GLASS: Athletics Department should be on even keel with rest of U.
Opinions Column: Extra Curricula
A few years ago, at the worst point of a state financial crisis that was impacting the University, the Department of Psychology passed a resolution 18-1 recommending that the Athletics Department budget be cut. I was the one. Though, I had to admit that the Athletics Department had earned the vote. A few years earlier there was no animosity toward athletics and even a measure of support. Then, the Athletics Department destroyed any goodwill that existed toward it over an issue so trivial that it still boggles my mind.
For as long as there had been tennis courts at Rutgers, the rule had been that when the tennis teams were not using them, the faculty and staff could. And they did.
Robert Mulcahy became Athletics director in 1998. Mulcahy declared that the tennis courts could not be used by faculty and staff. When the tennis teams were not using the courts then they would not be used at all. This new policy generated a considerable outpouring of criticism from the faculty and staff. Nevertheless, they remained barred from the courts. A few years later, when the men’s tennis team was abolished, doubling the number of hours they would remain unused, the no-use policy persisted.
Mulcahy went on to permanently alienate a large number of former Rutgers athletes by abolishing six varsity sports. In 2008, he was forced to resign under accusations of nepotism and sloppy financial accounting. Though he never attended Rutgers, in 2017 he was inducted in the Rutgers Athletics Hall of Fame.
The tennis court policy was reaffirmed by Mulcahy’s successor as Athletics director, Tim Pernetti, and it has remained in place under subsequent Athletic Directors Julie Hermann and Patrick Hobbs.
Today, many, perhaps most faculty have no memory of the tennis court dispute but its effect has been lasting. Faculty have a hostile indifference to Rutgers athletics, an attitude new faculty pick up and adopt.
The tennis court policy reflects the Athletics Department’s attitude to the University, which may be summarized as “What is yours is mine and what is mine is mine.” There are not enough venues for holding meetings and events on campus and they are scheduled on a first-come, first-served basis. When Athletics needs a space in a student center, it applies and receives it on the same basis as any other University unit, even if it is reserving it every single day for an entire semester. But, if someone at Rutgers wants to schedule a suitable space in an Athletics building for an event, such as the meeting room on the third floor of the Hale Center, they are treated as if they are demented. After all, Athletics Department spaces do not appear on the list of University spaces. They are for Athletics only.
This attitude might be sustainable if the department was breaking even and could argue that this was because it raised much of its money on its own. But, when the Athletics Department is kept afloat by the fees of students who have no interest in and will never attend a football game, it is obnoxious.
Mulcahy extended the tennis court policy to other venues. There was a time when Bruce Springsteen performed in the College Avenue Gymnasium. There was a time when Eddie Murphy performed at the Rutgers Athletic Center. When Mulcahy banned their use for non-athletic events there was again a protest. There was some concession in the end that they might still be made available, but such major events seem to have disappeared from the Rutgers campus.
In short, the attitude of the Athletics Department is that, though it exists on the Rutgers campus, it is otherwise not a part of the University. Rutgers has come to fully reciprocate this attitude. I know that on-campus students can get most, perhaps all, Rutgers away games on RU-tv. Even so, there has never been an indoor venue on campus to watch the game together. I check almost every year. This year on the day of the first away game, I called both the Busch and Livingston student centers. Not only were they not showing the game, but they did not even know that Rutgers was playing football on that day. At Livingston, the Rutgers Zone was deliberately modeled after the ESPN Zone, a venue for watching sports events on big screens. The Rutgers Zone is closed on Saturdays.
The breech between the Athletics Department and the rest of the University does neither one any good. The department should end its ban on tennis court use. It should encourage the use of gyms for concerts. It should reach out to and reconnect with the University whose campus it now merely exists on.
Arnold Glass is a professor in the Rutgers Department of Psychology. His column, "Extra Curricula," runs on alternate Thursdays.
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