Of Football Teams, Fraternities, and Other Important Intellectual Concerns


                                   by Walter Brasch


            The $50 million Burton Family Football Complex at the University of Connecticut may be nameless soon. Robert G. Burton, who had donated about $3 million to help fund the stadium, wants his money back and his family's name erased from UConn football. He also informed UConn he will cancel his $50,000 a season suite in the stadium.

            What upset Burton, who had donated about $7 million to UConn, mostly for its football program, was that the selection committee for a new football coach didn't take his suggestion. Not long after Burton's tirade, the chairman of the Board of Trustees reached out to "mend fences" to keep money where it belongs—in the football program.

            While athletics drives many universities, a few consider sports as supplemental to the academic mission. I believe this is how a conversation went at one college located somewhere in America, where the accreditors were questioning the president.

            "How did your football team do this year?" asked the chairman of the accrediting team.

            "We were 3-and-6, and very proud of our team," said a beaming president.

            "This is serious. What steps have you taken to replace your coach?"

            "We hadn't thought about it," said the president, mystified by the inquiry. "Coach Samuels is one of the nation's most respected organic chemists, teaches a full load of courses, then works out the team an hour or two in the evenings."

            "An hour or two?" said the accreditor, mockingly. "No wonder your school has such a dismal record! Most colleges have twice-a-day drills for two or three hours at a time. The students don't even go to class in the Fall. Your coaching staff must be lazy."

            "We have only two assistant coaches. One teaches sociology, the other is a speech pathologist."

            "Most colleges have a dozen coaches," said the accreditor. "How can you not have assistant coaches for ends, backs, and nose guards?"

            "We have a good staff in our anatomy and physiology labs," said the president, adding that with additional assistant directors in Music and Theatre, the college  produces some professional-class musical comedies.

            "Who cares? How many of your athletes went on to professional NFL careers?"  The president diverted the question, and excitedly told the accreditor about alumni who went into the creative arts, others who are leaders in social work and environmental science, and of graduates who are among the nation's leaders in almost every field of scientific research.

            "Business!" roared the Chairman. "How many of your graduates are in high paying business jobs!"

            The president thought hard, but could think of only three of his recent graduates who went into corporate business, and then only because they couldn't get any other job. "Of course," said the president, "a few dozen of our graduates enter law and med school every year."

            The accreditor's face finally lit up. "Oh, so you do have wealthy alumni! Why didn't you say so!"

            The president shook his head. "Most of our alumni lawyers are into consumer law, and our med school graduates usually become family physicians or work with the poor."

            "Not a good sign. Not a good sign at all." Also not a good sign was the social atmosphere on campus. "I didn't see any fraternity or sorority houses on campus. In fact, hardly anyone even knows where the nightly parties are."

            "I guess that isn't helping our cause for reaccreditation, is it?" asked the president. He didn't have to ask since the accreditor was now writing furiously.

            "Your building fund? Any new recreation or student union buildings?"

            "We're planning a new building to house our community service programs." The accreditor hardly looked up he was so disgusted. "We had two Rhodes Scholars and one Danforth fellowship last year! One of our profs just won a Pulitzer. Ninety percent of our faculty hold the doctorate!"

            "Any of them all-Americans?"

            "Our Intercollegiate Debate Team was national champion last year! The Student Social Welfare Club led the fight against conversion of apartments into condos!"

            "Redeem yourself with committees," shouted the accreditor. "Do you have more committees than scholarships?"

            "We believe most committees are wastes of time that encourage their members to act in irrational and arrogant manners."

            The accreditor's aide calmed him down long enough so he could ask a final question. "How much of your budget is spent on sending your administrators and faculty to phony academic conferences to pat each other's behinds?"

            "None," wept the president, "most of our budget keeps students and faculty current in their fields."

            The accreditor slammed his notebook shut and walked away. The president called after him, "When will we know whether we have been reaccredited?"

            The accreditor stopped a moment, turned around, and shouted back, "When you become a real educational institution."


            [You may contact Walter Brasch, recently paroled from a long term confinement as a university professor, at walterbrasch@gmail.com]




Investing in Early Education Equality

Education is perhaps the closest thing we have to a social panacea.  When it works, it can fuel social mobility, economic productivity, crime prevention, and personal fulfillment.  And we know that the earlier a child enters school, the more likely he or she is to have a successful academic career.  So why is it so hard to make universal preschool a national priority?

Head Start and Early Head Start, the federal preschool program for children from low-income families, provide a powerful argument for incorporating preschool into the mainstream education system and funding it fully. Implemented by a patchwork of non-profit organizations and school districts, Head Start and Early Head Start have been demonstrated to prevent grade repetition and increase the likelihood of high school completion and college attendance.  However, it is means tested, meaning that a child whose parents earn more than the poverty level but not enough to afford a private preschool will likely be left out.  Additionally, providers have consistent difficulty hiring quality teachers, as the limited funding available allows for an average salary of only $21,000, which is less than half the salary of a public school teacher.

Some states have opted to take the lead in providing universal preschool. These efforts have occured in the absence of longterm federal support, though, which has left them in a precarious financial position and too often operating as a loose affiliation of providers as opposed to a coherent network of classrooms housed within school districts.

President Obama has pledged to make early education a priority, and took a solid first step by appointing a Secretary of Education who has been a consistent proponent of it.  Let's hope that he makes good on this promise, and that our children have every opportunity to reach their full potential.

Read more at The Opportunity Agenda's blog.

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stupid intellectuals

The campaign against intellectualism isn't being waged solely by the right.  Its seems that it is in fashion to declare yourself to be doer and not a thinker or even well educated.  While it might not be sufficient to merely be a thinker, it certainly is necessary.  And as the Bush administration as shown, doing without thinking can be a nightmare.

to whit, Kos writes:

"Here's my take on the whole matter -- "intellectuals" who'd rather read books and measure purity are next-to-useless. I prefer people of action, not of elitist academics. And I say that as someone who collected degrees as a hobby. What did all those Marx readers deliver the country? Nixon. Reagan. Bush. Bush II. Not to mention the DeLays, the Scalias, and the long national nightmare that is just now being stemmed."

Its not hard to think of few things things that earlier generations of intellectuals contributed to society (on both the left and the right).  Here is something that pointy-headed intellectuals are discussing at the moment (besides global warming, the deficit, disease, etc.):

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