Saturday, February 18, 2012

 Star-Tribune Editorial:

Give Kaler a Break on Maturi Decision

This editorial reminds me of Saturday Night Live news when they say "Really!" Really? You can't be serious. Reader's comment

 For background, please see:

The reaction of the community to the original revelation that the retiring Athletic Director at the University would get a significant going away present was general outrage.  An attempt was made to pacify the great unwashed by claiming that "no donor funds" were used for the payout. More detail was later provided that the President had used money from a discretionary fund to settle with the Athletic Director, apparently in the belief that this somehow justified the pay out. Unfortunately this line of reasoning will not wash because ultimately donor funds were the source of the discretionary funds. The money did not simply appear out of thin air. It came from interest on endowment funds - which came from donors. It is this sort of twisted logic, or more charitably attempt at a smoke screen, that makes dealing with past, and in this case present, University of Minnesota administrations so frustrating.

In the editorial lampooned above the pitiful plea to give our new president a break is issued.  The only break, given the circumstances, that I am willing to give is this.  The president is a smart man and I hope he learns from this that the action was a bad move for the university.  The fall-out also included the revelation of a rather large amount of discretionary funds.  This is of benefit because the previous administration played fast, loose, and non-transparently with the money.  I hope that in the future the use of this money will be justified and made public. 

My friend Michael McNabb writes about this situation and demonstrates in a less emotional way the folly of the recent action and the lack of insight on the part of the Star-Tribune editorial board:

On closer examination the decision makes perfect sense for a budget-challenged athletic department.  It's also consistent with the president's stated belief that academic and athletic excellence go hand in hand . . . .
Kaler has stressed the importance of athletics as the public's "window" to the university, and he is clearly aware that success in big-time athletics primes the pump for more private contributions.  The Maturi plan is an investment in that mission.
February 14, 2012 Star Tribune editorial on Give Kaler a Break on Maturi Decision (emphasis added).

As for the belief that academic and athletic excellence go hand in hand, consider that in fiscal year 2012 the amount of state appropriations that the U of M administration allocated to the athletic department ($6.9 million) was substantially greater than the amount the administration allocated to the business school ($3.3 million) or to the law school ($3.6 million).  See section 1 in Going To Market Part II.
As for the priming the pump myth, if big-time college sports actually produced widespread alumni support for academic programs, then the universities with winning teams would dominate the rankings of schools by percentage of alumni donors.  Yet schools such as Ohio State, Michigan, and Wisconsin are not even in the top 75.  In fact, smaller schools that provide a quality academic experience for undergraduate students dominate the rankings.  See the September 15, 2011 report of U.S. News & World Report on Alumni's Top 10 Most Loved Schools.  
This use of donors' funds puts at risk the continuing goodwill and financial support of donors and state legislators.  See A Question of Priorities Part II.
For more on the economics of the athletic department see Expensive Icing.

Michael W. McNabb
University of Minnesota B.A. 1971; J.D. 1974
University of Minnesota Alumni Association life member

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