College Myths

There’s a nice, if (as it says) rambling post over at the Progressive Historian that mentions a myth connected to college sports. I followed that link over the a piece about the so-called “Flute Factor.” Doug Flutie was a football player at Boston College in the 1980s. I don’t know Flutie from fruit but his spectacular work on the filed supposedly led to jumps in admissions at the school.

Administrators have since used this idea of the “Flutie” effect to justify the often enormous expenditure on athletics, particularly football. The piece explains that while a small percentage of admissions’ growth might be attributed to football, the surge in student enrollment was the result of several years of concerted effort on the part of the college. I’ve long been fascinated by the almost obsessive attachment many academics and administrators seem to have to the games played by their students.

I was on a university governing body once and in the middle of yet another budget crunch we had appointed a special committee to investigate why the athletic program was using almost a million dollars of academic money to keep itself afloat. After several weeks the committee returned, not with an explanation of how they might return the money to its proper use, but with a request for a budget increase! They didn’t have enough money for the long bus trips they had to take to compete.

A handful of us were more than a little shocked, but the majority (mostly administration types) were not. (It was mostly administration types because the administration had long ago tweaked the rules to ensure that professors could not actually govern the university, but that’s another story.) It’s a not so subtle reflection of anti-intellectualism, I think, in several senses. Administrators simply cannot image marketing their school without athletics, for one thing.

It goes beyond that, too, and includes a kind of sentimentalizing of student life. No one looks back on those long nights of trying to pass organic chemistry, or the first desperate attempt at an English paper. Supposedly, what we remember are things like football games. Parents and alumni, then, aren’t impressed by, say, academic publications or research. They want a winning team. It’s a viscous circle. College promote the idea of athletics, then they say they need athletics to promote the college.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

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