Heard on the Hill: KU prof studies effects of All-Star Game on KC residents’ feelings; wondering about degrees awarded under ‘extraordinary circumstances’; NYT cites KU study on campaign contributions

Your daily dose of news, notes and links from around Kansas University.

• Aaron Clopton, an associate professor of health, sport and exercise sciences at KU, likes to study the sociological effects of big-time sporting events on the communities around them.

So when the Major League Baseball All-Star Game came to Kansas City, Mo., this past summer, it gave him an opportunity he’d never had to measure how a national-scale sports event can affect a city’s people.

With the help of the Mid-America Regional Council and the KC mayor’s office, Clopton used surveys and interviews before and after the All-Star events to find that the game did indeed change how many people felt about Kansas City.

People’s pride and excitement about the city increased after the game passed, Clopton told me. Basically, it made them feel better about living there.

However, he noted, one detail could possibly cause some concern: Those feel-good benefits were skewed quite a bit toward whites and males. The effects on nonwhite people and females were less.

Considering that the All-Star Game came to KC after public funds were used to renovate Kauffman Stadium, Clopton said, the uneven nature of the effects might be something to think about.

“When we start seeing some of those benefits not spread about evenly, we could ask some questions,” Clopton said.

This sort of stuff matters, he says, because residents’ pride in their city, along with their sense of how the city is perceived nationally, can affect rates of volunteering, voting and delinquency, among other things.

Really as a joke, I asked Clopton if he’d evaluated the psychological impact of the Kansas City fans’ famous decision to shower New York Yankee Robinson Cano with boos at the All-Star Home Run Derby, after Cano declined to select hometown Royal Billy Butler for the event.

But he surprised me when he posited a theory that the whole booing-Cano episode may have contributed somewhat to those effects of pride that he observed. Fans may have seen the snub as typical disrespect for KC from New York elites, he said, and when they rallied around Butler they were also rallying around their city, perhaps providing a jolt to their civic pride.

“Robinson Cano did a great thing, I think, for Kansas City,” he said.

• KU is going to present a degree next week to World War II Navajo Code Talker Chester Nez, 91, who withdrew before meeting degree requirements back in 1952, unable to pay the rest of his way after his GI Bill funding ran out.

That’s a real degree, not an honorary one (as the story originally said for a short time Wednesday; my mistake).

Hearing that made me wonder how often KU has awarded degrees to people who hadn’t met the requirements, as it is doing here in a move that I’ll have to imagine will be met only with applause.

KU spokesman Jack Martin said he believed it had been done a few times before, often in the case of posthumous degrees awarded when students had died before finishing degree requirements. He dug up an example of that from 1995, when standout student Hermann Locke was awarded engineering and physics degrees after he died in a car accident in Chile.

The KU Faculty Senate Executive Committee can grant exceptions to degree requirements, Martin said, under “extraordinary circumstances.”

I’d be curious to hear in what other cases this has been done, as I’ll bet they make for interesting stories. And I’d like to know if Nez will be the first living person to receive such a degree.

So if anyone knowledgeable out there has some answers, let me know.

• A New York Times story on Election Day that pondered corporate campaign contributions cited some KU research that suggests such contributions aren’t terribly effective.

The story said that a number of recent research supports the theory that corporations do little to improve their bottom lines — and perhaps even hurt them — when they contribute to political campaigns.

One such study was conducted by Felix Meschke, an assistant professor of business at KU, along with researchers from the University of Minnesota. They found that companies making big political donations actually tend to have underperforming stocks.

Their study also got a look from Time magazine earlier this year.

• I can’t promise that news-tip contributions to Heard on the Hill will increase the value of your investments, but maybe it will increase your civic pride (see how I tied things together there?). So send ’em to merickson@ljworld.com.