Saturday, August 03, 2013

The University of Nike's Pigskin Palace. Knight is no Carnegie!

A couple of days ago, NPR aired a piece on the steel baron, Andrew Carnegie, who gave away a good chunk of his fortune to build public libraries throughout the United States.  Yes, public libraries. To be accessed for free.
In 1889 Carnegie wrote an article called "The Gospel of Wealth," in which he spelled out his views on philanthropy: "In bestowing charity the main consideration should be to help those who help themselves."
The rich should give, so the poor could improve their own lives — and thus the lives of the society. Giving was a code of honor. "The man who dies rich dies in disgrace," Carnegie said.
Nasaw says the steel master was in his 30s when he decided he was merely the shepherd of his wealth.
"It is his responsibility to give it back," Nasaw says, "to return it to the community because the community — all of those men and women who contribute to the making of Carnegie steel, the mothers who feed their children, the day laborers, the whole large community — is responsible for making this wealth and they're the ones who have to get it back."
So public libraries became instruments of change — not luxuries, but rather necessities, important institutions — as vital to the community as police and fire stations and public schools.
Yes, Carnegie was ruthless as a businessman, as a capitalist.  But, the legacy he left behind includes:
1,689 public libraries. Temples of learning, ambition, aspiration for towns and cities throughout the United States.
And then there was a contrasting story about the latest college football excess at the University of Oregon, thanks to Nike's Phil Knight:
The Football Performance Center at the University of Oregon features rugs woven by hand in Nepal, couches made in Italy and Brazilian hardwood underfoot in the weight room that is so dense that designers of this opulent palace believe it will not burn.
This is Oregon football. There is a barbershop with utensils from Milan. And a duck pond. And a locker room that can be accessed by biometric thumbprints. And chairs upholstered with the same material found in a Ferrari’s interior. 
The Oregonian's columnist aptly describes this as Pigskin Palace, and writes:
It's Phil Knight's money, of course, and there's a lot more where that came from. But the new structure does seem to send out a message to everything else on campus.
A University of Oklahoma president once told legislators that he wanted a university the football team could be proud of. Oregon might now hope for a university the football building could be proud of.
 We could have had by now a university that the state can be proud of if valuable and scarce resources are not invested in sporting facilities, right?

Carnegie left behind a rich legacy, despite his brutal business practices.  Vanderbilt too. The Ford Foundation contributed so much to the entire world.  Bill Gates and Warren Buffett seem to continue along in that old American tradition.

And then we have the awful ones like Knight who are all about self-aggrandizement.  It is even more awful that people love it all. Even more pathetic that the left-leaning faculty are always too keen on following football that is clearly at the expense of education. And students are always delirious with football success even when they are jobless after graduating from the university.  Oh the insanity!
“We are the University of Nike,” said Jeff Hawkins, the senior associate athletic director of football administration and operations. “We embrace it. We tell that to our recruits.”
I am ready to puke!


Ramesh said...

One minor difference between our respective points of view. The students should be proud of every football success and root for their team. Only difference is that they should not pay for it. Neither should the State.

Zach said...

I am always conflicted when I think about Gilded Age capitalists and their philanthropic endeavors because, like you said, Carnegie gave a quarter of his fortune for the betterment of society; however, the paradox is that his fortune was accrued by also manipulating this same public through corrupt business practices and a desire to achieve success at the expense of the working person.

Many men have left their legacies in libraries and academic institutions, yet how can we celebrate them if their legacies in such endeavors as Carnegie Mellon and Stanford are founded upon values of corruption? Like you quote in your headline: "Every profession is a conspiracy against the laity," how do we as people of morals and progressive ideals maneuver through the bastions of higher education if their origins have ruined lives in order to accrue their fortunes? If the professions are antithetical to the success of the workers, how do we fix this problem?

Also, if the values of excess are being exalted in bastions of education with such additions as this Pigskin Palace, how will students be affected by the example of men such as Phil Knight?

Sriram Khé said...

Hmmm ... Ramesh, so, if Phil Knight foots the university's football team entire expenses, you will be ok with it? BTW, Knight is matched by the oil guy Pickens at Oklahoma State U.

Zach, yes, I too feel troubled ... I have often commented about the Rhodes Scholarships too ... all those monies did not always come about in the most ethical ways. compared to those, Bill Gates' gazillions are so clean.

So, yes, what does it tell students when Knight can do whatever he wants to do with the university's football team? For one, it clearly tells football players that they are special, and will be treated very differently from the rest. It could also tell students that if they had the money, they too can do whatever they want to do. And, such a glorified treatment of football and its players then oozes down to the high school level. The latest issue of the New Yorker has a wonderful summary of the horrific events at Steubenville High School

BTW,I wasn't kidding about leftist faculty being big time sports fans--in the classrooms they go in to criticize Nike's business practices, and conveniently forget Nike's role in college sports (leave alone the professionals!) ... I critique college sports, and merely layout the economic geography of how multinationals make decisions ... In an op-ed a couple of years ago, I referred to something like this, and boy one "socialist" sports-loving faculty was upset enough to email the faculty about it ;)

So, yes, every profession is a conspiracy against the laity--all the more the reason why I so much want students to be critical thinkers ...

Sriram Khé said...

A column in the local paper with which I concur:

Sriram Khé said...

I have this nasty habit of returning to the old posts!!!

From the New Yorker:

Most read this past month