By Richard Vedder
Florida is one of the hardest hit states in the Union in the current recession. The flagship University of Florida is suffering huge budgets cuts, and the College of Journalism and Communications has said it is eliminating its Documentary Institute as one response to sizable budget reductions. The Athletic Department, of course, is an island unto itself, oblivious to the national economy, clueless of what goes on on the rest of the campus. So it is giving its famed football coach Urban Meyer a $750,000 annual raise --no doubt more than the university president makes in salary. To be sure, the Southeastern Conference, to which Florida belongs, has signed a lucrative new TV deal, and Meyer no doubt can command $4 million annually elsewhere. But awarding a huge salary increase to a person overseeing how a ball is thrown around while academic pursuits are being slashed shows how Florida, already one of the nation's leading party schools (if the Princeton Review is to be believed) will not likely receive high level academic respectability in my lifetime (read the Forbes/CCAP ratings of Best Colleges on Thursday to see how we evaluate Florida).
The supposed "positive externalities" of intercollegiate athletics -- more alumni donations, greater admission applications, better national recognition -- may be offset by the negative spillover effects of showing gross insensitivity to national hardship by engaging in conspicuous spending. If it returns to hurt Florida in terms of reduced legislative appropriations, don't be surprised.
I have been waiting to see if anyone loses their job in the Illinois admissions scandal. Will persons responsible for bad conduct --giving admissions to undeserving friends and relatives of politicians --be punished? I expected one or two relatively mid-level administrators to get the ax. Instead, two trustees are gone, and more may follow. I do think trustees should be accountable, but what about the top officials of the university who also actually authorized the admissions, admittedly under pressure? Should not they go too? And shouldn't voters go after the politicians hammer and tong?
To be sure, what happened at the U. of I. probably has happened at most schools in the U.S. But that does not make it right. Illinois is a great school (see the Forbes/CCAP college rankings on Thursday for our specific assessment), but it needs to crack down even more to restore its integrity. If it cannot win in football, maybe it can win in the race for Nobel Prizes and fine students who will eventually add more to society than they take from it.