The front porch

Since joining the University in 2010, president Wallace Loh has devoted out-sized attention to improving our campus’ athletic enterprise.  He opined that  the University is the house we all inhabit, the athletic program is it’s most visible feature—the porch.   The beautification of the porch took priority, with millions of dollars diverted from the academic mission of the university to support the efforts to fire and hire coaches, discontinue less photogenic athletic programs and join the “prestigious” big 10 alliance.  Thanks to these efforts, our front porch now has a fresh coat of paint and the front lawn is beautifully manicured.  Strewn all over the porch and lawn, however, are empty booze bottles and the bodies of hung-over frat bros—the audience for our University’s transformation.

To continue Loh’s metaphor, the academic and research components of our University inhabit not the house but the ill maintained garage, achieving amazing things despite the lack of attention and resources from the campus. Researchers have been furloughed, students have been taxed increasingly high “differential tuition”, and the campus continues to struggle to find a solution for correcting salary inequities that have accumulated after years devoid of cost of living increases. While the campus has barely flinched when paying almost $7 million to just two individuals, the task of distributing a couple of million dollars to woefully underpaid faculty and staff is simply too difficult.

Why is our front porch so important? The patronizing explanation from our leadership has it that our athletic enterprise brings in financial donations and the coveted TV money.  The truth is more complicated and harder to admit publicly.  Our athletic enterprise has been consistently losing money for decades. The largest donations to our campus (Iribe and Clark, most recently) have been to our research programs.  And our research enterprise raises over half a billion dollars in funding each year, far eclipsing any revenues from the football program or from exclusive agreements with vendors (such as Pepsi or Under Armour).  Never mind the millions of dollars paid by students in tuition and fees. If we were a company, a responsible CEO would double down on our academic and research enterprise, not the under-performing athletic program.

Why would our leadership make decisions that are financially irresponsible?  Why would they accept the death of a student, and the long term physical and psychological harm done to many others, as simply the cost of doing business in a “big time football program“?  I do not know the answer, but the regents and elected politicians obviously agree that these decisions are sound.  Let’s ask them to explain why, every occasion we have.  I would certainly like to know where politicians stand on this issue before I give them my vote.  I hope others reading this post will do the same.

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