M.S. in Athletic Training Discontinued

Photo Courtesy of: Ian Craddock

The Master’s of Science degree program in athletic training, which has been around for years at Chapman University, may be terminated officially after a meeting between faculty from Crean College of Health and Behavioral Sciences and the Provost on Monday, Feb. 19, according to Dr. Janeen Hill, Dean of Crean College.  

The program is likely closing due to a “perfect storm” of resignations that leaves the small program unable to maintain accreditation standards, and affected students are stunned and scrambling to assemble a “Plan B.”

Two of the program’s four faculty members are resigning, according to Hill: Dr. Jason Bennett, the Athletic Training Program Director, is leaving Chapman to help start up the athletic training graduate program at California State University, Fullerton, according to Dr. Hill. Dr. Sara Nottingham is transferring to the University of New Mexico, according to Dr. Hill. Their contracts end May 31, leaving only two professors, which is not enough faculty to maintain accreditation standards, Hill explained.  As a result, it appears unlikely that the mandatory self-study for reaccreditation due July 1, to the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training (CAATE), will be complete, Hill said.

Photo Courtesy of: Catie Kovelman

Currently enrolled graduate students will remain in the program and will graduate on time. However, recently accepted students have been notified of their revoked acceptances on Thursday, Feb. 8, and are being advised on which steps to take next in terms of applying to athletic training programs at other schools,  Bennett said.

Dr. Bennett did not comment on his reason for resignation, and Dr. Nottingham did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

Many factors are involved in deciding to discontinue a program. A rationale coming from either a group of faculty, the dean, or provost is sent to and voted on by the college curriculum committee whether to support or not support the recommendation to close the program. Then it is discussed between relative department faculty and finally sent to the Provost, which serves as the official closer, according to Dr. Hill.

“I was the one who submitted the rationale for the closure,”  Dr. Hill said. “I want to emphasize that program closure is a very serious undertaking, and is a multifactorial process that is not done on a whim. The students currently enrolled in the program and the ones who were accepted into the program will be carefully counseled, along with the faculty who teach in the department, whose best interests are at heart.”

Enrolled students found out they will still graduate on time, sit for the board certification, and that this discontinuation will not impact their ability to finish and graduate with their degrees at a meeting on Monday, Feb. 12.

Photo Courtesy of: Catie Kovelman

Dr. Bennett serves as a guidance counselor for the students who had their acceptances revoked by being available to them for meetings and informing other schools with athletic training graduate programs of their credentials and situation.

“Dr. Bennett has been nothing but extraordinarily helpful,” said Rebecca Brown, a senior kinesiology major from Chapman whose acceptance was revoked. “The meeting on Monday with the dean was pretty disappointing because there was no getting around what she was saying, which was ‘it was a perfect storm of events.’ Dr. Bennett was more transparent with us toward the end of the meeting so that was when I found out more about what was going on.”

“I know my professors are leaving and I don’t think they’re at fault, because people should be able to make their own life decisions,” Brown said. “But I just don’t understand why Chapman couldn’t hire other professors to replace them.”

Brown, with Dr. Bennett’s advising, is applying to all the schools that are still accepting applications, and schools recommended by the ones Dr. Bennett assured were of high quality.

Ellie Peterson, another senior kinesiology major whose acceptance to the program was revoked, is also meeting with Dr. Bennett and discussing her options. She plans on taking some community college classes over a gap year while she figures out what to do next.

“I’m pretty frustrated but have come to terms since I got that call on Thursday from someone in grad admissions who told me my acceptance is revoked and that I’d get my $500 deposit back,” Peterson said. “The process sucked, but Dr. Bennett was helpful because he reached out right away and told me that whenever I was going to re-apply to programs I should reach out to him for recommendations.”

Peterson said she and her colleagues are angry because faculty should have been replaced. They feel as though they’ve been left with nothing.

“I’ve met with the students who applied from Chapman, called the ones who applied from other schools, and have talked to programs at Oregon State, University of Pacific, Azusa Pacific, Cal Baptist, and Northern Arizona,” Dr. Bennett said. “I told them what’s happening and recommended the students based on the students’ choices of schools. My first priority is that both groups of students the ones currently enrolled and the ones with revoked acceptances are taken care of,” he added.

“I think every faculty member in this university is replaceable. Most people are,” Dr. Bennett said. “The athletic training program here is high quality, has great students, great alumni, and a super high reputation within our field. Why couldn’t they just hire new faculty?”

Photo Courtesy of: Catie Kovelman

Because the timeline left to replace faculty with the expertise and qualifications to teach in a graduate program is too short to guarantee replacement, according to  Dr. Hill.

Student athletic trainers who worked under the supervision of the head athletic trainer Pamela Gibbons will no longer be assisting Gibbons in patient care. Athletic training internships that involve more observation than a supervised hands-on experience will still be available to students interested in pursuing the field.

“It’s a sad day,” Gibbons said. “This program has been around for 35 years in a number of different formats. It started as an internship program transitioned to an undergrad curriculum and finally a graduate program. In my 27 years of being here I have seen very many successful alumni.” Athletic Training as a bachelor’s degree became available to undergraduate students in 2001 and became a graduate program in 2015.  

Jack Bauerle, MS, ATC, CSCS, former program director (1998-2000), proud alumni, and part-time professor, led the athletic training program into the accreditation process after the program’s founding father, Monte Smith, retired.

“It saddens me to hear the program’s closing because of its rich history and legacy of alumni across the world,” Bauerle said. “We have international students as certified athletic trainers in places as far as Japan.”

The cancellation is a shame, according to Bauerle, because alumni created an endowment – the Monte Smith endowment – to benefit the athletic training department. Bauerle and other alumni are currently deciding where they’ll re-channel the money they raised for the program.







Danielle Konovitch

One Comment

  1. As a proud alumnus of the Chapman University Athletic Training Program this is beyond disappointing. After working in the field and hiring athletic trainers for 22+ years there are a few AT education programs that stand out due to the quality of the didactic and clinical education and the great young professionals that make their way into sports medicine – Chapman’s AT program is one of those programs that has done this for decades. The quality of the instruction from the faculty and preceptors was more than just textbooks and labs – the leadership of the faculty and ATs from Monte Smith, Jack Bauerle, Jim Herkimer, Ky Kugler, Jason Bennett, Pam Gibbons, Sara Nottingham, Jasmene Jarrett (and many others) and the access to great teachers in physicians like Miguel Prietto, MD, Mike Shepard, MD, Chris Koutures, MD, etc. inspired students in the AT program to be more than someone with a degree or credential. All of these people gave CU AT students the tools to be passionate about the profession and motivated them to be the best clinician possible. The success of this program, like many others at Chapman, was not centered on board exam pass rates (although that could have been enough with the high pass rate) but rather the quality of the clinician that represented Chapman University as qualified health care professionals across the country and internationally in all settings.

    Chapman University isn’t just losing a great professional education program, it is losing future positive recognition in many healthcare fields that the AT alumni reach on a daily basis.

    I take exception to the comment that this is a “perfect storm”. If this was provided by someone from the institution – especially if it was Dean Hill – then shame on you. By the quotes it feels more like a “perfect opportunity” or rather the “easy way out”. There are more athletic trainers with terminal degrees than ever before! There are more athletic trainers looking for full time faculty positions than ever before that are qualified and eager to be the Program Director or Clinical Coordinator that would love to continue the legacy of a well established and organized program like Chapman’s.

    It isn’t like it was a surprise that Dr. Bennett (no relation) and Dr. Nottingham’s contracts were coming up on May 31st. As the leader of the department I would expect Dean Hill to do anything possible to fill these faculty positions and keep the program going for the current students and the future of the profession. This article does not give that impression.

    Another interesting point is the recent 48% increase in tuition for the AT graduate program. With that kind of jump in tuition wouldn’t it be a good fiscal investment for Chapman to keep this very popular program and see if it still met its annual cohort goal? Don’t universities look for ways to make more money this way? I get the feeling this was more than a fiscal decision. If Chapman really wanted to keep this program going they could have done more to keep Dr. Bennett and/or Dr. Nottingham there – this is not a new concept to negotiate to keep quality talent in place. But to lose two dedicated and high quality full-time faculty members who are also selfless contributors to the campus community, it is hard to believe that this was a surprise to Dean Hill and the university. So the university should have done what was necessary to keep one or both around or use faculty, staff and alumni connections to have a plan in place to or begin a search process to replace them.

    I don’t believe this is as simple as a “perfect storm”. Hiding behind the Provost as the “final closer” is also a weak position to take. The Provost made the final decision based on recommendations provided by Dean Hill and the faculty according to the article. I find it interesting that an impacted and specialized education program, in high demand by future professionals, with an outstanding success rate on national board exams and great reputation within its respective profession and has a supportive alumni base that has created an endowment, is dismissed so easily. There has to be a better reason than what was given by Dean Hill.

    Thank you to all of the great athletic training faculty and staff at Chapman University for giving me the opportunity to be a part of the greatest profession in the world. I love what I do as a health care professional thanks to the mentoring and guidance of great people like Jack Bauerle, Jim Herkimer, Pam Gibbons and Dr. Prietto. I am grateful for Chapman University and those that came before me that gave me such a great experience and have made me a proud alumnus. My disappointment will eventually dissipate and as always I will continue to look forward to our annual CUAT alumni gatherings at the NATA meetings in the summers to come.

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