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Sports and the University

About This Course

Sports are everywhere in US universities. Why is this? What does it matter? What are the benefits—and what are the costs? How should the system change? In this course, we will explore six key topics at the intersection of athletics and American college life:

1. Ancient Athletics
2. History of US College Sports
3. Economics
4. Race
5. Gender
6. Aesthetics and Meaning

We hope that you will bring to this course your interests, experiences, and thoughts on college athletics. Discussion forums will be a key part of Sports and the University, as we ask you to weigh in on such issues as payments for college athletes, perception of women in university sports, and the future of athletics. You will have an opportunity to earn a Statement of Accomplishment for the course by taking quizzes on the course topics.

A truly interdisciplinary course, Sports and the University features experts in classics, literary studies, philosophy, Olympic coaching, academic advising, campus religious life, and gender studies. The course is also multimedia, featuring some experts in video lectures and some in audio interviews; the audio is available both within the course and as a companion podcast playlist.

We hope you will join us for an exciting investigation of this vital topic!


There are no prerequisites for this course.


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Susan Stephens

Susan Stephens is Sara Hart Kimball Professor in the Humanities and Professor of Classics.

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Blakey Vermeule

Blakey Vermeule is Professor of English at Stanford. Professor Vermeule's research interests are neuroaesthetics, cognitive and evolutionary approaches to art, philosophy and literature, British literature from 1660-1820, post-Colonial fiction, satire, and the history of the novel. She is the author of The Party of Humanity: Writing Moral Psychology in Eighteenth-Century Britain (2000) and Why Do We Care About Literary Characters? (2009), both from The Johns Hopkins University Press. She is writing a book about what mind science has discovered about the unconscious.

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Stephen Sansom

Stephen is a PhD candidate in Classics at Stanford. He specializes in early Greek poetry, especially Homer and Hesiod, and the social world of ancient athletics, which is the topic of his recent publication, "Contests and Clothing in Four Agonistic Papyri from Hellenistic Egypt" (Stuttgart 2016).

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Morgan Frank

Morgan Day Frank is a Visiting Assistant Professor in the English Department at Wesleyan University. His research examines the relationship between literature and the consolidation of the American educational system at the turn of the twentieth century.

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David Pickel

David is a PhD candidate in Classics at Stanford, focusing in archaeology. His research interests concern Roman Italy and disease history. He is Director of Excavations at la Villa Romana di Poggio Gramignano, an Augustan-era villa located near the Umbrian town of Lugnano in Teverina.

Guest Speakers

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Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht

Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht is the Albert Guérard Professor in Literature in the Departments of Comparative Literature and of French and Italian (and by courtesy, he is affiliated with the Department of Iberian and Latin American Cultures/ILAC, the Department of German Studies, and the Program in Modern Thought and Literature). As a scholar, Gumbrecht focuses on the histories of the national literatures in Romance language (especially French, Spanish, and Brazilian), but also on German literature, while, at the same time, he teaches and writes about the western philosophical tradition (almost exclusively on non-analytic philosophy) with an emphasis on French and German nineteenth- and twentieth-century texts. In addition, Gumbrecht tries to analyze and to understand forms of aesthetic experience 21st-century everyday culture. Over the past forty years, he has published more than two thousand texts, including books, translated into more than twenty languages. learning.

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Solomon Hughes

Solomon serves as the Assistant Director of the EDGE Doctoral Fellowship Program. He works on the development and leadership of programs created to empower students as they navigate the graduate school experience. Solomon began his Stanford career in VPUE serving as an Academic Advisor for students participating in varsity sports. He has served as a Lecturer in the Graduate School of Education, and co-designed a course that examines the intersections of race, college athletics, and college achievement. He holds a PhD in higher education from the University of Georgia. His BA and MA are from the University of California at Berkeley. He is inspired by the potential of higher education and firmly believes that excellent learning is inclusive learning.

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Roger Noll

Roger G. Noll is professor of economics emeritus at Stanford University and a Senior Fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, where he directs the Program in Regulatory Policy. Noll also is a Senior Fellow and member of the Advisory Board at the American Antitrust Institute, and a member of the Advisory Board of the AEI-Brookings Joint Center on Regulation.

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Peggy Phelan

Peggy Phelan is the Ann O’Day Maples Chair in the Arts Professor of Theater and Performance Studies and English. Publishing widely in both book and essay form, Phelan is the author of Unmarked: the politics of performance (Routledge, 1993); Mourning Sex: performing public memories (Routledge, 1997; honorable mention Callaway Prize for dramatic criticism 1997-1999); and numerous other works. She has been President and Treasurer of Performance Studies International, the primary professional organization in her field. She has been a fellow of the Getty Research Institute and the Stanford Humanities Center. She won a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2004. She chaired the Department of Performance Studies at New York University and the Drama Department at Stanford University. learning.

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Joanne Sanders

The Rev. Joanne Sanders, Associate Dean for Religious Life and a priest in the Episcopal Church, came to Stanford in September of 2000. She received a Master of Divinity from the Church Divinity School of the Pacific (CDSP) at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California (1997-2000). Sanders is currently pursuing a Doctor of Ministry (D.Min) from Seattle University in Seattle, WA, with a concentration on interdisciplinary leadership.

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Charles Stocking

Charles Stocking is an Assistant Professor of Classical Studies at the University of Western Ontario. His research and teaching focuses on the sociology of power in Greek literature and culture with special attention to issues of gender, ritual, and the body.

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Tom Wasow

Tom Wasow is the Clarence Irving Lewis Professor in Philosophy and Professor of Linguistics, Emeritus at Stanford.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is covered in this course?

This course covers six key topics: ancient Greek athletics, sports and the modern American university, race, gender, economics, and aesthetics.

Who is this class for?

This class is for anyone with a critical interest in college sports, from student athletes to fans to scholars.

What work will I do in this course?

In order to earn a Statement of Accomplishment, you complete short quizzes to show compression of key information. We also hope you will be active in posting thoughts and questions for discussion.

Do I need to buy a textbook?

No, all required materials are included for free in the course.

What is the format of this course?

The key materials for this course are audio and video lectures and discussions. There are also short optional readings.

  1. Course Number

  2. Classes Start

  3. Classes End

  4. Estimated Effort

    2 hours per week
  5. Price


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Image credit: Mary Harrsch (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)