In Defense of the Arts
Ok. So, a friend posted a link to a column from the Daily Texan, the student newspaper at the University of Texas at Austin. The author of the column views arts education in the university setting as a pointless indulgence for the less-talented artists in the world. There is a host of offensive assumptions, insinuations, and obvious ignorance in the original column, but I will let you respond as you will, if you care to read it here.
I could have quoted Churchill, or spoken of the immeasurable ways that the arts transform ours from a society into a culture, but instead, I chose something that I feel is in my sweet spot: satire. Borrowed satire, courtesy of Thomas Swift. I am fairly certain that if my response is published, there will be an equally impassioned response in defense of athletic programs. Hopefully people will “get” it, so that can be avoided.
A Modest Proposal for Quazians: The Questionable Value of Athletic Programs
There is no question that the recent economic downturn has caused state and federal legislatures, as well as the public universities dependent upon funding from those bodies, to reevaluate the allocation of taxpayer money within institutions of higher learning. This has led to a spate of productivity studies, departmental cuts, and presumably the declaration of loyalty oaths. In this environment of uncertainty, I would strongly encourage UT administrators to take a hard look at our athletic programs. Students should also ask themselves whether such programs can lead to stable careers or if they are frivolous gambits with no bearing on the real economy.
(At this point, I would cite the words of some luminary in the field that I am attacking, attempting to insinuate that this somehow constitutes the construction of a logical, persuasive argument, but I have a long and well-documented aversion to quotation and won’t sully that here, as I consider it part of my accursed creative mind that I am not reliant upon the bon mots of others to communicate my thoughts. This desire for independence is surely the shame of my arts education made manifest.) Parents of school children often adamantly defend school athletic programs. These athletic supporters argue that such activities encourage social development, the ability to work with others toward a common goal, the mastery of physical skills, and a sense of collective identity. And I agree with that, though it may verge on communistic ideals.
These aims, however, ought no longer to be the concern of a university. An undergraduate student who has completed his or her high school education has already developed those skills and habits as well as the necessary submissiveness to peer pressure and group dynamics. If they have not, they have no place here because they are not one of us, likely a sociopath, and ripe for dispatch upon an ice floe. UT attempts to provide students with an education, regardless of their major or sport. It should be noted that athleticism isn’t the sole province of team and individual sports. Prodigies in law, computer science, medicine, and other fields likely to elicit great pride from one’s parents alike have made time to participate in sports on a competitive or casual basis, to say nothing of the countless sea of “runners”, “cyclists”, and “unicorns” who also sacrifice their time and energy for the sake of physical health. By the way, even mediocre non-athletes have been reported to engage in these activities.
(This is the point at which I would make sweeping claims about what options are available to elite student-athletes, though I have no idea what I am talking about. I would argue that they are expensive alternatives to the hyper-affordability of a UT education, and that the best of these athletes really ought to be there instead of sapping the marrow from the already wizened bones of the university budget. Again, let me reiterate that I would make all of these points without bothering to consider my own lack of knowledge in this field.)
I recognize that proposing the elimination of athletics programs might come across as harsh – even unfair – as it would leave affluent season ticketholders and corporate sponsors with a much freer social calendar. But sports have traditionally been the domain of the poorer classes anyway. Clearly, our current handling of the situation is cultivating an ongoing athlete mill that does not pay heed to the absence of employment opportunities post-graduation. In short: although athletic competition enriches our national culture, it makes not material contribution to the nation’s economy.
This anxiety is not my own, as it is expressed clearly by the most esteemed governing body of student-athletes. According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association:
1.2 percent of NCAA male senior basketball players will be drafted by a team in the NBA
0.9 percent of NCAA female senior basketball players will be drafted by a team in the WNBA
1.7 percent of NCAA senior football players will be drafted by a team in the NFL
8.9 percent of NCAA senior male baseball players will be drafted by a team in MLB
(I could go on to note the lack of durability in any of these careers, the rate at which drafted players are cut, or the virtual poverty that baseball players endure in the minor leagues as they pursue their dream, but I won’t.)
But facts are pesky and only get in the way of the deeper truths. It would be a tragedy if talented and highly motivated athletes stopped throwing themselves wholeheartedly into their dreams simply due to the nearly comic futility of pursuing them to their logical conclusion.
Only the most devout ostriches among us could continue to proceed unaware of the cost of a college education. A practical, sensible student (such as we should all aspire to be) must tailor (though not actual tailoring, because that is too artsy) his or her studies to maximize ROI. (Remember, there is nothing in life more important than money, and all of our efforts should be in pursuit of more money. Praise money.) If a student cannot be shaken from the inexplicable desire to travel across the country to compete in the midst of their academic studies, let them take heart that they are absolutely entitled to the misallocation of their own resources. Despite this, as an institution funded by taxpayer dollars and the support of donors interested only in the promotion of broader economic success for the university and its students, UT should inquire as to whether Texans feel that their hard-earned (not inherited, gained through good fortune, or acquired through questionable business practices – never, never, never) should continue to support these misbegotten student journeys.
The Longhorn Network notwithstanding, the University of Texas at Austin and other public universities are deeply committed to the greater good. Their principal responsibility, though, is to foster academic success and to guide students toward immediate and unerring integration into the job market so as to facilitate economic productivity. As they consider whether the budgets of athletic programs should be cut, UT must assess the extent to which these programs are helping students achieve their career goals.
My friend Lane Harder has written this forceful and on point response, including a challenge to public debate. He does, it appears, demand satisfaction.