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Lariviere tells us what the UO sees in its relationship with Phil Knight

The University is building a new expansion to the Len Casanova Athletic Center, to great controversy because the process involved will be the same as that used for the John E. Jaqua Academic Center for Student Athletes. UO Matters posted a couple of days ago a long mp3 of a meeting at which President Richard Lariviere outlines his rationale for accepting the donation from Phil Knight/Phil Knight’s various organizations.

This is the important part, I think. The mediated form hinders the ability of those being mediated to make a considered, rational argument, so I’ll just block-quote the thing in its entirety. Emphasis mine.

It really doesn’t have much to do with the central mission of the University of Oregon. The mission of the University of Oregon is education and research.

We live in a very odd society in that every society feels passionately about sports of one sort or another. You know this from your travels internationally. Soccer in most of the rest of the world. People spend billions of dollars on that entertainment. The odd thing in this country is that some significant portion of that entertainment world is associated with higher education.

There’s in my view an unconscionable tolerance for confusion around this. All of us who know better need to be educating the public that athletics is entertainment and education and research is why the University exists.

Now, do I wish that there was as much passion and willingness to part with treasure that focused on the humanities and the social sciences and the natural sciences as there is around football? You bet I do. That’s not the world we live in.

And should we be puzzled that a family that have made billions of dollars in the sports industry and love the University of Oregon are interested in giving money to this entertainment enterprise? It’s not much of a mystery for me and I don’t think it probably is for anyone.

If we don’t accept this gift, is it likely that the donors will get out of bed tomorrow and think, “Oh, what were we thinking? We should have been giving it to promote Sanskrit at the University of Oregon”? I don’t think so.

If we don’t accept this gift, what will be the negative consequences for the University’s education and research mission? Probably not much — in the short term. But they could be really, really profound over the long term. Really profound. This is an important gift for our future. So that’s all I have to say on that.

Once, Matt Petryni, an ex-Emerald columnist with whom I used to work there, told me that if the UO would just come out and say this, he’d understand the flirtation with sportswear corporations. And we’re talking about a guy who organized a march on Johnson Hall in an effort to end the UO’s relationship with one.

There are questions raised, though, such as what kind of “really, really profound” “negative consequences”? I guess I’ll ask Lariviere next time I see him. On the other hand, nobody in a position of power has ever been this forthright about the UO’s relationship with Knight on the record, at least that I can remember.

Media digests: They’ll return once all the content for the magazine gets copy-edited.

  1. Bystander says:

    I can only assume that the “really profound consequences” that the Prez was talking about is some kind of private endowment donation that will help with the UO’s quest to take the University private.

    Seriously, I was embarrassed for poor Dick. In this clip, he looked like Phil Knight’s hired hand.

  2. Franklin Bains says:

    Slash, (1) Shouldn’t it? (2) What does Phil Knight do in that world?

  3. Franklin Bains says:

    If Lariviere gets his goal, and gets part private money, will that take away the tax deduction status?

  4. UO Matters says:

    Under current law these donations are tax deductible. This means about 50% of them comes not from Knight, but from public funds. The lower tax revenues have to be made up somehow. Increased taxes on others, or borrowing.

    The US Senate Finance Committee has repeatedly questioned the logic of giving athletic boosters deductions for these kinds of gifts. Few people defend it, but those who do have a lot money and influence.

  5. jim cantrell says:

    Yes it is a tired argument. These educated “snobs” stick their noses in the air over a huge private donation, but have no problems sucking from the teat of an already hurting overtaxed public.

  6. Jeff Roberts says:

    If a private citizen wants to give money to a university for a specific purpose, then you take the money and apply it to what it was intended for, assuming legality and morality are in line.

    Educators need to realize that a donation made by Phil Knight for the purposes of athletic advancement at the university have NOTHING to do with them or the educational goals of the school. They should also feel fortunate that the university is in the spotlight, because you know that this attracts more of the nation’s best and brightest and attention on your school will also attract more money for the things that you feel are important. This debate is a tired, nonsensical one at best.

  7. Mark Gentry says:

    I don’t any professional educators who feel good about the compromise higher ed has made to college football and basketball. It’s been my experience that most feel as I do about that compromise: it’s the best we can do with the current resources we have. College football and basketball is the engine that powers all college athletics. If you believe your community should provide an opportunity for higher ed to its ambitious student athletes, the current private funding model for athletics is the only sustainable model that works. The best we can hope for is to make those compromises with our eyes open to how things really are, always searching for ways to make them better. There’s no doubt in my mind that Lariviere exactly that.

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