not reveal any evidence of preferential treatment for athletes that would warrant punishment from the Pac-10 or NCAA, athletic department officials said last week.

While the current investigation originally focused solely on Saragoza's treatment of Davenport and Ainsworth, the professor said investigators also questioned him about his night review sessions, which had previously come under fire from school officials.

"Another issue had to do with the implication that night sessions (and) special study sessions had a form of preferential treatment," he said. "Apparently, a small number of students felt that I was coaching the student athletes."

The associate professor was recently appointed UC vice chancellor for educational outreach. Saragoza said yesterday that he was upset that an investigation might tarnish his reputation and potentially damage his career both as a teacher and a UC official.

"It puts a cloud over me," he said. "After teaching for 20 years, most people would see me as at least an adequate instructor. This is humiliating and embarrassing that something like this would be raised."

Saragoza said he would be most concerned if members of the coaching staff had asked him to make concessions to athletes - a charge he vehemently denies.

"The worst possible case would be if coaches were calling me up and asking me to do something - and this is not the case here," he said. "I wouldn't want people to think that a person with such a bad character would be in charge of educational outreach."

Whether or not the ongoing investigation results in charges, Saragoza said it has made him reconsider his sympathetic policy toward students.

"I'm going to be a lot more careful," he said. I'll have to be much more vigilant, much tougher than in the past. I don't like being a detective."


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