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There is no conflict between academics and athletics at Rutgers

The facts about the Rutgers University athletics budget deficit are difficult and complex enough to deal with on their own. The last thing needed is more hyperbole and misinformation. Unfortunately, that's just what Inside Higher Ed obtained with their write-up. As the recent Bloomberg story stated,

Football revenue at Rutgers totaled $24 million in fiscal 2010, according to the data compiled by Bloomberg. The team had an operating loss of $2.9 million, excluding university subsidies and student fees. The deficit was the widest in the 53-school Bloomberg survey. Connecticut reported the only other football red ink. The average football team had an operating gain of $17.2 million, the data show.

Of the nearly $27 million athletics deficit (plugged with a combination of university funds and student activity fees), $2.9 million is attributable to football. Like Bloomberg, the Inside Higher Ed story above takes a blind, single-minded focus on football, even though the majority of the deficit is attributable to non-revenue sports. Unlike the Bloomberg piece, which at least measured an attempt at balance by including pro-athletics quotes, Inside Higher Ed exclusively quotes foes of the Rutgers athletic department. Oh, and they didn't bother to do basic research either.

In the meantime, the university picked up the bulk of the tab for a $100-million football stadium expansion and renovation.

No, it did not. The stadium expansion was paid for by a bond tied to future ticket revenues.

They seemingly turned over no stone by trotting out Lisa Pantel, who's still complaining to the press years after Rutgers dropped fencing. Let's get this straight. Rutgers athletics had to drop six sports because they don't have enough money. Inside Higher Ed thinks Rutgers spends too much on athletics, so they contact a person who implicitly is arguing that Rutgers should spend more on athletics by bringing back fencing. In their zeal to take football down a peg, Inside Higher Ed showed few scruples about keeping their argument consistent.

The budget cuts are doing quantifiable damage to the quality of an education offered at Rutgers University. The school's campus and classes are overcrowded. In turn, admissions selectivity is down. Rutgers is getting less funding from the state, and at the same time they can't raise in-state tuition by much, so they have been forced to ramp up enrollment as a direct result. The budget woes have unfortunately cost Rutgers some of its best faculty in recent years. Gov. Christie wants to sink billions into a failed swamp-mall in the Meadowlands, but no New Jersey politician since Tom Kean has been much inclined to invest in higher education.

Another figure worthy of criticism is Rutgers AAUP head Adrienne Eaton, along with a small-but-vocal minority of faculty that likely are not representative of their constituents as a whole.

"If the McCormick administration can find $27 million each year to subsidize athletics, then it can surely find smaller amounts of money in its $2 billion budget to respect its employee agreements and maintain the quality of our instruction and research," said Eaton, the head of Rutgers AAUP-AFT, referring to the university President, Richard McCormick.

It sure seems like Ms. Eaton is desperately looking to pin the blame on a third party for her ineffective leadership and professional failures. She's the one in charge of the faculty union. If they agreed to provisions that allowed for salary freezes, that's solely on her and the rest of the leadership for being steamrolled and not performing sufficient due diligence. Maybe Rutgers wouldn't have its budget slashed in the state budget every year if she spent half as much time lobbying Trenton as she did blaming the athletic department in the press, but that of course would require actual effort, leadership, and competency.

If Eaton thinks it's a good idea to antagonize a natural ally in the most fervent, energized group of Rutgers University alumni out there, then the AAUP is probably not going find much of a sympathetic public ear during the next round of contract negotiations, and that would be a real shame. Perhaps the system is flawed, but as a matter of fact, large universities use their athletic programs for a multitude of ends: marketing, student activities, alumni engagement, and the like. Not only is Eaton's strategy flawed (as evidenced by its practical success), but also happens to be so disingenuous and academically dishonest that it violates the core colloquial, collegiate spirit of academia that higher education is supposed to value above all other virtues. Let her talk to the press; the rest of us, we'll make like Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti in actually looking for constructive solutions to shrink the athletics deficit.