A few weeks ago, I was tagged by the American Federation of Teachers higher ed blog to answer two questions inspired by that foolish op-ed in the New York Times by Mark C. Taylor last month. The AFT’s questions are:
- Do you believe the U.S. system of higher education is in need of change and, if so, why and to what degree?
- What are the top three things you would change in the long-run if you had the power to do that?
There are a pile of exams and final papers a-waiting my attention, so I am going to answer 1) Fer Sure, and 2) let’s keep it simple, and just abolish the free farm teams for the NFL and the NBA that most large universities subsidize. I wrote about this a few months ago, when I heard news that a university radio station in my former hometown was being axed for budgetary reasons:
I understand that in these lean budgetary years, programs that are not “mission-critical” will get the ax. My question is this: why are college sports teams ever seen as “mission-critical?” The marquee sports–men’s football and men’s basketball–involve only a tiny handful of students who are unrepresentative of the student body on most campuses (since women are the majority of college students.) Why not just drop out of the NCAA and turn them into club sports, as so many women’s teams and other men’s teams are? . . . . Why does higher ed agree to run a free double- and triple-A league for the NBA and the NFL? MLB and the NHL have done just fine, thank you very much, without this kind of welfare giveaway.
WMUB was a valuable service in a community that didn’t have a daily newspaper. It employed student interns who wanted to get experience in broadcast media. (I occasionally tune in to the voice of one of those former interns from the 1990s reading the news out here on Wyoming Public Radio.) While community members may attend a college game or two every season, they surely tuned into WMUB in much greater numbers. On bad weather days, it’s where we all went to pray for news of a snow day. There is clearly a much better argument that WMUB was mission-critical, if the mission of higher education is, you know, education instead of entertainment and craven servility to the NBA and the NFL.
Some universities are making entire colleges, departments, and programs become self-funding these days with grant and tuition dollars, so why not the Athletic Department? Universities are after all places of higher learning, not entertainment franchises. Remember how it was done in junior high and high school? Team members had to sell fruit, or frozen bread dough, or do other kinds of fund-raisers in order to purchase uniforms and some gas for the school buses to drive them around to local schools to compete. Why do men’s teams at the university level get the star treatment at everyone else’s expense? Now that the majority of college students in this country are women, who also outperform their male peers academically, there’s a serious gender equity question here, too–even if women students are equally rabid team fans, no women’s teams are as lavishly funded as men’s teams, and there’s no such thing as women’s football.
If (as the false claim goes) these teams actually make money for the university–let them! Release them from enfeebling welfare dependency! Let the spirit of free enterprise be unleashed! Let the invisible hand reach into its fat wallet to buy tickets to the games! With freedom for athletic teams and justice for those who don’t play or watch sports, as Murray Sperber argued in Beer and Circus, more students might actually see college as a place for learning and intellectual growth, rather than as a four-year party.