School first, sports second

BFA.phoenix.09.24.13

The Berkeley Faculty Association deplores the disruption of the university’s academic mission by the occupation of Kroeber Plaza by Fox Sports TV earlier this month. The Fox Sports booths, television screens and other advertising paraphernalia were set up on a Friday, even as students and faculty were trying to attend classes and access the library and art studios. Faculty were not consulted about the event beforehand — which was especially problematic when departments in Kroeber Hall, including the anthropology library and art practice workshops, were forced to close on Saturday due to increased traffic — a result of poor planning and lack of adequate security. Academics were not merely interrupted but trumped by Cal Athletics and its corporate partners.

This past weekend’s event comes in the wake of several years of deepening faculty concern about the place of athletics at UC Berkeley. First, the construction of a $321 million, debt-financed stadium and a pattern of misinformation from Intercollegiate Athletics about revenues from tax-deductible seat sales. Then, news of the additional $124 million debt incurred to build the Simpson Student-Athlete High Performance Center, a facility available to less than 1 percent of the student body. Now, the plan to construct a new Aquatics Center, again not for the general use of the campus community, but for the exclusive use of Intercollegiate Athletics. These issues merely add to ongoing concern about the huge sums from the Chancellor’s Discretionary Fund that have been used to cover yearly operating deficits of Intercollegiate Athletics — nearly $100 million in the past decade — and recent news that UC Berkeley still ranks last in the Pac-12 Conference in graduation success rates of students playing men’s basketball (“up” from 20 percent in 2009 to the current 33 percent and next-to-last in football).

We are not anti-athletics. We understand that intercollegiate competition contributes to institutional pride and plays an important role in maintaining the loyalty of students and alumni. We believe in the educational place of an athletics program that fosters student fitness, physical well-being and camaraderie. But despite scandal after scandal under different chancellors, the proper management of IA has eluded the best efforts of campus administration. The continuing conflicts between IA and the primary mission of the university — excellence in education, research and public service — makes us wonder whether the time has come to separate Cal Athletics — financially, administratively and geographically — from UC Berkeley’s academic endeavors and locales.

We know that this conversation about the place, commercialism and culture of athletics on campus is a national one. But UC Berkeley should be a leader in making changes that would preserve our academic enterprise without harming either our alumni donor base or the sports teams themselves.

At the very least, the Academic Senate needs to do a better job protecting the campus’s academic mission. In 2009, the Academic Senate passed a resolution titled “Academics First!” urging administrators to remember their primary mission of fostering academic excellence. Reminding its membership that IA was designated an “auxiliary enterprise” of UC Berkeley, the Academics First! resolution recommended that the central campus cease to provide subsidies to IA. Rather than follow the recommendations of this resolution, then-chancellor Birgeneau convened a hand-picked Advisory Committee on Intercollegiate Athletics Financial Sustainability that recommended continuing an annual $5 million subsidy to IA, on top of the $2 million in student registration fees and revenues from the Cal logo that already go to IA.

We ask that the Academic Senate convene the Intercollegiate Athletics Oversight Committee that was voted into being by the Academics First! resolution of November 2009 but that was never formed. We believe that the will of the senate was violated when this committee was transmuted into a separate subcommittee, which has lacked sufficient time, resources and support to perform the full function of a stand-alone oversight committee. Nor do we believe that the current Senate Advisory Group on Intercollegiate Athletics, which consists solely of chairs and representatives of other senate committees and has no members whose primary service commitment is toward IA oversight, fulfills the obligation of the Academic Senate to enact its own 2009 resolution.

We look to the Academic Senate to represent faculty interests in maintaining the integrity of UC Berkeley as first and foremost a site of research and learning. At a campus ranked best public university in the world for its academic quality, academics must come first.

Berkeley Faculty Association represents UC Berkeley faculty. 

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