Are Josh Hunt’s claims about Knight and the Frohnmayer’s FARF false?

11/5/2018 second update:

Lynn Frohnmayer: ‘University of Nike’ exploits my family’s tragedy to support a false narrative:

To be clear, I think Frohnmayer was wrong to have UO join the WRC and I sent Knight a letter saying that at the time. To paraphrase Karl Marx, it’s capitalism and people like Phil Knight who have saved most of mankind from “the idiocy of rural life”, not knee-jerk liberal professors and their privileged students.

But here’s what I can document. In Saturday’s RG, Lynn Frohnmayer denies any link between the WRC fiasco and Knight’s Fanconi donations:

I am profoundly dismayed about the book “University of Nike” by Joshua Hunt, which was the subject of a column published Oct. 26 by The Register-Guard.

The book purports to be a deep-dive “investigation” into how corporate dollars have “bought American higher education,” but the truth is that it exploits my family’s tragedies in support of a sensational and patently false narrative.

I might ignore a writer’s careless disregard for the facts, but this book distresses me so deeply that I cannot overlook its glaring inaccuracies and shoddy reporting, at least as they pertain to my family and Phil Knight. …

Phil Knight, Nike’s founder and our family friend, first contributed to the fund in 1994. … Hunt has twisted Knight’s generosity into a work of fiction. It is well-documented that in April 2000, when UO joined the Workers’ Rights Consortium — an organization that criticized working conditions at Nike’s overseas factories — Knight halted planned gifts to UO. … This narrative could not be farther from the truth.

On Dec. 22, 2000, just eight months after UO joined the WRC, Knight wrote a check to FARF for one million dollars. On Dec. 18, 2001, he wrote a second million-dollar check to FARF. The Knights’ support of Fanconi anemia research was never affected by the WRC controversy.

The above seems at odds with what the FARF told the IRS in 2001, in several respects:

From what I can decipher, the FARF’s accountant had misclassified the $2M 1999 donation on their IRS filing and someone dropped a dime on them, perhaps because the IRS gives whistleblowers a cut.

This letter is pretty clearly about Knight’s donations. Ms Frohnmayer says in the RG that “Phil Knight, Nike’s founder and our family friend, first contributed to the fund in 1994.” But the FARF told the IRS in 2001 that “The Contributor has made no other donations.”

For that matter, even the donations and timing she reports in the RG are entirely consistent with Hunt’s argument and the timing of former UO General Counsel Melinda Grier’s successful Fall 2000 efforts to find Dave Frohnmayer an escape from his ill-considered move to join the WRC.

The above is page 15 in For those interested in checking dates and dollars, more FARF IRS 990’s, scraped from the web, are here:

10/24/2018 update: 

While Johnson Hall and its PR flacks have decided to bury their heads in the sand about this book, the Frohnmayer family is not afraid to publicly dispute some of Josh Hunt’s claims. Matthew Kish has the report in the Portland Business Journal here.

10/22/2018 updates:

OPR’s Think Out Loud has an interesting interview with author Josh Hunt here. I suggest getting to Josh Hunt’s 7PM Tu talk at Tsunami Books early, before the lawyers steal all the good seats.

You can buy the Kindle version of The University of Nike from Amazon now. Notable excerpts and your thoughts are welcome in the comments on this post. Please use a screen name.

Despite the claims of the Duck PR machine, this book is very relevant to UO’s future, and this Wed and Th should be interesting down at the faculty club.

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21 Responses to Are Josh Hunt’s claims about Knight and the Frohnmayer’s FARF false?

  1. apt says:

    “Football schools increasingly sought to distinguish themselves on the field, where the public, the media, and alumni could see the schools’ efforts and applaud them. This proved to be an easier path to demonstrating excellence than most schools had ever had access to, even if the kind of excellence being demonstrated had nothing to do with the prestige of an institution or the quality of the education it promised. It was visceral and immediate, primal and popular” (9 according to Kindle).

    Hunt wrote this about “football schools” in the early 20th C.

    A little tired after teaching, so forgive the weak close-reading, but the more things change…

  2. charlie says:

    A remarkable book was published a few years ago entitled, “Shake Down The Thunder,” which documented the history of Notre Dame football from its inception up to the time of Rockne’s death. But the authors did more than just talk about The Fightin Irish, ithey spoke of the very early days of college football. One of the most fascinating aspects was the use of “ghost” players, men who weren’t students, but mercenaries, who after their eligibility expired, assumed new names and continued playing the game, in some cases, until 30 years old. One of those apparent “ghosts” was The Gipper, George Gipp. Many in my family attended ND, and scarcely any academic record exists for Gipp. He was there to do one thing, make Irish football financially viable.

    The book also points out that universities, as early as the turn of the last century, realized the enormous marketing and financial opportunities that a successful football program created. If any of you are interested, do a search of the most iconic football stadiums in America. Many were bulilt during the 20s/early 30s, as unis were swept up during the “Golden Era” of college football. Alas, then as now, bond holders who financed the venue’s construction expect to get paid, so unis were under remarkable pressure to fill the stadium the six Saturdays of the year when they had home games. Damn right, admins, then and now, will do what needs to be done to pay their debt service, either by paying non student athletes to play, or make whatever deal needs be done with assorted donors…

  3. honest Uncle Bernie says:

    I’ve perused the book at the UO bookstore (or “Duck Store.”) It’s sad to see all of this dirty laundry on display, and all the rumor and innuendo that will probably never be resolved. Phil Knight, Dave Frohnmayer, on down the line, their names will be tarnished, at least in a lot of minds, for a long time. The name of the University of Oregon. I counted one of the above as a sort of friend. I happen to think he did a pretty good job of keeping UO going under really bad circumstances, I think he was underappreciated, as became really clear to me only after all the trouble that others had after him. I have other friends whose names are to be found in the index. Whether their reputations will be as damaged, I doubt, I certainly hope not. They may even be seen as honest commentators who saw, at least partially, the bad scene unfolding here.

    It all could have turned out a lot better, I’m sad about the way it has turned out, that’s the way it is.

  4. Sherwin Simmons says:

    Any discussion of Dave Frohnmayer’s legacy should consider his response to an effort by Jordan Schnitzer and Susie Papé during June 2007 to dictate the University’s response to a critical evaluation of the Museum of Art. According to contemporary reports from people who had direct knowledge, they used the same strong arm tactics as Phil Knight had previously employed. All of this at a time that Randy Papé presided over the conclusion of the Oregon Campaign. After Frohnmayer agreed to their demands, it took the efforts of numerous faculty and some members of the public over the summer and fall to frustrate the implementation of those demands and avoid what promised to be a disaster, eventually leading to the Museum of Art arriving at a much better place.

    • oldtimer says:

      the art museum is, indeed an instructive example of the worst and best in fundraising. Donors obviously push their priorities, just as faculty do. It is the job of leaders to broker and direct that tension to better the university. Hunts book highlights the issue but is flawed by sensationalism, so it falls short of even a prime facie case of gross misadventure by either Frohnmayer or Knight. We will have to wait for the full texture of truth.

  5. Cheyney Ryan says:

    I have a rather simple question–can U of O Matters or anyone answer it:

    The main justification we are given for the Nike/sports spending is that it advertises the U of O hence attracts out-of-state and foreign students, whose tuition keeps the university afloat. (My friend on the Foundation Board says this is what they are told.)

    Is there any evidence that it does this? I just looked at the Oregon State University figures: it has fewer California students but more foreign students–without all the Nike hoop-la.

    Presumably we have a good idea why people to the U of O. Have they produced any info on this? (Sorry to ask such a simple question–I am out of the country for much of the year.)

    • Old timer says:

      Good question. Part of the answer is engineering engineering engineering.

    • Deplorable Duck says:

      I’m not an insider, but that doesn’t ring true to my ears. My guesses would be: (1) because it keeps Uncle Phil happy, and (2) because it actually turns a “profit” from UO’s perspective. The former being far more important and actually the lion’s share of the latter.

      My guess is that foreign and out-of-state students are barely affected by the advertising. If anything, it might be a minus, since it paints UO as a jock school. (I was such a student, at a different but similar institution, and I certainly didn’t care.)

    • Fishwrapper says:

      Not just engineering – OSU also has a partnership with INTO>/a> for a large number of international students.

    • honest Uncle Bernie says:

      They would never say it, but the reasons for the setup at UO are (assuming this gets posted, it contains stuff that the UO admin would not want to be stated, even though it is blatantly obvious):

      1) Phil is willing to (almost) bankroll the sports — whatever subsidy there is from “the academic side” would be a lot larger without Phil (as it is, e.g., at OSU).

      2) UO wants to keep Phil happy in the hopes that he will provide a whole lot more in the future to “the academic side” — not just the “Knight Campus” but the entire campus.

      • Dog says:

        In the future, the “Knight Campus” will be the entire campus …

        • honest Uncle Bernie says:

          Do you mean that you think Phil will come through for the entire campus?

          Or that the “real campus” will fare so badly that what is left of it will be taken over by the “Knight Campus”?

          My guess is it could be something in between.

        • UO Community Member says:

          The following facts really reinforce that your comment is more than just conspiracy theory talk:

          -Schill will receive a bonus for securing a “$4 billion endowment”

          -In 2017, Knight said Schill “is simply transitioning the school into a private university. He is the ideal person to do that.”

          Source: Oregon Transformation (newsletter)

          I am not pro or con privatization. However, it must be said that outside of Knight and a few other donors the alumni base doesn’t have the capacity to provide USC/NYU style donations in the long run. What happens when Knight and the rest of these donors die off in the next 30 years, who replaces them?

          Should UO be fully privatized the university will need to continuously reap in MEGA $$$ to stay competitive.

    • of course says:

      Students from China generally are vaguely aware that the sport of American football exists, yes. The real reason students are coming from China and California are the relatively low cost and entrance requirements compared to their home schools. Nothing more, nothing less.

  6. UO Community Member says:

    More excerpts from Knight’s newsletter interview.

    On PERS
    “I think, left unchecked, PERS will just, very simply, sink the whole state.”

    On the state’s woes
    “I ask myself, why is Oregon so worse off fiscally than Arizona or Indiana? Indiana certainly does not have more natural resources, more educated populace. I conclude it is due to political leadership.”

    On Journalism
    “Journalism has deteriorated alarmingly over the decades due primarily, first to television, then to the internet. People get their news from those sources, so the print journalists search for controversy, even when it doesn’t exist. And TV has followed suit.

    It is disturbing, but as long as news can be found someplace there is hope.”


  7. RCO says:

    But who educates our capitalist saviors like Phil Knight?

    Liberal professors, that’s who.

    (Also worth noting that, arguably, capitalism may be what drives humanity to something worse than the “idiocy of rural life” when global temperatures increase by 3°C.)

  8. Anonymouse says:

    For the unwashed among us:

    The bourgeoisie has subjected the country to the rule of the towns. It has created enormous cities, has greatly increased the urban population as compared with the rural, and has thus rescued a considerable part of the population from the idiocy of rural life. (Marx and Engels, 1848)

  9. Anonymous says:

    FYI: Today is Tobin Klinger’s last day leading public affairs for the University of Oregon. He will be working on “special projects” for Kyle Henley going forward.

  10. anonymous says:

    Just curious – does the book cover the ethics complaint that was filed years ago when Frohnmayer did not disclose a house he was buying from Joe Romania around the time the arena deal was underway ? From one interview I read (do not have the money to buy the book) the author has raised important questions about secrecy and the latest Nike “academic” building now under construction.

    • uomatters says:

      The Knight Library and the Knight Law School’s Jaqua Library have copies, or will have soon. Looks like there are already a few people on the waiting lists though.

      And please use a screen name.

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