One might say that the past few weeks have not been the best for Kansas University. The report of the alleged theft of nearly 20,000 tickets by employees of Kansas Athletics over the past few years goes well beyond a minor problem. The fact that there are now federal investigations under way, investigations that most observers expect to result in criminal prosecution is a serious matter.
This kind of scandal cannot help either the athletics programs or the university as a whole. The media frenzy surrounding this sad affair has no doubt been worsened by the existing undercurrent of anger and resentment generated by other athletic department actions, including the redistribution of season tickets and the imposition of far higher ticket prices, a change that may have contributed to the current problems.
Certainly, the increasing belief by faculty and university staff that Kansas Athletics has been enjoying increased revenues accompanied by increased expenditures on salaries and facilities for athletics department staff, especially at the senior level, has not created a friendly atmosphere for Kansas Athletics.
For what it’s worth, my opinion is that the problems that have now emerged are symptoms rather than causes. Further, I think that there is little point in blaming all of these problems on Kansas Athletics. Instead, the problem at KU is the culture that allows athletics to completely dominate the campus.
There is great value in having winning teams. It gives the university national exposure and name recognition it might otherwise lack. There can be little question this is true for most people unconnected with the university who do not follow the scholarship and teaching that go on at KU. But for those of us who teach, do research, and manage KU, the fact is that we believe — and I think most of us hope that the chancellor, the Kansas Board of Regents and the Legislature believe — that the primary mission of KU is to teach our students (most of whom are Kansans), do high level research that expands human knowledge, provide both economic and cultural benefits to the state of Kansas and provide services to the people of Kansas.
Our primary mission is not entertainment and, that, basically, is what the Kansas Athletics is about. That the entertainment mission has come to dominate the teaching, service and research missions of the university is nothing less than a travesty. That our students’ classrooms and laboratories come second to athletic facilities used by a small number of students is absurd. That assistant coaches often earn salaries significantly higher than our best teachers and scholars, higher than scientists searching to cure major human diseases, bespeaks a culture absolutely antithetical to the whole idea of a university.
Whatever happens in regard to the current athletics scandal, whatever increased audit and monitoring devices are put into place, they will not solve the far greater problem of the “athletics above all” culture now in place at KU. Only one person can change this: the chancellor. The chancellor needs to stand up for the university in its time of greatest vulnerability and not only speak out on the importance of teaching and learning here, but actually change the system to make it true.
— Mike Hoeflich, a distinguished professor in the Kansas University School of Law, writes a regular column for the Journal-World. Read his blog, “The Grumpy Professor” at www2.ljworld.com/weblogs/grumpy-professor/