Friday, March 29, 2013

Do Athletic Programs Help Fund the Arts?

Here’s an interesting story that ought to make people bonkers but seems not to have garnered the least nibble of broad media attention. Please correct me if I am wrong on this.

Students at Kent State University recently released the results of a study that revealed the manner in which student tuitions were being used and, specifically, how the university’s sports programs were being funded. Their research focused on colleges in Ohio, one of them being my alma mater, Ohio University.

Many of our college experiences remain vivid throughout our lives, in part because they are so new at the time and in part because in our youth there is less competition for real estate on that grey matter landscape between our ears. In my case, I well remember one specific incident that was singularly striking.

I was in my second year at O.U., living in the experimental coed dorm on the South Green. One of the fellows on my floor section had a friend on the Bobcat football team, a big guy who played guard and lived in the Convocation Center with the other football players. For the sake of this story we’ll call him Spacer, though his real name was far more interesting.

One evening while Spacer was visiting our dorm, primarily for the purpose of obtain something to inhale, I listened to him talk about his math class, for which he was getting several credits toward a degree. I discovered that he was learning things I’d learned in sixth grade, math problems which a halfway intelligent adult could probably figure out with no instruction whatsoever. The reason this made an impression was that I had, with considerable anguish, struggled through advanced calculus and differential equations while in high school and in order to go further in my studies on that lofty plateau I would have to take even higher math or receive no credits at all.

This seemed unfair on the face of it, but it gets worse. Our football program was a joke. I know for certain that one year we were pretty poor and if you go to Wikipedia you'll see that they avoid mentioning our record during the four years I attended. What I remember, again vividly, is that the cheerleading was so excessively vulgar that Sports Illustrated weighed in with measured shock and awe. This did article did contribute to my attending at least one game when I was in college. The students who went to these games knew how to rhyme some very colorful words.

So, on to my point. We have a weak math student who is starting guard for a college football team with a zero and ten (0-10) record, receiving a scholarship to play sports… and we never stopped to ask who’s footing the bill? Who pays for all these stadiums, sports programs and that zither-full of scholarships? I’d always been told—and believed it!—that the sports programs helped pay for every other facet of campus life, helped defray expenses for other students, maybe even raised money for new buildings. Is that what you thought? If so, you’d be wrong.

By means of a story titled Examining the University Bill, I discovered just how out of balance everything is getting these days. “Student journalists at Kent State University went after something they wouldn't have to if universities were more transparent in their billing, a breakdown of student fee charges. Why aren't universities providing line-item charges so students and parents can see where the money is going?”

And what did they learn? At my school, Ohio U, 81% of the athletic budget comes from student fees. That's quite a kick. To be fair to other schools, O.U. is the highest of the bunch that were willing to open their books.

The Kent State journalism students know well that numbers can lie so they sliced the information at a different angle to make sure we got the picture. What percentage of student fees go to fund the athletic programs? In other words, how is our tuition being used these days?

At Ohio University, 48 cents on every dollar goes to fund the athletic programs. Whether you went to school for literature, engineering or philosophy, half your tuition is being siphoned to make sure we have our sports programs.

To be fair, not all schools fund their athletic programs in this manner. And to be equally fair, this use of student fees likely contributed to the Bobcats starting their season with six wins in their first six games last year, nothing like anything I saw as a student. But then I didn't see much as I was usually elsewhere. And to be further fair, I am well aware that athletics programs can teach many good lessons that prepare one for life. Still, doesn't it seem like things are a tad out of balance?

We live in a country where arts programs are being cut to the bone because of their lack of perceived value, while it’s almost impossible to get a teaching job in some high schools unless you can also do double duty as a sports coach. You have a passion for teaching literature? You better know where the three-point line is located.Or the Red Zone.

Do athletic programs help fund the arts? Kudos to the kids who went digging for the details. It would appear the truth in some cases is the other way around.

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