For a moment, let’s ignore the glaring moral transgressions brought about by Temple’s administration throughout this entire athletic cut ordeal – the weeping athletes, the disregard of tradition – and focus solely on the university’s admitted stance that the decision to cut seven non-revenue sports on Dec. 6 was a move to streamline Temple’s athletic budget, among other claims. This was – at the end of the day – a business decision, one that frees up $3 million to $3.5 million for the 17 remaining varsity sports to allocate for whatever they see fit.
Depending on what side of the political fence one sits on, the cuts were either the result of a boardroom gone rogue or the perfect outcome of free-market capitalism, wherein seven programs with essentially zero chance at turning any type of profit for the university were let go in an act of economic Darwinism. Taking emotions out of the equation, cutting seven nonrevenue sports to free up a few million dollars in a cash-driven business makes perfect sense, provided that Temple solely exists as a moneymaking enterprise. There is a very obvious reason why football and basketball remain, in that athletic programs cost money to run, and big-ticket sports are theoretically designed to bring in a good bit of cash.
That being said, let’s back up a step: Temple is not a moneymaking enterprise, both according to its mission statement – “Temple seeks to create new knowledge that improves the human condition and uplifts the human spirit,” the statement reads – as well as its status as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in the state of Pennsylvania. It receives state funding to further said goals of “uplifting the human spirit” and “[prizing] diversity of thought,” about $146 million in each of the past two fiscal years according to its 2014 operating budget. It is a school founded by a man that made a career out of reciting an 11,000-word speech about finding value in the folks often overlooked by an education system that still heavily favors a mostly white and upper-class population.
As such, what business does this administration have cutting multiple historic programs amidst an admitted hunt for a lucrative outlet through which to showcase its football games?
There is a certain social contract that comes when an entity receives state tax money, in that said corporation or group will work to engender the public good above clamoring for fame or monetary success for its own sake. When the trustees of a university that receives state aid hold a public meeting wherein they flatly deny students and taxpayers the simple opportunity to speak their minds, as Temple’s trustees did after the sports cuts on Dec. 10, the unspoken contract that Pennsylvania’s tax money works to better the lives of its citizens is broken.
Granted, Temple – like most public universities – is not funded fully via tax money, and covers most of its expenses by charging tuition. Moreover, Temple is not even a fully “public” entity, its status mired instead in a confusing “state-related” system that hands four of the largest universities in Pennsylvania taxpayer cash without demanding that said schools be fully subject to the state’s Right-to-Know laws.
But the point still stands: Does this school – as well as every other public school in America – merely exist to spend taxpayer money in the most efficient way possible, or does it have a deeper responsibility to use its position to preserve the public good?
Russell Conwell, founder of what was then called Temple College, was a Baptist minister and a man who believed that instilling a moral backbone in his students carried some sort of intrinsic and spiritual value that mattered on a far deeper level than what it may cost to add lighting to a baseball stadium over the course of an offseason.
“Greatness consists not in the holding of some future office, but really consists in doing great deeds with little means and the accomplishment of vast purposes from the private ranks of life,” Conwell often said when reciting his speech “Acres of Diamonds.”
Waking up at 4 a.m. to push an oar through the Schuylkill River builds real backbone. Waking up at the same time to set up a tailgating tent does not. If we increasingly allow our schools to slowly shave away the programs that do not provide an immediate return-on-investment – Division I Olympic sports at colleges as far-reaching as the University of Maryland, the Universities of California at Davis and Berkeley, the University of North Carolina at Wilmington were all cut within the last five years – we will soon wake up in a world far grayer and less diverse than the one we inhabit now.
Jerry Iannelli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jerryiannelli.