LETTER TO THE EDITOR: University needs balance

Friday, July 20, 2012 | 3:35 p.m. CDT

From 2008 to 2011, I had the honor of coaching MU's fencing program. During that time, we grew from a Tier 3 club to Tier 1 — just shy of varsity status. MU's fencing squad has repeatedly ended up at national championships, sometimes close to the top. This was partially due to unending work put in by student-athletes; they ran the club, conducted the logistics of tournaments and trained endlessly to become one of the greatest squads of fencers in the Midwest.

It was also due to the generous support given to us by the university. We were given funding for equipment, which can be expensive. We were given travel funding to spread the fame of Missouri Athletics. If we worked hard, the university worked just as hard in funding us. From a coaching standpoint, we never felt unsupported. I thank the university for its past and continued attention to the unparalleled athletic programs at MU.

However, this reflects disparity in funding for academia, ostensibly a university’s primary mission. The ‘reorganization’ of the University of Missouri Press publicly states that the university administration isn’t interested in educating balanced members of society. It is interested in making money. This philosophy is reflected in other imbalances; doctoral candidates in humanities at MU work minimum wage jobs to make ends meet. The Art History & Archaeology departments hold bake sales in order to fund seminars.

This is shameful.

A good university seeks balance: To ensure the physical lives of students match the mental ones, to produce healthy, thinking members of society who can look back on any aspect of their student experience with fondness and unity and to ensure that every department of MU is fully funded and supported. The philosophy of this administration runs the real risk of brain-drain at MU, leaving it an academic laughing-stock. I urge the administration to fund all aspects important to a university. Make all things Mizzou as great as the athletics program.

William Chisenhall was the head coach of MU Fencing from 2008 to 2011. He lived in Columbia until late 2011. He coaches men's rugby at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

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Ellis Smith July 20, 2012 | 5:44 p.m.

This is just fascinating! Coach Chisenhall is now coaching at an NCAA Division III university. And what, essentially, is Division III? No big money, no athletic scholarships! When you see those students take the field or court they are playing for love of playing; also, you know that every one of them, if they weren't playing, had the academic credentials required to get admitted to Johns Hopkins University.

Same for University of Chicago, M.I.T., CalTech, etc., and here in the Midwest, such colleges as Westminster, Grinnell, Knox, Saint Olaf, Carleton, and (I think) Washington University (St. Louis).

But these MUST be substandard institutions of higher learning, because some folks tell us we need to have successful big-time athletic programs in order to attract students.

Do you think the schools I've named here have any trouble attracting students?

PS: Don't know how it is now, but Johns Hopkins men's basketball tickets could be purchased at game time, there were no reserved seats, and if they filled all seats they simply closed the door!

(Report Comment)
Zachary Schulz July 21, 2012 | 7:00 p.m.

What a wonderful use of sarcasm while avoiding the points illustrated by Coach Chisenhall!

Having been part of MU for my bachelors degree in history and having moved on to Purdue University for my MA/PhD, while also having been part of MU Fencing under Mr. Chisenhall, I am not unbiased. However, the point he makes is valid regardless if the University is a Tier III or Tier 'Whatever' school. It makes no difference if John Hopkins or any other school can sell its sports tickets. The point is the leaving of education behind for other interests.

The Humanties at MU is woefully underfunded. The classics department has been all but cut by undermining and the history department, sadly, is becoming laughable as well.

Further, this trend continues at at numerous institutions across the United States. Yet the budgets for sports and advertising is going up. What Mr. Chisenhall is seeking to address is the creation of universities as degree mills and not institutions of higher learning.

Now that is fascinating!

(Report Comment)
Corey Parks July 21, 2012 | 8:41 p.m.

What is the answer? Should MU athletics have student athletes sign a contract stating that when they graduate and move on to no longer support the athletic department with scholarships or buying games? Should MU ban all advertising dollars to anyone but general studies degrees? It would be hard to stop the flow of money to the athletic department based on people wanting to spend money on things they enjoy watching. How would MU fare without the money they get from the athletic department?

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Ellis Smith July 22, 2012 | 3:52 a.m.

I'm glad the sarcasm was appreciated; it was sincerely meant and carefully composed. What surprises me is that nobody picked up on all my illustrations being private institutions. There are some state-supported institutions in DIII; many more in DII (several here in Missouri).

Corey, one thing that shouldn't be changed: the concept of divisions. As for the rest of it, I have no suggestions. Even if the rules for Division I were made more restrictive, pressures to void those rules or cheat on them would be intense. I suggest that the differences in scholarship allowances governing DI and DII be made greater, because malpractices in DII are starting to look much like those in DI. (There are "arms races" in DII as well as DI; but they don't make national news.)

It's a wise institution, public or private, that participates in NCAA-sponsored athletics in A DIVISION CONSISTENT WITH ITS OVERALL MISSION AS A UNIVERSITY, or, in the vernacular, where the tail does not wag the dog.

Part of this comes from the situation where a significant number of the fans/donors of Division I universities have no other personal connection with the academic and research functions of that university. Perfect example: how many fans of Notre Dame football actually matriculated - let alone graduated - from Notre Dame? In a free society (or one that's sort of free) we cannot ban voluntary contributions to programs, academic or athletic.

As to funding for Humanities, we're aware that's a problem. Is that the ONLY academic problem in this "System"?
We have an entire campus in this "System" that's maxed out for students; "System" administration, quoted in this newspaper, says that situation may soon follow at another campus. I have no trouble believing that. But there seems to be no problem with private funding of athletics - pretty much at just one of the four campuses. What if they gave some of that funding to Humanities? Now we're back to Coach Chisenhall's thesis. The REAL problem here is bigger than Humanities, Engineering, or this or that campus.

*-"System" is shown in quotation points because some of us don't believe that any system exists. Every man, woman, department or campus for itself!

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