Intercollegiate Athletics

[UPDATE 2: Our resolution passed 3:2 91-68 in a very well-attended meeting. Local coverage here. Woo, hoo!]

The Berkeley faculty will meet  tomorrow afternoon about the Intercollegiate Athletics program.  This is a $65m per year enterprise that is supposed to operate on a self-sustaining basis but instead gets $12m per year in subsidies from various campus sources, and at a time when we are in a really desperate budget situation.  Some colleagues and I are proposing a resolution which you can read here .

Debate will be quite constrained; my 2c, if I can get to the microphone, will be as follows:


This meeting is about values and what kind of university we think we are. The core mission of UC Berkeley comprises scholarship, teaching, and the arts, the dozens of disciplines and media represented in the academic school and department structure.  We do not give courses in, write papers about, or give academic credit for throwing a ball, running really fast, or swimming.  Nor do we have departments or schools of haute cuisine or stamp collecting or stock car racing. Not that there’s anything wrong with any of those things.

Athletics for everyone advances that mission because sports are fun and health is good. We should have everyone playing sports and exercising. This resolution is about something quite different, namely intercollegiate athletics, which is the faculty and 95% of the students watching the other 5% compete; except insofar as IA has impoverished and looted recreational sports, today’s discussion has nothing to do with “athletics at Berkeley.”

The chancellor is on record as demanding that we be the best at everything we do, but this a terrible guide to action.  We do not offer Chez Panisse cuisine in the dining halls nor dress for class in Ermenogildo Zegna, and we are right not to.  Some things are part of our core mission, some things are in service to that mission, and some are amusements or distractions.

Every Sunday in the newspaper you can see a list of the universities whose football teams are better than ours.  This week, there are 22, and not a single person in this room would jump to any one of them at his or her current salary.  Berkeley is the best public university in the world in many rankings, and the best university overall according to the Washington Monthly; no sports index counts in any of those rankings.  The schools we benchmark against, like Harvard, Yale and Princeton, have I-AA, not I-A, programs.  Our engineering school goes up against MIT, need I say more…..

The campus has borrowed money against athletic profits that have never existed, to build a $125m football palace, booster party venue, and (a sixth of the building) conditioning center for five hundred athletes. The interest on that loan is $6m a year and operating the building will be another $6m, so DIA needs a $30m per year turnaround to protect the academic enterprise from this folly.

  • Meanwhile, the $120m art museum, which is central to our core mission, is stalled for lack of funds and may be a full story smaller than planned if we build it at all.
  • Meanwhile, the other 30,000 students’ and the faculty’s sports facilities are overcrowded, understaffed, and falling apart.
  • Meanwhile, Cal Performances events really are world-class top quality, and for every dollar the campus gives to intercollegiate athletics, we give three cents to Cal Performances.
  • Meanwhile, our classrooms are a disgrace in quality, condition, and number, the worst I’ve ever taught in in the USA.

Intercollegiate Athletics at Berkeley is an auxiliary that we have agreed again and again should be self-supporting, that has agreed to be so, and that has systematically reneged on the deal. A self-supporting DIA can comply with Title IX, and provide the appropriate level and intensity of intercollegiate competition for the best research university in the world.  Please vote for our resolution to put it on this footing.


Title IX is mentioned because football and basketball have been mendaciously hiding behind the skirts of women’s sports, with nonsensical assertions from the administration that our resolution will be the end of Title IX equity.  As I’ve become engaged in this issue, I’ve been astonished at the number of things people believe and assert that are not so, including especially the claim that big-time sports makes money for the academic side of the enterprise.  College presidents and boosters have anecdotes about athletic donors giving to academics, but Bob Frank put paid to this myth years ago with real research; his conclusion is consistent with a lot of published journal articles and refuted by none.