Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Translating football fame into academic excellence

On the front page of today’s Oregonian, we learn the University of Oregon is reaping huge rewards from the massive media hype about the Ducks’ playing for the national collegiate football championship.

To quote the lead, the Ducks’ football superiority is “burnishing the UO brand and boosting revenue, recruitment and status.”

All of which triggers one of my favorite questions: Is there intelligent life on Earth?

What, pray tell, is the link between a school’s football success and its academic excellence and educational status?

The story quotes University of Oregon President Richard Lariviere as saying that applications to the university have risen sharply because of the media attention given the Ducks’ team.

Out-of-state applications are up 30 percent. In-state applications have grown 20 percent.

No fool he, Lariviere also tells the reporter that the high-profile team “gives us an opportunity to showcase what is really important to us, which is the educational mission. We are working very hard to translate this attention into awareness of what we do here.”

I don’t know about you, but my raw-boned interest in the Duck’s team has zero connection to numbers of Nobel Laureates, US News rankings, tuition costs, tenured faculty, student-faculty ratios, and graduation rates.

Yet presumably those are the very qualities Lariviere would like the “translation” to lead to. (If you do manage to make the translation, alas, UO doesn’t translate all that well in academics. But that’s another subject.)

I suggest the president consider exactly whom he is asking to make the translation.

In short, who are these applicants who suddenly want to attend UO because of the football frenzy in Eugene?

Could they be someone like Potential Future Duck over there. He’s in medialand, submerged up to his belt line on the sofa, beer or sugary beverage in hand, nachos within reach. He’s deep into Duckmania. The game and the Ducks glow on the screen.

“Wow, did you see that sack (or catch or run or touchdown)? Check out those cheerleaders!! I'm applying to the University of Oregon!”

I don’t know what kind of “translation” Potential Future Duck is doing, but I don’t think it is the one Lariviere has in mind.

I hope there’s a question on UO’s application form that asks: “Are you applying to the university because of the success of the Ducks’ football team?”

The forms of applicants answering “Yes! Go Ducks!” (or words to that effect) go to the bottom of the pile.

Now THAT could translate into academic excellence.

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