Academics, not athletics, must be primary mission of YSU

Academics, not athletics, must be primary mission of YSU

In 1939 Robert Hutchins, then president of the University of Chicago, abolished the football team, citing the need to focus on academics rather than varsity athletics. This move came just four years after the first Heisman Trophy was awarded to a University of Chicago player. Football would eventually return to the university in 1969, but only as a Division III program.

Aside from athletics, the university instituted an innovative approach to undergraduate teaching. These included small discussion based courses, a focus on primary sources and an interdisciplinary approach to learning.

What were the effects of these decisions? The university transformed itself into a world-class undergraduate and graduate university.

What does this have to do with the current contract talks at Youngstown State University? Everything. For many years those charged with making decisions and setting priorities at YSU have lost sight of the purpose of a university — the collecting, creating, and dissemination of knowledge. To illustrate this we need only look at the supposed $6 million to $9 million deficit. While it is true that there is a deficit, it is a deficit piggybacked by a $10 million subsidy to the athletic program, which saw a nearly 5 percent budget increase this year.

And what has suffered due to priorities set by the board of trustees and the administration? Just those things necessary for an urban research university to function.

For example, the university library is one of the worst funded in Ohio. The university has been increasing class sizes while decreasing the number of full-time faculty. In some departments adjuncts provide 50 percent or more of the instruction to students. While the athletic program receives $17,500 for cellphones, 58 percent of stage spots and 44 percent of overhead lights remain unreplaced at the Bliss Recital Hall.

While student retention is deemed a priority, the university decided to spend $4 million to renovate a house for the university president instead of allocating it for a new or drastically updated student center.

If we want to increase our enrollment and retain students, we need to invest in those things that will increase the academic reputation and climate of the university — something a commitment to Division I athletics is not going to do.

Dr. Mark C. Vopat, Youngstown

Dr. Mark C. Vopat teaches in the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at YSU.