How low can we go?

Let’s just check the scoreboard here:

Cal football and men’s basketball have the lowest graduation rates of any FBS school.  Not PAC12, FBS: that’s national, baby!  The football team is 1-10 and a 31-1/2 pt underdog for Saturday’s Big Game; MBB is not ranked in either poll for this year.  The campus is on the hook for a third-of-a-billion dollar loan for a coaching office palace/booster party venue/conditioning center: losing programs don’t sell tickets.  The program is supposed to break even, but loses $7 to $10m per year, year after year.  One of the football players sent a teammate to the hospital a couple of weeks ago in a locker-room fight.

You might think our Intercollegiate Athletics Program, who get to sell the Cal logo for chotchkes and sweatshirts, has some kind of pervasive management problem, but you might be surprised to learn that they seem to have an even more serious morality problem. This billboard is glowing above our local freeway only a few miles from campus.  The pic is fuzzy, taken with a cell phone; if you can’t read the text, it says “we will sell drugs to our students, and everyone else, if there’s money in it for sports.” Mark says “Alcohol is not just a drug, but the archetypal drug: the drug most widely used and the drug that causes the most addiction, disease, and violence.” We have a real student drinking problem at Cal, and it seems to be getting worse.

Cal and Coors BillboardThe Associate Vice Chancellor, to whom an inquiry from one of our profs was bucked by the Chancellor, assures us

The Intercollegiate Athletics program has a master agreement to sell advertising and promotional space using Cal assets with a number of vendors.  Part of the overarching agreement includes a contract with Coors/Miller.

I understand your concerns, and will be talking with the vice chancellor of administration to discuss the alcohol ads and to explore ways to ensure that future promotions are aligned with the core values of Berkeley and our brand.

Discuss?  Explore ways to insure?  Am I missing something here; can this discussion take more than thirty seconds?

Which cigarette brand do we think will win the bidding to put a Cal logo on their packs?

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

43 thoughts on “How low can we go?”

  1. And, it’s not very good beer, imo.

    But I agree with you. And I love your indignation on behalf of Cal. Go Bears!

    Plus, they should switch to flag.

  2. And why stop at alcohol and tobacco, first, we might as well add firearms to the list. And then, when it is legalized, weed.

    But why stop there, why not advertise for all the vices: junk food, gambling, strip clubs, escort services, etc…

    Seriously, what is campus thinking. If our campus is going to have its name lent to advertisers, the faculty senate should vote on what that policy should be. I would support an organic, cruelty-free, carbon-neutral, fair-trade, living-wage, no-tax-evasion, transparency-required policy that furthermore identified the products in question as being compatible with wholesome living in a manner that supports the development of a contemplative and thoughtful lifestyle. No need to go all the way to ascetic, but being compatible with “our brand” is a lot more stringent than I think they realize.

    1. I would support an organic, cruelty-free, carbon-neutral, fair-trade, living-wage, no-tax-evasion, transparency-required policy that furthermore identified the products in question as being compatible with wholesome living in a manner that supports the development of a contemplative and thoughtful lifestyle.

      This has got to be one of the most anti-American sentences I’ve read in the last 20 years.
      You’d have to go back to 1960s Berkeley to find anything equivalent.

      It’s a good answer to “How high can we go?”
      But to answer the original question: “How low can we go?”
      I’d like to suggest the Cal logo would like rich on Phillip Morris e-cigarette…
      And they should aim for four-fifths of the academic workforce instead of two-thirds:

      Adjuncts are the second-class citizens of academe: They are contract workers hired and paid on a per-course basis, with no possibility of tenure. They now make up about two-thirds of the academic workforce nationwide, and their numbers have been increasing steadily since the 1970s, as part of a larger trend in which universities, both private and public, are run more like businesses.

      I know Mr. O-Hare thinks the aphorism (People who know the price of everything and the value of nothing.) is trite and lacks traction…
      But in the race to the bottom, that cheap shoe seems to fit the culture better than any other…

  3. Except for the lost ticket revenue, Cal’s 1-10 record is a *good* thing. What Cal really needs, to save money and hold up its academic integrity, is to drop to Division 1-AA or below someday … which is not going to happen to a winning team with an enthusiastic fan base.

    1. A decade ago, people were saying the same thing at Duke.

      One outstanding hire and a commitment of resources later, Duke football appears on the verge of taking a semi-permanent place in the upper echelon of college football. And there is not a shred of evidence that this has come at the expense of quality scholarship or quality instruction.

      Like it or not, the causal link between football success and alumni giving has been conclusively established. Win and check books open. Period.

      Football isn’t Cal’s biggest problem. The Legislature is Cal’s biggest problem. It’s silly to pretend otherwise.

      1. I blame Oski, Cal’s wishy-washy bear mascot, for the recent malaise. We need a mascot with some aggression, some malice. How about the Entrepreneurs?

      2. Oh, I agree that better football success leads to MORE alumni giving than losing. The question—which I believe has been conclusively answered—is that this isn’t enough extra money to pay for the actual Division-1 program. If the choice is “spend $40M to run a losing program” or “spend 41M to run a winning program”, sure, it’s likely that spending more gets you more than $1M in extra donations. But your competitors are thinking the same thing, so next year $41M buys a losing program, and you have to ante up to $42M, and again next year, and again …

        Meanwhile, there is no evidence I’m aware of that alumni donations actually *pay for the program*. The vast majority of schools would be better off dropping out of Division 1.

  4. As the most widely used drug, (Neglecting caffeine, of course!) it is both the most commonly abused, AND the most commonly used in moderation. It is both at once, by virtue of being most common, and capable of abuse.

    Which end of the spectrum is light beer at, you might ask. Were you not channeling Carrie Nation so much of the time.

    1. You do know that “light” beer, here in the States, is low in calories and flavor, not alcohol content, right? Seems tailored for college binge drinking — after all, it’s hard to pound pint after pint of porter.

        1. There is no such thing as “light beer”. There is beer flavored carbonated water and there is beer.

          1. Yes, and yes. Let’s be honest and call “light” beer what it is – an highly efficient alcohol delivery system, custom made for abuse and fully utilized as such. It’s specifically designed for and marketed to the 20% of alcohol drinkers who consume 80% of the alcohol. It’s abuse in a 24 oz., “easy pour” can. Be nice if the alcohol pushers were honest about this – “get hammered faster! less filling!” Oh well.

      1. Quibble: although not as low-alcohol as some of the gross light beers I’ve had in Europe, I’m pretty sure most American light beers are 15-20% lower in alcohol content than their non-light counterparts. However, your broader point that it is much easier to binge on light beer than heavier beer is a valid one.

        1. That light stuff is all carbonation; it can’t be drunk beyond a certain point, too much gas. Now, some smooth imperial porters…they go down easy. And you only have to drink 1/2 as much…

          1. I don’t really have a side in the craft beer-macrobrew wars. I think they each have their place. The craft brews are almost always superior as a drinking experience, but sometimes a rack of PBR or MGD or something is totally what the situation calls for.

  5. I have a fantasy that involves becoming a gazillionaire, and giving dear old Alma Mater (not Cal) a vast contribution every time they lose a football game. I don’t know if they would get the hint.

    My other gazillionaire fantasy involves donating a vast sum of money on condition that my name be emblazoned on every urinal of dear old Alma Mater–in perpetuity, of course. I don’t think that they would take the money, and they might be rational in not doing so.

      1. I remember reading that play (in my poor German, even). I think there may be a itsy-bitsy difference between an upfront offer of monetary rewards for murder, and retrospective awards for merely losing ball games.

    1. Y’know, you’d have to be a gazillionaire to donate enough money to buy out the football-loving Cal administration like that. But there might be a way around it.

      You know how college-athletics “boosters” slip money to student-athletes? I wonder what it would take to serve as an “anti-booster”. Put a notice out to high-school football players: “I will pay $100,000 cash (or some sliding scale—more to higher-ranked prospects) to the top 100 prospects who receive, and decline, a Cal football recruiting offer.” That’d cost $10M/year, far less than what it would take to really influence University policy. There’s nothing illegal about it. You’d want to find a way to do it that doesn’t let the NCAA sanction those who accept (many of whom presumably want pro football careers, but don’t need Cal to get them there). And it would completely obliterate the football program for as long as you could keep it up … at least until the NCAA and the recruiting office outmaneuvered you, which they’d surely do.

      Of course, it’d make you the most hated gazillionaire in California.

    2. My university has joined the labeling bandwagon in the last six years or so. One of our now wealthy alumni was willing to give $20K to name the first floow men’s room in our College’s main classroom building for himself.

      The interesting thing is that even though our naming committee has approved naming faculty offices (which causes real confusion among students (Dr. C, I thought your office was 123 Ivy Hall, but it said it was the R.A. Fisher Faculty Office…) they declined naming the men’s room. I’m still not sure what that says…

      1. I should sue your fellow-alumnus for violating my intellectual property rights as a nonpracticing entity! (I’ve had that particular fantasy for a long time.)

        Hmm, does your school insist that the name of the room be that of the donor? For a mere $20K, could I emblazon John Boehner’s name on the john?

  6. Wow – I thought the NCAA prohibited co-advertising with alcohol vendors. Most of the big names I am familiar with have even de-emphasized marketing of logo’d beer mugs and glasses. Actual alcoholic beverage co-marketing? That’s… not good.


  7. It is sadly not unusual to see college campuses that (1) have a serious student drinking problem (2) accept money for sports-linked alcohol promotion and (3) Have a thousand explanations for (1) other than (2).

    1. But most of those explanations are probably correct, since many if not most campuses without sports-linked alcohol promotions have drinking problems.

      Clearly, though, if you have a problem, you shouldn’t be doing something that will almost surely make it worse.

    2. Keith,

      Our regents just approved seeking an alcohol license for our basketball arena. Some test runs (State law allows the University to “rent” a license for “special events”) in the last two years strongly suggest that there is less problem with student drunkenness when beer is sold at the games. If beer is sold, they don’t smuggle hip flasks in…

  8. Does “Cal” mean California? Which campus? From the context, it sounds as if “Cal” refers to Berkeley and only to Berkeley, but what do they call themselves at Davis, Irvine, etc? I should think that “Cal” could refer to any of them.

    Why are they drinking and playing football? Why aren’t they dropping acid and shutting down the Dow Chemical recruiters and ridiculing the authority figures and playing their bongo drums on Telegraph Avenue?

    1. Why aren’t they dropping acid and shutting down the Dow Chemical recruiters and ridiculing the authority figures and playing their bongo drums on Telegraph Avenue?

      Mike was referring to the students, not the faculty.

      1. Keith: wah wah wah ; >

        Ed: it’s just tradition, mostly. I think Cal (Berkeley) was the first UC campus.

        1. And in Berkeley they still like to refer to UCLA as “the Southern California extension campus” and Davis as “the Ag campus”…

          Apparently old habits die very hard. Of course, we K-Staters are fond of noting that it’s a shame Quantrill didn’t finish the job when his raiders sacked Lawrence…

    2. But actually, Ed, you raise an excellent question. Young people should be having actual fun, not getting s-faced. They haven’t been taught the difference. Maybe too many Scantron sheets in K-12 actually ironed out their little brain folds. It *is* pathetic and wrong.

      1. Back in my day, kids took mind-altering chemicals to get high and visit other universes. These kids today take them to study harder and improve their damn test scores! What’s the world coming to?

        The Berkeley Barb just wouldn’t be the same if you could download it onto your iPad. Some things are lost forever.

        Anyone happen to know if Moe’s Books has kept up its Moeness with Moe gone?

    3. UC Berkeley is Cal (or just, “Berkeley”), and not UCB. All the others are UC-X. UCLA, UCD, UCSC, etc. Most of those can also go by just the town name, though not so much for, say, LA, where there’s a CSU and community colleges and such.

  9. Newest popular drinking sensation at IU is a “handle,” as in “she brought a handle of sweet vodka.” AKA a 1.5 liter plastic bottle. Public intox kids now likely to blow above .20

  10. Incredible but not surprising if one goes to the wiki articles on the history of the University of California, Berkeley and then for more fun to the history of the University of California, Los Angeles. Moreover, from what was in the article in The Daily Californian, Berkeley is virtually a shell game. If Cal’s athletic program is now being supported by the alcohol industry given the putativeI inability of the Regent’s to manage the place one can only wonder what might happen to the National Lab at Livermore. BP (yes, that BP) is already connected to it. Could they begin a relationship with a distillery? All that’s really required for more money to flow into the coffers is a name change. Hallowed halls of academe indeed. For me, as a UCLA grad, I’m deeply distressed that I’m literally unable to imagine how this ends well. The stuff already under the rug is a virtual mountain. I admire Professor O’Hare’s persistence and genuinely hope that his efforts are fruitful.

  11. And just to top it off, Aaron Rodgers (once Second-team Academic All-Pac-10, btw) is hurt. Sucks to be Cal football right now.

  12. Watching sports and drinking alcohol are complements. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if watching sports encourages drinking more than drinking encourages watching sports. So why encourage sports at all if the act of viewing them encourages drinking? I realize some people enjoy viewing sports responsibly, but if our highest goal is to reduce alcohol abuse, then we must restrict the availability of sports viewing altogether. We need to stop worrying about alcohol on sports billboards and more about sports on alcohol billboards.

    Maybe we should consider a ban altogether. Just think about how many sports houses you probably have on your block that the police often ignore. A bunch of loud obnoxious people yelling and screaming and getting violent, then feeling the need to drink just to take the edge off of that sports high. It happens all the time in my neighborhood.

  13. Well, at least you guys threw the Pac-12 race into chaos with that stunning upset win over Stanford 11/24.

    Oh wait…

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