New class focuses on funding for athletics

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article was an incomplete draft posted due to a technical error. The version you see below is the final version, as published in print on Thursday, August 25, 2011.

This fall, a few faculty members will teach a freshman seminar that focuses on the priorities of UC Berkeley, specifically with regard to how much the campus should emphasize subsidizing its  Department of Intercollegiate Athletics.

These three faculty members created this seminar,”Priorities Under Pressure: Critical Assessment of How the University’s Core Mission is Affected by Intercollegiate Athletics“, from their concern that the Intercollegiate Athletics program continues to cost the university millions of dollars annually, said Brian Barsky, a creator of the seminar.

According to Barsky, the intercollegiate athletics program at UC Berkeley was originally set up to be self-supporting, just like student housing, meaning that it must generate whatever money it spends and that the campus should not provide funds to enable the program to spend beyond the amount that it generates.

“However, the program continues to use campus funds, having cost the campus $78 million from 2003-2010 … while at the same time paying multi-million dollar coaching compensation,” Barsky said.

The course is listed in the computer science division of the electrical engineering and computer sciences department. Barsky will teach the seminar with two other campus professors — Margaretta Lovell, a history of art professor, and Laura Nader, an anthropology professor — but will also invite many guest speakers.

While the course will examine the use of university funds in the Intercollegiate Athletics program, it will also use the program as a more general platform to determine thepriorities of the university as a whole, according to Barsky.

“This transcends the issue of examining how intercollegiate athletics affects the university’s core mission,” Barsky said. “ We will examine the broader question of what is the purpose of the university, especially what is the role of a public university that functions at an elite academic level.”

Barsky said the course will include prominent guest speakers, both local and from across the country, including a former NFL player, a former former sports marketing executive, book authors,  former university administrators, and a professor of sports management.

Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Sandy Barbour said she received an invitation from Barsky to be a guest speaker for the seminar and said she hopes to speak in the seminar.

“I welcome this examination, and it is a fascinating topic that is worth discussion,” Barbour said.

Barbour said that she just hopes that all perspectives on this issue will be taken in account.

“I hope that they will explore a broad array of stakeholders from different perspectives,” Barbour said. “My hope is that the class will explore a pretty broad meaning of what contribution to the university’s core mission can mean.”

Barsky said students will be taught to include varying perspectives and he hopes that they will apply this investigative method to other issues in the world.

“I am hoping that the class will inspire the students to not merely accept the status quo but rather to think from first principles about how something should be rather than just learn about how it actually is,” Barsky said. “That is the kind of education we wish to impart to the students at Berkeley.”