← Previous Post: | Next Post:


UD Has Already Encountered…

… Robert Zemsky, a very intelligent critic of universities who has a post up on how not to reform schools at Inside Higher Ed.   She heard him talk at the last meeting of the Knight Commission.  Here’s her post about his remarks there.   If you don’t want to go to the trouble of clicking on that link, here’s some of what he said:

Trying to describe the place of athletics in the larger context of higher education is like trying to describe a burnt-out desert. You see, this discussion today — it isn’t going anywhere. We came here to talk about cost-containment, and it isn’t going anywhere. And that’s because any sense of values is missing.

Since you people don’t have any values, you put the marketplace up as the only thing that matters. That’s why you’re not ever going to reform at all. You’re part of the general loss of aura, loss of particularity, at our universities in America. Football on your campus is just like the NFL, you say, and, see, you’re proud of it. So what makes you a college? Absolutely nothing.

Used to be universities were supposed to be like churches — separate, special places, dedicated to higher things. They’re not special anymore. They’re just like any other business. So why tenure? Why tax exemptions? Look at Harvard and places like that. University endowments aren’t charitable donations; they’re hedge funds. University presidents make million dollar salaries, just like other CEOs.

It all tears at the fabric of the specialness of the university. You’ve all helped make that happen. Since you’ve been in business, things have gotten a whole lot worse. The university athletics engine will certainly stop running. But it will never reform itself. It’ll just run out of gas.

UD of course loved all of this, though she was puzzled by the run out of gas thing.  The university athletics engine is a massive SUV  with guns and fists and phalluses sticking out of it.  It’s barrelling down the road at high speeds and is equipped with no moral or financial brakes.  Everyone adores it.  Everyone’s mesmerized.  ESPN has run the tape of the Blount punches pretty much non-stop since he landed them, and everyone adores it.  Everyone eats it up.  Violence!

As long as human beings enjoy enormous stadiums housing violent spectacles, big time university athletics will be fine.

Zemsky seems in fact to agree with this in his IHE piece:

It’s already too late to reverse the tide of athletic commercialism. The sums are too large, the constituencies too powerful, the absence of agreed-upon purposes all too readily apparent.  Is reform necessary? — yes. Is it possible? — no…

[There’s been a] cascade of scandalous acts that, against a backdrop of institutional complicity and capitulation, threaten the health of American higher education.

… The best higher education can hope for is that eventually universities will cut loose their programs in football and basketball, making the university a sponsor rather than an owner of the enterprise.

I think Zemsky’s making one explicit, and one implicit, argument here.  His explicit argument has it that it’s not worth universities’ time to try to clean up their football and basketball programs.   Too much money and power is concentrated in those programs.

His implicit argument seems to be that if we just let the SUV keep barrelling down the road, eventually it will crash and burn.  Let the programs get worse and worse, in other words, as they certainly will — Let coaches make twenty million dollars a year.  Let players rape burn and pillage.  Let university presidents become total castrati.  Let students get so drunk they destroy downtown after every game, not just championships.  In this way, university sports won’t run out of gas so much as implode under the force of its own vileness.

Margaret Soltan, September 4, 2009 9:27PM
Posted in: sport

Trackback URL for this post:

2 Responses to “UD Has Already Encountered…”

  1. Michael W. McNabb Says:

    There is a solution that would allow a university to disentangle itself from the major revenue sports while allowing those programs to continue. Organize the men’s basketball and football teams as separate corporations. The university would grant a license to those corporations to use the name of the university for the teams. The fee for the license would be a percentage of the revenues the corporations generate from ticket sales, broadcasting rights, advertising, etc. The university would use part of the license fee income to support the non-revenue sports it decides to retain, such as track and swimming. This is a solution that would enable the sports fans to continue to enjoy the games and enable the university to focus on its academic mission.

    Michael W. McNabb
    University of Minnesota B.A. 1971; J.D. 1974

  2. Michael Tinkler Says:

    A professor of Physics at Rice once suggested that Rice just buy a professional football franchise – they had the money, more or less, and the Rice Stadium seated more people than the Astrodome. Then the players would be university employees. Rice could recruit players from other college teams and the athletes could, if they liked, take courses with the same tuition discounts as other employees, and graduate from a better college than almost anywhere we stole them from. And if not, not.

    No one took him seriously.

Comment on this Entry

Latest UD posts at IHE