It's easy to find news stories and analyses that feature the conflicts between athletics and academics on campus. Especially at big state universities where sports fuel a level of revenue and enthusiasm otherwise unknown on the quad, academics can be perceived as a second class pursuit even when they are our very reason to be. The UGA Athletic Association has taken steps over the years to re-enforce the teaching and research missions of the university by directly supporting faculty and have done so again with another new professorship:
Professor of geography and research meteorologist J. Marshall Shepherd has been appointed the inaugural Athletic Association Professor in the Social Sciences at the University of Georgia. The special appointment was made by the Board of Regents at their May 2013 meeting and became effective immediately.
Director of the UGA Atmospheric Sciences Program and a professor in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences department of geography, Shepherd joined the university faculty in 2006 after 12 years as a research meteorologist in the Earth-Sun Exploration Division at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. At UGA, he conducts research on weather and climate systems using advanced satellites, experimental aircraft, radars and computer models. The research seeks to understand weather processes—such as thunderstorms, hurricanes and rainfall—and atmospheric processes and relate them to current weather and climate change.
In 2012, Shepherd was elected president of the American Meteorological Society.
"I am very grateful to the UGA Athletic Association and honored to be selected for this professorship," Shepherd said. "The resources from the professorship will support a synergistic study of how urban landscapes and pollution modify temperature, rainfall, storms and flooding.
"The honor further solidifies UGA as a leader in urban weather-climate research and will enable new perspectives on how atmospheric sciences affects policy, economics, health, urban planning disaster response, water supply planning and agriculture."
We need more of this. There are as many reasons that successful athletic programs can help support academics on campus as there are reasons they might be at odds. Kudos to the Athletic Association for looking to the social sciences and we hope they discover similar opportunities in the arts and humanities.