Sunday, May 01, 2016

Incompatibles: Football and the mission of higher education

The Sunday edition of the local newspaper had plenty of pages dedicated not to the Syrian crisis, nor to climate change, and not even to the latest antics of the Donald.  The pages, with color photographs galore, were about football at the local university!  Thankfully, I did not throw up all over the paper ;)

It is simply bizarre that everybody, from the president--who was his usual masterful self at the comedy improv last night--down to the high school student complains about the cost of higher education and, yet, there are only a few of us who have been railing against the wasteful allocation of precious dollars towards college football (and basketball too.)  About five years ago, in this post, I quoted Katha Politt who phrased it well:
In no other country’s university system, after all, does sports play anything like the central role it does in American academic life. Men do not go to Oxford to play cricket; the Sorbonne does not field a nationally celebrated soccer team. Even in the most sports-mad countries, sports is sports and education is education. That’s a better system.
Which is why it was refreshing to read about a public university in a neighboring state deciding that it did not want to participate in the athletic arms race.  The president of the University of Idaho, which is the state’s land-grant university, writes that some of the alumni and supporters do not agree with his decision because of the impact on the "institution’s “prestige” and “relevance.”  The university president responds to them:
Success on the football field should complement the prestige and relevance of our academic institution. But football affiliation or performance should not define prestige and relevance. The impact of our institution should define us, as measured by the entire experience for our student body, including our athletes; by academic excellence across the university; by sustained research, scholarly activity and creative success; and by deep engagement with communities and partnerships with industry.
Oh my!  Finally, a university president develops a spine to stand up against the brainwashed who believe that colleges and universities exist in order to entertain them!
Why should my university's decision about what conference to play in matter to anybody outside our institution? Because I think our situation has potential implications for dozens of universities that play big-time college football and says a lot about the state of college athletics.
Exactly!  This is 'yuge', as the guy with short fingers and a huge ego says.
We can and will create an outstanding student-athlete and communitywide experience around our program, a vibrant football culture that is a great front porch for Idaho’s leading, national research university, a draw for future students and a continued source of pride for current students. And we can do it in a way that does not constrain the university and does not distract from our core mission.
"Core mission."  What a quaint idea for a university president to make a decision based on the mission's and higher education's mission!  How do we get other universities and their presidents to understand this simple concept?  More importantly, how do we get the American public to understand what education is about?


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