Magazine puts university on ‘probation’ for physical fitness

Students at Carnegie Mellon are used to receiving a pat on the back from media publications. But this month’s issue of Men’s Fitness magazine put Carnegie Mellon on “academic probation.”

The issue, which contains its annual list of the 25 fittest colleges, evaluated schools based on student surveys about diet and exercise, availability of healthy food, and the quality of fitness facilities on campus.

Carnegie Mellon was among the eight most underachieving schools in fitness, according to the publication.

Fellow Pennsylvania school Dickinson College attained the status of most fit college. Neal Boulton, editor-in-chief of Men’s Fitness, believes that Dickinson’s balanced approach to campus fitness is what sets it apart from all the rest.

According to Boulton, students who are serious about fitness as well as those who only occasionally exercise could find everything to meet their needs at Dickinson.

“They provide a very balanced lifestyle within which anyone could exist, whether they’re kind of cheating a little or in a fitness mode,” he said in an October 3 USA Today article.

Susan Bassett, director of athletics for Carnegie Mellon, was surprised that Carnegie Mellon scored so low.

“I think the portrayal is a little unfair,” she said. “I don’t think what we offer is completely adequate, but we’ve been proactive.”

Though she has only worked for the university for a year, Bassett thinks the athletics department has made noticeable changes to Carnegie Mellon’s fitness initiative.

“I think Carnegie Mellon is on the right track,” she said, citing the new gym in Resnik, new cardio equipment in the residence halls, and a new leasing program for equipment.

Under the leasing program, a third party owns and maintains all equipment and helps keep work out facilities in good condition.

Bassett looks to the future for even greater changes in Carnegie Mellon’s fitness program. The university is planning to build a new gym that would include a climbing wall, a 1500-square-foot fitness center three times the size of Wiegand Gym, several multipurpose rooms for aerobics and instruction, and an arena specifically for basketball and volleyball.

The building will also incorporate the health and wellness center currently located in a dugout next to the track.

“This would allow us to collaborate and be a leader in this area,” Basset said.

The athletic department has consulted with an architecture firm to come up with the initial plans for the gym. Bassett and her peers presented the plans to the dean, but construction is not expected to begin for several years.

“Nobody is opposed to the new gym. It’s just a matter of priorities,” Bassett said. “We have the Gates Center and classrooms that need to be renovated first.”

Beyond athletic facilities, the Men’s Fitness article ranked schools based on other aspects. Dickinson, for example, requires students to take at least four semesters of physical education.

Bassett does not think the university should incorporate mandatory physical education programs into its curriculum.

“Our physical education range is appropriate for our academic profile,” she said.

Jeanette Schilling, a sophomore policy and management major and member of the women’s basketball team, thinks it is the rigorous academic life keeping students from the gym.

“The student body is less focused on fitness because we have a lot of work,” she said, “but there still are a few of us who work out on a daily basis.”
Students at other rigorous and technically focused schools share Schilling’s outlook. Students at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland agree with observations made by Carnegie Mellon students about campus fitness.

Liz Zheng, a senior at Case, thinks intense academic programs keep students out of the gym.

“I don’t think that the student body at Case is in shape,” she said. “Most people are stressed out and too busy to work out. Sleeping and pizza is a lot more comforting.”

Zheng also thinks technically focused universities produce similarly-focused students who “probably think that their grades or getting [an internship] is more important than lifting weights.”

Joanna Hawley, a senior design major, thinks that the high-stress environment actually promotes working out.

“Everyone is so stressed out that a lot of people I know just try to burn off the stress by working out,” she said.

Still, Hawley feels that the athletic facilities could use some improvement.

“The facilities are adequate in some places,” she said. “I definitely think the [University Center] and Skibo facilities should be bigger, because they are more of a hub for working out.”

The majority of the other schools on the list are small liberal arts colleges. Virginia Tech is the only technically focused school with a large Division I athletics program that makes the cut.