Thursday, June 16, 2011

Question: Why Do Development Offices Raise Money For Sports When Academics Are Being Cut?

I've got an idea:  let's run a fund-raiser for the humanities!
Answer: Because the entertainment value of major sports for fans, alumni/ae and students -- primarily the football and basketball programs that can be packaged and sold to a mass audience --  is viewed as a necessary and normal feature of university life.  But that's not true.  Instead, it is a competitor for funds that ought to be going to teaching and learning, and because of that, part of what threatens the survival of full-time academic labor and the accessibility of higher education to a broad range of students.

Why am I, a sports fan, thinking these crazy thoughts?  Libby Sander's reports in the Chronicle of Higher Education this morning that 22 elite college sports programs made a profit in the last fiscal year.  This is an increase from "from 14 the previous year....The median surplus at those programs was $7.4-million last year, up from $4.4-million in 2009."  However, the median deficit in the Football Bowl Subdivision (this is the category that used to be called Division I-A) was $11.6 million.

Let me put this in the homey, old-timey budget language that conservative politicians prefer.  This news is similar saying that, of the seventy people who live on my street, two of us made more than we did last year, and everyone else went more deeply into debt.  And both of us who made money did so because our parents wrote us a big, tax-deductible check.

Of course, this is old news.  But think of the aggregate deficits in programs below the FBS.  It's a staggering amount of money that could be used to lower tuitions, give financial aid and hire full-time faculty who would be able to devote themselves to educating students at public schools the way  can devote ourselves to teaching and advising at places like Zenith.  That colleges and universities would continue to invest in an enterprise on the unproven theory that it is good for the overall fiscal health of the institution is a business model that would simply be jeered at outside the Church of Latter Day Sportsfans.

If you are waiting for one of those garden-variety attacks on college sports programs more generally, you can stop reading:  I don't think they are any less useful than any of the other budget lines devoted to co-curricular student life.  I continue to believe that organized sports are good for student-athletes:  at their best they create a sense of community and identity, instill discipline, and -- here's something that troubles our intellectual project -- teach students how to cope with failure.  Furthermore, it is only a very few teams who are responsible for the vast majority of a school's athletic budget.  If you take out the big so-called "revenue generating" sports like football, and men's and women's basketball, athletic programs represent a lot of jobs, most of which are not particularly well paid. You can, for example, get a top-flight, national team quality rowing coach who manages 50 - 100 athletes at a D-I school for under $80K, most pay more like $45K, and many entry level coaching positions at Ivy League rowing (and other athletic) programs pay under $10K, if they pay at all.

But you have to ask:  in a period of budget cutting, why are enterprises that justify themselves through their supposed potential to generate revenue to support the university's academic mission -- but actually don't -- not scrutinized?  With another million tossed on top, that $11.6 million that the average school loses on major sports represents an endowment that would add three tenure-track positions.  Don't like tenure?  Well, budget those positions as contract faculty earning good wages and benefits at $200K a year, and we are talking about employing 55 extra faculty.  Instead, these schools are howling about how much the English department costs and flushing all this money away.

Furthermore, when athletic programs are threatened, it seems to be a trigger for unbelievable fundraising that academic cuts don't inspire, despite the fact that a B.A. in history is more likely to send a young person off to law or medical school than four years stomping around on the sidelines as a second string special teams dude.  At UC-Berkeley, a school that has suffered debilitating cuts to its academic programs, three programs that were on the block -- women’s lacrosse, women’s gymnastics and rugby -- were saved only a few months after the cuts were announced by fundraising solicited by "alumni, student-athletes, coaches and fans."  Of course, cutting these teams would not have been necessary if the so-called "revenue generating" sports were not swallowing the athletic budget.

While the pledges that saved these programs sound like an act of spontaneous love, those of us who work for universities know that no one is allowed to raise money without the permission and support of the development office. Furthermore, you don't come up with the kind of money that Berkeley did (between $12 and $13 million in pledges) without having tapped some very, very deep pockets.  We are not talking bake sales and pathetic, dinner time cold calls from student-athletes.  My guess? Somebody pulled the trigger on donors who had already been identified, and the "cuts" had been targeted in such a way as to activate those donors.

What a development officer would tell you is that these major donors aren't willing to give that kind of money to support teaching or learning, and that the university might as well collect it for something they do support -- even if that project creates or solidifies a budget commitment that could otherwise be eliminated.  Giving money to schools for high-profile sports rather than education is an absurd proposition unless you put it in the context that policy makers and major foundations like Gates appear to believe that a teaching career is the professional equivalent of a life spent as a Peace Corps volunteer or a nun.  However, if that is so, whose fault is that?  Who is not making the argument for the importance of these fields?  The very highly paid administrators and fundraisers whose job it is to do so, that's who.  Too often the burden of persuasion is put on the shoulders of those of us who are also laboring 50 - 80 hours a week in the classroom:  this is a little like telling the people who walked out of Merrill Lynch with their personal items packed up in boxes on an hour's notice that they were personally responsible for policies set by the CEO, the Board of Directors, the Fed and Congressional oversight committees.

Big-time sports are a fiscal drag on the educational enterprise, and should not be the object of major fund-raising.  Worse, they are a source of fictional knowledge about what role colleges and universities are supposed to play in our political and social economy.  They promote the notion that higher education is really just entertainment and that college and university campuses are a playground for students and alumni/ae alike.  If we faculty have a role in this, it is to demand answers to these questions, particularly since we are doing the lion's share of the work for a fraction of what these programs cost.


Anonymous said...

Oh. It makes me SO VERY ANGRY. And like you, TR, I am a huge sports fan; I grew up in an academic family with a parent employed at a university whose football team won five -- count them, five -- national championships in my lifetime. I missed very few home games until I went off to Zenith, and even afterwards went to quite a few.

But the immense allocation of resources away from actual education and towards sports is just unfathomable to me, and, I am happy to say as an ethicist, is IMO also fundamentally unjust. We cannot afford to actually pay teachers, but we can darn well up the mandatory student fees to pay for renovations to the weight room?

Oh. It enrages me so very much. Major college football, a sport I loved with an intensity for most of my life, has been completely ruined for me now.

I spent summer 2010 in Germany on a fellowship, and the looks on my German colleagues' faces when I explained the allocation of resources and the expenditures in support of major college sports were just priceless, and terrible all at the same time. It was even more unfathomable to them than it was to me.

wini said...

I'm at a big football school. What horrifies me is the casual disregard paid to the players' lives. There is little effort made to educate many of the students (faculty can be guilty of this). They aren't paid while they make huge amounts of money for the sports program. And, in many sports, they are shortening their life span and quality of life for a pipe dream that no one in their lives has educated them about.

This should be the NCAA's main mission, and I think the side effects of this would be good for the institutions' educational missions as well.

My institution also has almost no reason to extensively fund raise, since the legislature is happy to balance their budget on the difference. The alumni association is the one place it seems worth giving to, they've been doing some good work beyond the huge tailgates they throw.

GayProf said...

I agree with Wini that the big sports programs often take advantage of the student athletes. There are numerous instances where the students do not attain a quality education despite the fact that it is why universities allegedly offer sports scholarships.

Maybe, though, we can take a page from the sports programs. Perhaps we can all start wearing matching outfits and have big History playoffs. The historian with the most plausible interpretation and strongest body of primary-source material wins!

AYY said...

Here are some specifics of what's going on:
This is from University Diaries re:University of Tennessee:
"[Athletic Director Mike Hamilton's] resignation is effective on June 30, [just days before the NCAA's infractions committee comes to pay a visit] but he will be on administrative leave beginning Monday. According to reports, he will receive a buyout of $1.335 million over the next 36 months or $445,000 per year ($37,083.33 monthly)…

Hamilton fired football coach Phil Fulmer in 2008, Bruce Pearl in March and most recently baseball coach Todd Raleigh. He hired Lane Kiffin to replace Fulmer, but Kiffin resigned after one season to take over the University of Southern California program, which was sanctioned by the NCAA.

According to the News Sentinel, Pearl is being paid $948,728, and Raleigh is owed $331,657.53 for a total of $1,280,385.53.

According to The Tennessean, Fulmer received $6 million when he was fired.

The football violations being heard by the NCAA this weekend are under Kiffin’s regime.

He also fired baseball coach Rod Delmonico and basketball coach Buzz Peterson, who received $1.39 million in 2005 when he was fired, according to the News Sentinel.

According to The Tennessean, the total cost of all of Hamilton’s firings is $9,070,385.53."

Quoted from

This one is about the U of Minnesota

"Headline in the St. Paul Pioneer Press today (Wednesday, October 27):

U Regent Wants Football Focus

The report contains the following quotations from Regent Dean Johnson, the former majority leader of the Minnesota State Senate:

"The University of Minnesota has three things to do: teach, provide research and outreach. The first two are extremely important. The third, the outreach--I can think of no better outreach than to have a winning football team, a Big Ten championship and a competitive national football team. . .

"If the Golden Gophers were to go back to the Rose Bowl or be nationally competitive, that helps us to get through the workday; that takes care of a lot of things. The positives: the alumni become more excited, donors begin to feel good about their giving, not only to athletics, but to the law school, to the school of medicine, to whatever. And it all generates an enthusiasm. . .

"During the interview of our presidential search, I will ask, 'What has been your commitment to athletics and to football and how have you budgeted?' Not 'What are your plans, but what has your track record been?'

"Now, we'll ask questions of academics and research and on and on, too. They are equally important. But I think the people of this state want us to, and I think we owe it to them, to be more competitive in collegiate football.""

Link from comment by Michael McNabb in University Diaries.

Janice said...

I knew a young man who turned down a prestigious football scholarship because the university didn't want him to pursue the ambitious educational program he had in mind. Athletes there were supposed to major in a safe, approved major. I think how that compares to the freedom my dad had with his 1950s football scholarship to Purdue where he majored in metallurgical engineering.

University athletics should be there for university students, not alumni. The name recognition and "spin-off" benefits that so many promote? I suspect you could get that level of publicity for well under 11 million per institution!

Carl said...

I fundraised for rent and beer money in college, and I was pretty good at it, so I can say with some confidence that, admirable shoulds aside, "it's more complicated than that (tm)."

It's an interesting and unproductive conversation with donors to explain that you want them to support the core mission of the school. They assume, with some justice, that this is what the core revenue streams of the school are for; tuition in particular, which they remember being high. It's a dramatically easier sell to get into their pockets for deluxities that can be sold as otherwise not occurring. Sports, rec centers, theaters, electron microscopes. Sometimes endowed chairs and scholarships, but those are no less luxury outliers to the core mission than a betchen football team. Never classroom buildings, which only a tiny fraction of geeks associate with pleasure.

It's also striking how much segmentation of identification there is. I called grads of arts and sciences, the dental school, the med school and the law school. None of them gave a rat's ass about each other. For the pro program grads the a&s were actively unpleasant memories of "boring and useless" gen ed classes. They had deep pockets to pump up their own schools but not the general university mission. Meanwhile, the a&s grads were a wasteland for disposable cash.

The economics of the sports programs are also pretty complicated. The bottom line is very much a moving target. Because successful programs create visibility and school pride, they factor into revenue in some indirect ways that don't show up in the accounting until they're gone. At my tuition-driven D3 school athletics are also just straightforwardly a recruiting vehicle, but that also means the facilities have to be up to speed, which sometimes means big-ticket investments that don't show immediate and obvious black ink on the bottom line.

I agree completely that there are some sillinesses embedded in all of this. Also, re: Europe, it's worth noting that they have very different models of university funding and eligibility in general; and to cite the English case, they're also not doing very well.

Susan said...

You left out the fact that at many state schools, the student activities fee (or some such fee) pays for the athletic teams and even any facilities that haven't been paid for by donors. I think the integration of mind and body is important, but we can't say often enough that neither schools (for the most part) nor students profit from college athletics.

Dean Dad said...

Concur in part, dissent in part.

Yes, bigtime sports programs are ridiculous fiscal drains at many universities, and they should be cut down to size. No disagreement there.

In the community college world, that's already the case. Sports here are tiny, frugal afterthoughts. And yes, we have a development office.

But getting donors to pony up for "operating" expenses is nearly impossible. They simply won't do it, and in the absence of something resembling an endowment, you don't really want them to. Do you want to support tenured faculty salaries on non-recurring money? When the giving dries up at the next recession, you are in for a world of hurt.

Here, donors give mostly for two things: buildings and scholarships. Both are name-able, and both matter for the academic mission of the college. Neither directly pays faculty (or administrative) salaries, though. For that, we need stable, predictable, reliable operating funding. Given that tuition covers less than the cost of teaching a student -- that's the public model in a nutshell -- there's an argument to be made that scholarships actually cost the college money.

Donors like to see that they've "made a difference." When the impact is easily defined -- as in a new building or a scholarship -- that's easy. When it's "you helped make this year's budget slightly less bad," they hear that as "you enabled us to continue an unsustainable path." They don't go for it.

Again, no argument about athletics in other contexts, but development offices can only sell what they can sell.

Tenured Radical said...

I don't doubt your experience in these matters, Dean Dad. But I think you miss my point: funds being raised for sports are often being used to endow those teams and their facilities. When I hear that donors "won't" do X,Y, or Z, part of what I hear is that a school "won't" make the case for full-time faculty. In fact, at many schools, administrators like to show off their business model for a flexible work force instead.

When you endow faculty lines, you take salaries, benefits and research funds off the board: endowing one full professor can then allow you to add one or more faculty lines, depending on whether they are tt or contract.

One issue in higher ed now is the way that those of us who are professionals (like you and me) are immediately trumped by the ill-informed preferences of people who just have $$.

Kimberly said...

Apropos this discussion:

Tenured Radical said...

I'm putting Kimberly's URL in as a hyperlink

Anonymous said...

I agree -- less for football, more for lacrosse!!!


Anonymous said...

Since I currently work at a public school where academics is taking a huge cut - again - while athletics is getting more funding (and where we haven't won a national title in my lifetime, nor are we likely to), I really appreciate this piece.

And I wish all of our taxpayers were as angry about it, as they should be.

sibyl said...

Well, of course we spend too much on sports.

Your assertion, however, that it's the job of the fundraisers to make the case for funding athletics over funding academics (or anything else) is incorrect. The job of the fundraiser is to secure the gift, however it comes in and for whatever purpose. If a donor wants to give for a lacrosse team or a new chapel or a solar-powered residence hall, the fundraiser doesn't sniff, "We need physics labs," and walk out. The fundraiser says, "Thank you! One chapel coming right up!"

Development officers throw everything out to potential donors in the hope that something sticks. (We have a great writing program, great dorms, a great study-abroad operation, great students...) Good stories work best -- the student who became the school's first Rhodes finalist, the first-generation student who worked in the dining hall for six years to make it through, etc. Stories of need (our chem lab is crumbling, our dorms lack air conditioning, we have too many adjuncts) are usually unsuccessful because they suggest that the current administration is incompetent, and no one wants to give to a bumbling school.

To the development office, the ideal gift is an unrestricted gift to general endowment, because it can be used for whatever the president and the administration wants and can be changed over time. But donors are pickier than ever and more likely to want to give to something specific (yes, including the philosophy department). Fundraisers can try to guide that choice, but it is always better to get a gift for something, even if it's low priority, than no gift at all.

Adam said...

have read your post with mild amusement, specifically because of the self-serving bent.

I donate where I choose, and if others are green with envy, get over it.

I mean no harm by saying that it sounds like some are of the mindset that our government should take more of peoples hard earned money in the form of taxation, to redistribute in ways they see appropriate (i.e. salaries to fund government jobs). Shame on them.

Here’s a concept worth considering: Take some raw materials, and manufacture into a saleable product. Then, sell it on the open market. Perhaps then one might begin to develop a sense how hard people have to compete and work for what little they have, after the federal, state, and local municipalities each take their cut.

I have the reasonable self-expectation to spend (donate) a portion of my remaining disposable income where I choose, without all noise from government employees who seem to have little enlightenment about fundamental economics.

Tenured Radical said...

A relevant post from Margaret Soltan at University Diaries.

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