Tuesday, November 10, 2015

it's the money, stupid!

Shot my writing bolt this morning while researching the various news approaches being taken to the racial protest at the University of Missouri. Black football players banded together last weekend and said they would no participate in football-related activities until "Mizzou" President Tim Wolfe stepped down. On Monday, he did.

The focus of the black players' protest lay in an alleged unwillingness of Wolfe to address complaints about racial slurs and other racist activities. In one sense, it was a typical anti-racist banner they unfurled. At the university and across the nation, these eruptions of anguish and anger rise up now and then in the wake of the latest shooting or profiling or other apparent atrocity.

But in this case, there was something new and telling: Money. By refusing to play (Mizzou had a game scheduled against Baylor next weekend), the university stood to sustain a $1 million fine from the football gods. No players, no fans and a fine into the bargain.

That leverage, from where I sit, had everything to do with the attention being paid to what otherwise might have devolved into yet another oh-so-sensitive, impotent liberal whine about racism.

And yet the money angle was mostly buried in the news stories that evolved. Everyone gets so used to breast-beating that doesn't work that they lose track of the meat and potatoes (money) that does.

Anyway ... I got so cranked up that I wrote an uninvited column to the newspaper. I doubt if it will run -- they have a tendency to pass by what is current -- but I felt the need to get it off my growling chest. I suppose I'll stick it here if/when the newspaper passes it by. Haven't got the energy to reprise my namby-pamby research right at the moment.

Here is what I sent in FWIW:

Sent off to the Gazette a couple of days back ... with scant hope of publication:

In the wake of the resignation of University of Missouri President Tim Wolfe, there is a feeding frenzy of talking heads commenting and knicker-twisting about the blow dealt to unaddressed racial bias on campus -- and by extension, in the nation.

Last weekend, black players on the "Mizzou" football team said they would not participate in football activities until and unless Wolfe quit. On Monday, he did. Hours later Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin followed suit.

A comforting huzzah wafted into the halls of wounded and disaffected blacks and whites who have long despaired of the subtle and gross racism attested to in hundreds of different ways on campus and across the land. From wanton shootings to profiling to slurs -- the laundry list is long and those resting their case on decency and equality have repeatedly hit a brick wall when it came to changing hearts and minds. Everyone gets outraged (again); little or nothing happens (again).

To my mind, the wider news media missed or sailed over the obvious at the University of Missouri. Wolfe's resignation had little or nothing to do with a warmer heart or a changed mind. Wolfe's resignation had almost nothing to do with a change in perspective and everything to do with money.

It's the money, stupid! Do the math. By threatening the honey pot of income, the players and their supporters struck at the heart of the matter and, not coincidentally, the heart of the university.


1. Tom Wolfe is reported to receive a salary of $459,000 per year.

2. The University of Missouri had an athletic budget of $83.7 million in fiscal year 2014. (http://www.kansascity.com/sports/college/sec/university-of-missouri/article8564105.html). After expenses, there was a profit of $3.5 million of which $2.2 million could be transferred to activities other than athletics.

3. The university faced a $1 million fine if the football team did not play this weekend's game against Baylor. That's close to 50% of the academic gravy realized in the university's athletic computations. How could one half-million-dollar executive hope to compete with that sort of downside math?

4. However graceful and encouraging Wolfe's departure may be, it was the capacity of the board of trustees to add and subtract that reversed Wolfe's fortunes. Is anyone to imagine this group got together and had some about-face epiphany as regards a racial climate that had persisted for years? Don't be ridiculous. $2.2 million provides plenty of reasons for the board to toss Wolfe to the wolves.

Anyone who imagines the protest on the University of Missouri campus would have gained traction without the very real financial threat is invited to strip away that aspect and then consider what sort of reaction would have evolved. Good-hearted and even anguished efforts to revise the racial disparities of the past met with precisely what in the past? Bupkus, that's what.

But add the financial leverage and the argument for racial consideration gains attention that financially-savvy academic executives are constrained to take seriously. Those executives may put an academic twist on their responsibilities at fund-raising cocktail parties, but their job does not rest so much on the "educating of America's youth" as it does on raising money. And the truth is that someone's got to do it.

The question is, at what price?
The leverage brought to bear at the University of Missouri is the kind of leverage that those who implicitly or explicitly condone racism can no longer overlook.

Never mind principle: Just don't mess with my income.

1 comment:

  1. That fine was evaded. But what will come of the other seven demands?