Still Pertinent?

Back in 2001 I wrote an article titled “Intercollegiate Athletics: The Tail That Wags The Dog” which was published in Montana Professor. In the article I analyzed the then current situation in intercollegiate athletics and pointed out what was then (and now) a serious problem; I speak of the corruption in NCAA Division I athletics, especially football and basketball and I recommended that the best possible solution was to eliminate the athletic “scholarships,” pay the athletes who played those sports at the major universities a reasonable salary, and let those few who wanted to receive an education pay for it out of their earnings. I thought it more honest and a worthwhile experiment at the time and I find it fascinating that now a good deal of talk has surfaced about the need to pay the athletes who play because they are being exploited by the schools they represent which are making tons of money from television and gate receipts.

In any event, I started the article with a couple of charges against the universities themselves which have lost their way, forgotten that their objective is to educate the young, not entertain them. With a few comments added for clarification, I simply quote those paragraphs here as I think they are still pertinent — if not impertinent!

Assuming we ever knew where we were going, in America, at least, higher education has lost its way. We are confused about what it is we are supposed to be and what it is we are supposed to do–which is to empower young people, to put them in possession of their own minds. These young people come to us decidedly unfree. For all practical purposes, they cannot read, write, or figure. They therefore cannot think their own thoughts or initiate their own actions, which are the activities that define us as human beings. These students belong to their parents, to television, to the malls, to advertisers, and to a hedonistic youth culture; though they believe themselves to be so, they are not free in any meaningful sense of that term. They are surrounded by options but they are unable to make informed choices; they cannot separate fact from fiction or reasonable opinions from wishful thinking; nor can they foresee consequences or entertain antithetical points of view. Our secondary schools cannot help because they are caught up in methodology, and society places impossible demands on the underpaid teacher’s time. Consequently, as things now stand, the only institutions standing between young people and a lifetime of slavery to whim and to manipulation by others are our colleges and universities, which, for the most part, do not seem to be up to the task. As Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University, recently noted in this regard, “students come to us already profoundly miseducated; we simply complete the job.”  It is worth noting in this regard that Princeton University’s law school implemented remedial courses for their students because the college graduates that come to them, in many cases, do not have the reading, writing, and thinking skills required to do the work demanded of them.

Higher education is at present tangled in a web of conflicting ideologies, disputes over territory, and faculty concerns over tenure and job security. We have bought into myths that delude us into thinking education is about providing students with jobs, shoving them into the fast lane on the information highway, or indoctrinating them about cultural diversity in the name of what a zealous handful has determined is social justice. However, “vocational education” is an oxymoron: education should not be confused with job-training, though we would hope that educated persons would be able to find and hold a good job; education does not require the most advanced technical gadgets, because faster does not mean better; and finally, education must not be confused with indoctrination, though we would expect free minds to reject injustice wherever it is found.

Because it is hidden in the dust stirred up by these controversies, we can barely make out one of the most widely ignored obstacles standing between students and their inner freedom, namely, the multi-million dollar business we call “intercollegiate athletics.” In this article I should like to bring that obstacle into sharper focus.

I would only add to this  two items: (1) colleges and universities themselves have become “multi-million dollar businesses,” and (2) I would add “social media” to the above list of the major factors enslaving today’s young while giving them the illusion of freedom. In fact it should be at the top of the list!

If you are interested in reading more of this article, it is online at


10 thoughts on “Still Pertinent?

  1. This is a very interesting proposal for university/college level sports, Hugh. I’ll bet changes like this have as good a chance of success as overhauling the electoral system to remove big money. I like your proposal!

    • Thanks for the reference. It’s easy to blame the administration — and non-teaching positions in education are embarrassingly numerous (and overpaid) — but some of the blame goes to the teachers themselves who consistently refuse to admit there is a problem. We must pay the teachers more and attract the best students to teaching. But this person is correct: teaching not only lacks adequate compensation in our culture, it is also held in low esteem (and there may be a direct correlation there!)

      • It would seem that in the “higher professions” low esteem and low pay would attract the less qualified, yet that has not been the case with the health profession (or politics!). The problem, it seems, is a question of power. Teachers, though with much opportunity, have not garnered the political and social power and support they could have. The same is evident in Canada. Generally speaking there is a kind of “submissive” attitude to authority that has haunted the teaching profession, particularly at the grade school level.

      • In this country the health care professions are hardly low-paying and low-esteem. Politics also pays well, though it is held inflow esteem by many. Teaching is definitely low-paying and low-esteem.

      • Quote: “In this country the health care professions are hardly low-paying and low-esteem. Politics also pays well, though it is held in low esteem by many. Teaching is definitely low-paying and low-esteem.” Yes that’s what I mean to say, should’ve stretched to comment a bit to make it clearer. I meant to say that high pay and high esteem in the doctor class has not attracted higher caliber people. Exorbitant high pay and equal low esteem has certainly not attracted higher caliber minds in politics. I don’t know what could possibly attract anyone into the teaching profession these days, whether for government, or for religious institutions.

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