Friday, December 11, 2009

Why Southern Universities Are Not World Class

By Richard Vedder

I like the South, and American universities in the south have improved relative to national norms a lot over the decades. So the heading on this blog is a bit unfair, a gross generalization. But it is true that the very best top flight institutions of higher learning are underrepresented in the South, although I think Virginia, along with California, has the best quality public universities in the United States.

But the good ole boy mentality still runs strong in the South. Football is far more important than learning at many schools. The University of Alabama has cancelled classes for THREE days to have the students focus on what is truly important in life --a bunch of its boys throwing a ball around in a match against a bunch of Texans. Not one day of class cancellations, not two but three. Harvard would not do that. Oxford would not do that. Michigan or Berkeley would not do that, but in Alabama football is king and academics play second fiddle. I certainly would not recommend the University of Alabama to any daughter or son of my friends. One southern school is in some hot water now for using "hostesses" (cute college coeds) to lure high school senior boys to their schools to play football - a reminder of the sex scandal at the University of Colorado a few years back.

Meanwhile, at my university, which had a reasonably decent football team (9 and 4), the grown ups (trustees, alums, etc.) are all excited that we made some third rate bowl in that garden spot of America, Detroit, playing the second best school in West Virginia. We will receive a few hundred thousand dollars in revenue, and spend far more than that in bribing students and others to attend the game so attendance is not embarrassingly low. We spend roughly $15 million a year subsidizing intercollegiate athletics, probably more than we spend on some of our academic colleges. This is not unique.

However, some schools are starting to reassess their priorities. Hofstra and Northeastern have dropped football, for example. Other presidents are talking of dropping out of BCS level football competition. Maybe school spirit will remain, alumni will donate, etc. even if the school competes at a less expensive level. In reality, of course, the evidence is that, on average, the claims that intercollegiate athletics confers enormous external benefits on schools (especially donations) are simply bunk.

When are the university presidents collectively going to propose radical changes? When will some of them get the courage to "just say no" to the Bubbas who insist on high cost programs? To be sure, there are always the Ohio State type schools that break even on intercollegiate sports. Remember, however, every time someone wins a match, someone else loses. Not everyone can be Ohio State.


Milo said...

Why Ohio University Is Not World Class

So Alabama delays the start of the next semester for 3 days so that faculty and students can attend the National Championship game and for this they are called Bubbas? Even though the football program earns enough to pay for the entire athletic department and contribute its profits to academics, they are Bubbas?

It's easy to say that Michigan would not do that, but I’d be willing to bet that right about now 3 days off to play in the National Championship game would sound like a pretty good deal.

Meanwhile, Ohio takes $15 million a year from academics to subsidize its mediocre athletics department but it’s ok because they make sure that their students are on campus to pursue their "unrelenting all night drinking". I certainly would not recommend Ohio University to any daughter or son of my friends.

Alabama does not insist on high cost programs, it insists on excellence. Not everyone wants to be Ohio State. No one wants to be Ohio University.

capeman said...

It's touching to see how the Doc values the world-class research university, when it suits him, as now with football, which if anything he hates even more.

Actually, the southern schools have come way up, both the public schools like Georgia Tech, Alabama, etc. and the privates like Emory. Georgia Tech having one of the best engineering programs in the country.

Alabama is not at the level of Berkeley or Michigan or Wisconsin, and won't be for a long time, if ever.

But it's really churlish to blame this on football. (And I'm not much of a fan myself.)

In fact those other places, and Stanford too, are pretty decent football programs.

Series7 said...

Who gives a shit about any of this?

I'm surprised "Harvey" isn't posting comments.

Gatherer said...

Schools Kill Creativity

Fair Enough. said...

The ugly truth is just starting to rear its head.

The University of Texas has raised Mack Brown's salary to 5 million dollars, while cutting costs in academic areas.

The faculty council has determined that the raise was "unseemly in inappropriate" in a unofficial vote.

The two schools who are playing for the National Championship have declared their message loud and clear. Football first. Academics second.

College football is a racket. Fix it. Please.