Posted May 15, 2020. To settle a pandemic-related financial crisis at UMass Dartmouth, law faculty are not receiving research compensation in summer 2020. I will be away from my desk, May 16 to August 15. Blog posts will be sparse, and I will not receive email. On the upside, summer 🌞! If you need to reach me, please send a message through the faculty assistants’ office (Ms. Cain and Ms. Rittenhouse). Stay thirsty.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Money in soccer, money in higher ed: Lazio will never be Juventus; will the UMasses ever be ‘UMass’?

This morning I was reminded of this observation about football (soccer) from The Blizzard (#25, June 2017), spoken by Swedish football manager Sven-Göran Eriksson, now coaching in China, in an interview by football writer Vladimir Novak (@VNovak13):


Well, whether you like it or not, to make a winning team you need money. One could argue that Leicester has won the Premier League title even though they invested far less money than, for example, Manchester United or other clubs, but that was an exception. Fact is, in the long run, if you want to be a big club, you need money. Bayern Munich is Bayern Munich, Barcelona is Barcelona, Real Madrid is Real Madrid and so on. You cannot build a great team without money. I think you have a good example with Lazio. When I was at Lazio, Sergio Cragnotti was the chairman and owner of the club, and he invested a lot of money. And then, after he left, all changed. Lazio are still a big club. Maybe they have the chance to win the Serie A title now and then, but they are not Juventus.


The statement reminds me of why I stopped being a baseball fan many years ago.  The Baltimore Orioles were my Lazio.  They would never be the Red Sox or Yankees.

It struck me that this almost self-evident assertion is true of more than football and baseball—indeed, is true of higher education.  And in higher education, disparate resources play an out-sized role in perpetuating socio-economic disparity and widening the gap of opportunity and wealth that afflicts the United States.

In Arkansas, where I started in academics, the public higher ed system was loosely and unofficially divided in just this way.  The well-resourced University of Arkansas—the top tier never needs a geographic locator (Fayetteville)—served the state’s elite.  The slimly resourced University of Arkansas at Little Rock served an urban working class.  And the resource-starved University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff served the rural and poor—disproportionately African American.  The same dynamic described the state’s law schools in Fayetteville and Little Rock (with few graduate options in Pine Bluff).  Incentivized by monied interests, as usual in politics, the state legislature perennially resisted calls to level the playing field.  The schools themselves were complicit in maintaining the status quo.

I thought Massachusetts would take a more progressive approach with its first and only public law school in Dartmouth.  It hasn’t, at least not yet.  Boston’s many private schools fill in the top-tier options in Massachusetts, while the law school, affiliated with UMass Dartmouth, fits in at the Little Rock-like mid-level, focusing on the working-class South Coast.  The otherwise elite “UMass” (Amherst), the state flagship, has legal research resources—for that matter, research resources in any field—superior to UMass Dartmouth’s, even with no law school there.  UMass Boston might be the state’s Pine Bluff.  Each campus knows its place and stays in its socio-economic lane.
 
There is limited revenue sharing to level the playing field in European soccer and in American baseball.  Those measures resulted when, and only insofar as, the un-level playing field was recognized as a threat to the survival of the sport business model.  That’s OK; sport is business.

Higher education isn’t business.  Higher education is supposed to be about opportunity for all those who merit it.  To be clear, this is a libertarian ideal.  Higher education is about teaching people to fish, not giving fish away.  It’s potentially the best social welfare program ever conceived.

I was reminded of this sport-ed money analogy this morning when I received a text alert that the main library at UMass Dartmouth is closing because of an air conditioning failure—again.  I wonder how often the A/C fails at UMass (Amherst).  You cannot build a great library, law school, university, or team without money.

As a society, we have to come to grips with the role of money in higher education—especially the money managed by foundations that purport independence and entitlement to opacity despite being under the direct control of supposedly transparent public universities.

We have to decide whether higher ed will continue to be part of the wealth-and-opportunity gap problem or part of the solution.  The UMass campuses east of Amherst deserve more than an occasional title.  They should all be Juventus.

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