Fighting the Sleaze: a Guest Blog

They are obviously worried over at Old Queens. Yesterday, the Department of Media Relations posted a second defense of the football program at Rutgers, barely a week after its first attempt. The statement reads as a laundry list of distortions and falsehoods, compiled by one Greg Trevor, whose job seem to center on the creation of PR sleaze to cover the tracks of the McCormick administration. As contemptible as the document is, it is important that its claims are refuted. Below I list claims made in the document and address them one by one. I will be forwarding this to the hapless Mr. Trevor, in the hope that his conscience bothers him a little by now.

Rutgers has long been regarded as an excellent public research university. Now the university is gaining an athletics reputation to match its academic accomplishments.

Rutgers has indeed long been regarded as an excellent public research university, at least until the last decade or so. In 1997, shortly after joining the Big East and “big time” sports, Rutgers was ranked 45th among American universities by USNWR, the most influential college ranking system. Now, it shares the 59th spot with the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Georgia. In eleven years, the same period in which the pursuit of “excellence” in big time sports been a priority, Rutgers has plummeted 14 positions in academic ranking. This drop in academic standing is measured against the expenditure on “big time” sports during this period of over $100 million. In chasing “excellence” in sports, Rutgers has rerouted enormous sums of money from academics to athletics, resulting in an ongoing academic decline measured in larger class sizes, decaying learning facilities, and fewer ranked departments. Tellingly, Rutgers increasingly cannot offer scholarship packages to top students even while it increases its funding of athletic scholarships. Simply, in pursuing big time sports on a limited budget, Rutgers has weakened its academic mission.

Rutgers is committed to a successful and accountable athletics program. The recent success of the athletics program is a major point of pride for New Jersey and the university. The university’s national visibility has risen dramatically.

Certainly, the students chanting “f**k navy”, made the papers and gathered Rutgers free publicity, but not of the kind the apologists for football like to discuss. Beyond such incidents, it shouldn’t have to be pointed out that Rutgers’ sacrifice of its academic standards in pursuit of “pride” supposedly derived from football is a betrayal of the university’s purpose and mission.

Coach Greg Schiano is recognized as one of the best football coaches in the nation.

Only by those at Rutgers that sign off on his massive salary. He has a lifetime losing record and has never even won the Big East.

“RUTGERS’ ATHLETICS PROGRAM IS EXCEPTIONALLY INCLUSIVE”

It is not. Six sports have been reduced to club status to pay for the ever-growing demands of football.

Rutgers saved more than $700,000 from reduced expenses associated with the transition of the six varsity sports to club status, even after increasing women’s athletics scholarships.

This is highly dubious in itself, and dismissed by Board of Governors member George Zoffinger, among others. Even if it were true, the money saved is less than the amount Rutgers will pay Kent State for a single football match in 2012. This gutting of some of Rutgers oldest and most proud sporting traditions to fund the football money-pit is in itself an indictment. That the McCormick administration would rather use $750,000 to fly in a football team than provide opportunities for scores of real student athletes to compete and better themselves, reveals the talk about “inclusivity” to be an utter mistruth.

RUTGERS STADIUM EXPANSION

The expansion project is self-supporting – no taxpayer or tuition dollars are being used.

Rutgers can neither know or guarantee this, and therefore, this claim is simply PR rubbish. Rutgers has borrowed $72 million in the hope that the new stadium will continue to sell out, even with inflated ticket prices, for 15 more years. This gamble is set across the backdrop of the current stadium being undersold far more times than it has sold out. Simply put, the McCormick administration borrowing on pure hope. If Rutgers cannot meet the steep debt service on the stadium, the money to meet payments will obviously have to be taken from other areas within the university. Like the construction budget, or academics. This habit of making claims of self-sufficiency with zero supporting evidence is central to the PR spin that the McCormick administration practices in its attempts to protect the football program.

The university will continue to manage the project responsibly and make changes to ensure it is completed without exceeding the project budget approved by the Rutgers Board of Governors.

All evidence points in the other directions, and the administration’s refusal to provide details of the budget should give even the most gullible cause for concern. According to the Star Ledger, the first phase of construction is already $18 million over budget, and the $30 million that was supposed to be raised by Jon Corzine is, in the words of Raymond Lesniak, unlikely to top $10 million. Here, any administration cognizant of its responsibilities to the fee-paying students and the New Jersey taxpayer would call halt to assess the situation. President McCormick has offered no plan to the university community to bridge this disastrous shortfall in capital funds, and Robert Mulcahy seems intent to build on and let taxpayers and students pick up the tab. Conceived in secret, voted on without any meaningful consultation with the university community, and seemingly proceeding without any fiscal accountability, the expansion project has been an unmitigated disaster.

To go into further details of, for example, the utterly specious reasons advanced for the “beneficial” relationship with Nelligan Sports Marketing, will require a separate piece. However, it is enough to say that the desperate spin that the Rutgers PR department attempts here is yet more evidence that this university is utterly contemptuous of the very community it is supposed to serve. President McCormick has made dishonesty, evasion and concealment a hallmark of his time as President. That his office goes to yet-greater lengths to try and convince the community that the secrecy and scandal that accompanies the athletics buildup at Rutgers somehow equates to “accountability” should, unfortunately, come as no surprise.

Submitted by A Grumpy Alum

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6 Responses to Fighting the Sleaze: a Guest Blog

  1. Anonymous says:

    “RUTGERS’ ATHLETICS PROGRAM IS EXCEPTIONALLY INCLUSIVE”
    or
    Rutgers Athletics is inclusive, with exceptions

  2. James Cahill says:

    I think Lafayette or Colgate might be more to your liking.

  3. Chuck says:

    I don’t want to criticize this post because a lot of the responses seem well though out. The underlying problem, however, is that like so many of the posts here, a specific, alternative vision for the university is lacking.

    I am now officially on board the Fire McCormick bandwagon. This guy never should have gotten the job in the first place and he has been a disaster.

    But that doesn’t mean I’m on board with totally canceling football. Again, even if we are to assume that every single penny of the 100 million spent on football came from university coffers, it still doesn’t really change Rutgers.

    There are too many things working against Rutgers to think that even an investment of 100 million would make any discernible difference. You can’t just assume that money the state spends on football can easily be transferred to academics. Maybe that’s what the state wants, Rutgers football but not Rutgers academics. NJ is surrounded by good schools and there is a high parochial population here. You can’t expect a big improvement in the face of this stiff competition.

    Furthermore, even though I concede the stadium construction has been a disaster, it still doesn’t mean that the stadium expansion will not be positive in the long run. To take a line from your argument, we simply can’t predict the future. We don’t know what Schiano is going to do and if Rutgers football will be sustainable. At this point, there really is no right or wrong answer. Rutgers football can take a step forward, like win the Big East, or take a step backwards, like consistently go 7-5. But with only a few years to build on, we really don’t know what the future holds for this program. Let’s wait and see what happens with the football team in the next few years before jumping to conclusions.

  4. Grumpy Alum says:

    Chuck,

    Your points are evidence of genuine concern about Rutgers, and I acknowledge that, but I have no time for a “wait and see” approach, given the increasingly lopsided priorities of this university. When I was back on campus 6 months ago, I had a look for myself at the condition of many of the buildings on, especially, C/A and Douglass. The Alexander Library was simply a disgrace. This surely must be the most run-down central library of any major university in the united states. That, combined with the condition of the once-beautiful old economics building and much of Douglass, convinced me that the McCormick administration had simply gone off the rails in its pursuit of football. To “wait and see” is to accept a status quo in which Rutgers charges $20,000 for what feels like a prison library and decaying classrooms, whilst making football its major PR “point of pride”. The very symbolism of this demonstrates powerful the priorities of this administration.

    I actually posted a long response to you some weeks back regarding an alternative vision. Condensed, it reads: “make and advertise academic excellence as the only priority of this university and make it clear that football can only grow with the university, not in place of it”. If the state cuts our budget, then football gets cut like the sciences or like economics. If Schiano leaves, let him go. But this prostitution of the academic standards of our grand old university must be denounced as utterly unacceptable. Our science departments are now losing faculty hire battles to places like SUNY Buffalo, according to one of the R1000 members I swapped emails with. We simply cannot afford this myopic and expensive pursuit of something as trivial as football “glory” while our university crumbles. To say it makes me sad and angry is to understate things.

  5. Grumpy Alum says:

    I should also add that I agree with you regarding the $100 million (though in estimates i have heard, try $130-160M). To what degree it would have actually benefited Rutgers depends entirely on how it would have been used; whether it simply fed the bureaucratic machine or actually got to the places that needed it. This is why that good leadership at Rutgers is the single most important issue facing ths school right now. Since dear old Ed Bloustein dropped dead, we’ve had two shambolic failures as President, and a BoG defined by mediocrities like Eugene O’Hara, Al Gamper, and William Howard. Saying that the university deserves better than these dire boosters isn’t an assault on football tout court; it’s simply a recognition that the only genuine future for “big time” football at Rutgers is one where it compliments academic excellence, and not replaces it, as it the case now. Given the corruption of his adminsitration, it’s a strange thing to say, but Rutgers lost the battle when McGreevey resigned. He was genuinely working to give back UDMNJ to Rutgers, change the BoG and make this a real research powerhouse to drive the state’s techno sectors. That the BoG fought this tooth and nail should alone be reason for their mass-resignations.

  6. Chuck says:

    Grumpy,

    Thanks for your response. I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to read your original explanation. I think both of us have come to the realization that the challenges facing Rutgers are daunting. There really aren’t any easy answers and I can understand how frustrating it is to see the university just decay into mediocrity.

    I just think everyone associated with Rutgers 1000 just needs to realize that meaningful change at Rutgers is going to take time, probably a long time. You ask any successful business executive the most difficult challenge in turning around a company and they’ll tell you that it’s changing the bureaucracy. The fact that there seems to be a deep, entrenched bureaucracy at Rutgers is only going to make any attempt at a turnaround that much harder. You combine this with the stiff regional competition the university faces, along with the perception of Rutgers as a safety school, and you really start understanding why the university is where it is right now.

    I still don’t think you can really blame football, though. Football has been as badly administered as academics. The administration (esp. the president) has failed in both. There really is not sense pointing the finger one way or another. I agree wholeheartedly that any legitimate administration must first focus on academics before getting to sports. But football can have positive effects (as far as the perception of Rutgers) if properly executed. The problem seems to be that both academics and football are not properly executed.

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