Student money pays for athletic fundraising

11/16/2011: The UO students are starting to ask some serious questions about athletic department finances. For example, why does the athletic department get $375,000 from the academic side for the “President’s Box” at Autzen?

(Update: I’ve revised this post after UO spokesperson Phil Weiler told KEZI the Autzen money comes from the UO Foundation pot, not from tuition. So it’s technically possible some donor said “use my gift to pay for the skybox and not for scholarships, etc.” but it’s much more likely this is general gift money, which the president’s office then funnels to athletics. We’ve asked to see the the gift letter.)

(Second update: it turns out Phil Weiler was not telling the truth. All the $375,000 comes directly from the academic side, not from the Foundation. Weiler has seen the documents, he has acknowledged to me that he was wrong, but he has refused to correct his statement to the reporter.)

The real reason is simple. Athletics gets that money because Dave Frohnmayer put his signature to this secret deal, two weeks before he stepped down as UO President, after AD Pat Kilkenny had contributed some serious money to Frohnmayer’s Fanconi Foundation.

But I’ll go out on a limb and guess our latest AD, Rob Mullens, is going to put a slightly different spin on this. Soon he will be claiming those ungrateful students should be glad athletics gets this money, because the boosters in the box with Lariviere are big donors to the academic side.

That’s a nice story – but it’s not what the data show. Last winter Stefan Verbano of the ODE had a great interview with former UO Business School Dean and current Warsaw Sports Marketing Prof Dennis Howard on the link between athletic contributions and the real University of Oregon:

“It’s called a donation or a contribution … when, in fact, as we have discovered in our research … it’s a transaction,” Howard said. “It has nothing to do with giving back to the University or a philanthropic motive. It is purely and simply a commercial transaction in which the individual in paying for tangible benefits: better seat location, access to the Autzen Club amenities. All of those things are driving those transactions.” 

As you can see from the photo, Howard is not exactly your anti-establishment, bearded longhair professor type. But his paper, which uses data from UO donors, is brutal:

“Both alumni and non-alumni show an increasing preference toward directing their gifts to the intercollegiate athletics department-at the expense of the donations to academic programs. Sperber’s (2000) assertion that giving to athletics undermines academic giving is strongly supported.”

And here’s an update of the UO data on giving to the academic and athletic sides, showing that most of the growth in giving to UO over the past 11 years has indeed been to the athletic side – and this excludes most if not all of the Knight donations, which have all been to athletics since the WRC fiasco.


And the UO Foundation has just announced a $1.4 million cut in the amount it provides for academic scholarships – while payments for athletics scholarships are up yet again.

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2 Responses to Student money pays for athletic fundraising

  1. Anonymous says:

    Who pays the salaries of those development officers that raise the money? The general fund? Tuition? Are they funded by what they raise? And if the bulk of the money s going to athletics, and if either tuition money or general fund monies pay those salaries, then here we have another instance of the academic side, funding the athletic side.

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  2. Duck Soup says:

    Student aid in that graph flat at a low level for a decade, athletics giving almost tripled to 6 or 7 times student aid, giving to academic divisions flat, at less than 1/3 of current athletic giving.

    Imagine if student aid/academics had fared as well as a athletics. The unsustainable tuition increases could have been greatly softened.

    And if I’m not mistaken, that graph is for alumni giving! It is not total private giving the UO Foundation, for sure.

    Somebody in the Foundation, or better yet the UO Pres, needs to bring this home to the alumni and other private donors: you want to keep tuition under control, you want UO to be academically respectable, you’ve got to think about where you direct your giving! Think about student aid, ordinary operations — at least as much as you think of expensive monuments, or national championship football teams.

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