As a graduate student at UNC-CH and a native of Chapel Hill, I was tremendously disappointed that The Nation would publish a piece of such poor journalistic quality, even as an op-ed piece. There have been some excellent points made in the online forum and in the article itself both about the problems with some aspects of university athletic programs and the challenges of funding academics. Before getting to the meat, I'd like to point out that the academic funding shortages come from lack of public support in a highly privatized market for education, and taking shots at folks who give money to (in our case public) schools for athletics is missing the true villain here--federal and state governments that do not stand up for equal rights to accessing higher education for all. There are two points I want to touch on: one regarding the importance of university athletics and one about UNC as an institution of higher learning.
First, there is nothing progressive about Carolina's Athletic Association. Having dealt with them in negotiations over the licensing of university athletic apparel during the anti-sweatshop movement in the late nineties, I have no qualms about saying that it tends to be a good old boy organization. However, my social and classroom experience with most of the varsity athletes at Carolina has been tremendously positive, and I would point out that football and basketball make up only a few of the dozens of men's and women's teams that we support.
Team sports and athletics are incredibly important for several reasons. For many, playing on a sports team is going to be the only social situation in which they come in contact with people of different ethnic and racial backgrounds. This may seem small, but if you talk to people who play sports (except maybe lacrosse), they'll tell you this is true. And for women in particular, learning to have confidence in your physicality and being encouraged to break out of traditional gender roles on the field can change the lives and even career trajectories of girls and young women. Just one example serves well: the investment that Carolina has made in having a world class women's soccer team has spawned programs all across the state to involve girls--many with a focus on low-income and minority girls--in soccer. Having worked with the Latino population here, I can attest to the difference these opportunities have made in the confidence and self-image of these girls. Finally, funding for athletics is often independent from academic funding, and I would argue that each case is unique and at UNC, we may get more funding for academics because of our athletic programs.
Sports is one of the primary ways that alumni remain engaged in university life--it's not my culture, but it's important for a lot of people. Donors who give to athletics are usually not choosing between giving to athletics and giving to academics, they are choosing between giving to athletics and not giving. I would suggest that we investigate the possibility that some of these donors may begin to give to other parts of the university that they would not have otherwise, because of their engagement with the campus through athletic events.
And I won't take nearly as long for my last point. I am not a Carolina nationalist, but for the writer to suggest that accepting athletic gifts means the university is not supporting academics, or that we are not an outstanding research institution that funds thousands of graduate students to pursue cutting-edge research in the social and natural sciences and humanities is just bewildering. As angry as I am at the way this country strands needy students to finance their education through loans, Carolina is still more affordable than any other school of its class and helps thousands of undergrads (many of them first generation students from rural parts of the state) achieve a college education. Not only that, but we have an outstanding transfer system that allows low income families to put their children through two years of community college, and then as long as they have the grades they can transfer in to UNC as juniors.
Please don't insult all of us who are working, teaching and studying at UNC with your ignorance of our university, and please don't insult progressives as a group by writing an article that's an easy target for anyone wanting to say that liberals don't know what they're talking about. The author raises real concerns about athletic culture and academic funding, but the way you chose to write your piece makes us all pay more attention to your bad journalism than to the substantive social concerns I believe you are trying to raise. Try again some time, and with less attitude and self-righteousness, please.
Chapel Hill, NC
Oct 10 2007 - 10:07am