(Am debating within myself whether I should send this to the editor, and make more enemies when published!)
Recall the sound bite "we need more welders and less philosophers" from back when it was the season
of the Republican primaries? I wish we had engaged in a whole lot of discussion regarding that statement from Senator
Marco Rubio. Instead, we collectively shrugged and moved on.
We could, and should, have used that opportunity to engage in discussions on what education ought to accomplish. If we had, then we would have agreed that we need both
welders and philosophers, and that higher education is failing to deliver them.
Public higher educational institutions have suffered from extensive mission creep over the years. It is
best (worst?) seen in how sports-oriented the taxpayer subsidized colleges and universities have
become. Welders and philosophers are apparently way less important than athletics in the mission of higher education!
Countries where people are far more sports-crazy than we are do not waste their taxpayer monies like
we do here in the US. Europeans, for instance, are maniacal about soccer, but they know well that
sports is sports, and education is education. Or, consider my old country, India, where cricket is
practically a religion. Colleges do not waste enormous resources on cricket and its gods.
If only we had continued to engage with the welders/philosophers soundbite, then we would have
ended up talking about the wasteful practices in higher education, with athletics as perhaps the
foremost waste of taxpayer money. But, of course, public institutions do not want us to talk about this,
and the sports-addicted taxpayers are even less interested it seems.
A year ago, journalists in Michigan attempted to understand how much taxpayer money is spent on
athletics by public institutions in their state. It was not an easy project. They “obtained through the Freedom of
Information Act the financial disclosure statements provided to the NCAA from Michigan's 13 public
universities that offer NCAA-level athletics.” Yes, through the Freedom of Information Act!
What they found did not surprise any of us who have been critical of this unholy mix of sports and
academics in public higher education. Not only did the public institutions spend gazillions on athletics,
“students are often "kept in the dark" when it comes to how universities fund college athletics and the
degree to which colleges are subsidizing sports.”
Yet, whenever they cry funding shortage, universities
are ready to ax philosophy before they even think of reducing the sports subsidies. I wish that
legislatures, including here in Oregon with our huge budget deficit, would question the wisdom of public colleges as entertainment arenas.
The university where I have been teaching for fifteen years is no exception. A decade ago, a 25-million
dollar facility was built primarily to meet the NCAA Division II requirements. Such an outrageous expense
would not have been incurred if sports were played at the lower tier National Association of Intercollegiate
Athletics (NAIA,) in which the university participated until the year 2000.
America is exceptional indeed—when it comes to diverting taxpayer money on entertainment, when
that could be spent instead on welders and philosophers. This taxpayer-supported entertainment is
what the Declaration of Independence meant by "the pursuit of happiness.”