At least Knight hasn’t killed the UO Economics department,

1/10/2010: which is what Auburn booster Bobby Lowder did there. Alan Pittman of the Eugene Weekly has a great story, comparing Knight and Lowder. Pete Thamel of the NY Times follows up with this explanation:

A decade ago, Lowder’s influence over Auburn was silent but immutable. The university scuttled its economics program, a department dear to one of Lowder’s critics on the board of trustees.

Actually it was just their PhD program. But just in case, let me be the first to say that Phil Knight has created more good jobs in developing countries than Muhammad Yunus and Jeff Sachs combined. Sure, it’s easy for you bleeding hearts to call these sweatshop jobs – but compared to what? Even Karl Marx knew better, when he said people like Knight had “rescued a considerable part of the population from the idiocy of rural life.” That’s from the Communist Manifesto, professor. And have I mentioned how much I admire Howard Slusher’s efforts to free professional athletes from the reserve clause, so they could compete in a free market for higher wages? Inspirational. The irony is you probably think I’m being ironic.

Phil Knight on Lariviere’s plan

12/6/2010: From Alan Brettman in the Oregonian, via Alex Tomchak Scott’s excellent Commentator digest. Worth reading: Knight’s take is that Lariviere wants to privatize UO and raise tuition.

Q: What’s next to elevate the status of the University of Oregon? 

A: I think the athletic department is really the best marketing tool that the University of Oregon has. I think the university’s athletic department has really been upgraded over the last several years. You look at this year and the university has a chance to be national champions in football, women’s track and field, in baseball and in golf. That’s never happened, ever. To continue that is something you’d like to do and I know the president of the university (Richard Lariviere) is trying to upgrade the whole university. In another part of your paper we’re talking about his battles with the Legislature to do that. So, I’m hopeful that’s as successful as well. 

Q: What conversations have you had with Lariviere about next steps to improve the university? 

A: Oh, I talk to him on a regular basis. I spoke with him a couple of days ago. He was mostly talking about — his view is the next step to upgrade the academic side of the university is to get the Legislature to go along with his plan, which is a little bit complicated, but it’s to take a step — I hate to use the word because it’s an oversimplification — but to take a step toward becoming more of a private university. I think the state provides about 7 percent of the funding now, so basically it is a private university that’s hamstrung by public policy. 

Q: What kinds of things could he be able to do if that plan is implemented? 

A: Well, the simplest one is that he can set his own tuition. He’s hamstrung in the sense he can’t charge more tuition than the Legislature will let him do for in-state kids. So he loses money on every state kid that enrolls in the University of Oregon and he makes money on every kid that comes from out of state. So, increasingly, it’s become the University of California at Eugene. That’s the result of the current Legislature’s policies. 

Q: Did Lariviere consult with you before he made his pitch before legislators in October for funding the university with $800 million in state-issued bonds? 

A: He told me he was going to do it. I didn’t have much say. 

Richard Sundt on RG Letter and UO Foundation

Richard Sundt emailed us a bit more background on his RG letter, regarding the full page ad from the UO Foundation Trustees on the Knight donations:

What I wanted to say in the ad, but dropped it (and a few other things) in order to observe the 250-word limit, is that this was a FULL page ad, in the form of a short letter to the Knights (RG, A5,  18 Aug 2010) .  The size and prominence of the ad is one of the issues and reveals the political nature of this very special thank you.  The timing is also an issue, prompted by having to defend a $41 million gift which has come in for criticism as of late.

Thus, the nature, tone and purpose of the letter goes beyond what is appropriate in terms of a Foundation word of thanks, and that is why, if the Foundation wants to politicize Knight gifts, then it should be at the board members’ expense. Then, too, it should not be written on behalf of anyone but themselves.

Clearly part of the agenda, as you note, is to put academics in its place, as ungrateful of Knight’s generosity, by outlining all major academic donations, and generalizing on athletics, which is the far vaster recipient of Nike largesse. Finally, the letter says nothing about what the faculty (with often little or no help from Knight (by the way only part of the Knight Library is a Knight gift) have contributed to the excellence of the University of Oregon (see letter transcribed below). 

Then, on the moral side of this, some have given far more relative to their means than have the Knights, but their contributions are not thanked in the same public way. 


The text of the RG Ad: 

Dear Penny and Phil, On behalf of 180,000 alumni worldwide, students and faculty, we thank you for your generous support of the University of Oregon over the years.  From the Knight Library, to the Knight Law School, to endowed chairs and professorships across campus, to athletics, your time and money have helped to make the University of Oregon the excellent institution that it is today. Thank you for just doing it. Sincerely, University of Oregon Foundation Board of Trustees

I hope that the Foundation trustees will use this episode to try and build some bridges to the faculty and students. There is a lot of very understandable ambivalence about the Arena, the Jock Box, athletics in general, and Phil Knight’s role in particular. Instead of reasoned discussion, we get this sort of silly boosterism from them. Not good.

Bring it on Mr. Slusher, you aren’t even close yet.

6/4/2010: Bill Graves of the Oregonian has a new story on the latest sports facility craziness here. This seems to be another “gift that keeps on taking,” like the Jock Box:

But Phit’s gift does not come without costs. The license agreement requires the university to employ a facilities manager, museum curator, museum receptionist, food service administrator and a senior administrative assistant for football operations — all full time for at least six years. The university also would maintain the facilities, which could become costly.

Phil Knight and Howard Slusher are rolling on the floor over the dumb shit they can get UO to agree to for some vague promise of $1 billion, someday. We pay for a football Museum Curator? That is a pretty good one, though I still think taking away the law school profs parking lot tops it. But bring it on Mr. Slusher, you aren’t even close yet.

4/14/2010: Ron Bellamy of the RG reports that Phil Knight is planning on a new building for football team, to be constructed by the legendary Howard Slusher, under the same contracting scheme used for the Jock Box.

“I’ve been told repeatedly since I’ve come here that there are coaches in what used to be closets and that sort of thing,” Lariviere said. “It does look to be pretty jammed up. I’m not sure that this would be absolutely the top priority for the university if we were having to pay for the building, but that’s another matter.”

So far as I can tell, Knight has not given a dime to UO’s academic causes since former President Dave Frohnmayer signed UO up for the the anti-Nike “Worker’s Rights Consortium”. My recollection was that Dave was persuaded by the argument of the students camping outside his office, who told him that the way to improve the lives of the poor is to get everyone to all join together and agree to stop buying what they know how to make. Some sort of complicated economic thing they learned from their sociology professor. I’m sure it made sense after the first few bong hits. But a recent commenter provides an alternative explanation for why Knight is not so happy with the faculty either:

As I remember it, the WRC was a national movement backed by students at the UO, who took the issue to the Senate, which advised Frohnmayer to join the WRC (see He did so. This was an example of faculty actually being listened to on a matter of school policy.

Here’s hoping Lariviere can convince Knight we’re not such a bad lot. He’s already talking tougher to Slusher than Frohnmayer ever did:

“Parking is obviously part of the requirements for this building,” Lariviere said. “The initial conversations I’ve had with Howard Slusher made it clear that we would have to have at least full replacement, if not more parking spaces, as a result of this.”

Back when Frohnmayer and Melinda Grier “negotiated” with Slusher for parking for the Jock Box, we lost something like 120 parking spots. We just gave them to the athletic side gratis, and paid for new ones by increasing general parking fees. Of course, Frohnmayer did get a $150,000 bonus that year from some anonymous donor.

Here’s the former law school lot. 70 spots, 2 cars with jock hang tags. 2 cars and a motorcycle is the most I’ve seen there all quarter.

Lariviere on Knight

4/25/2010: From Steve Duin’s column in the Oregonian, well worth reading it all:

“I’m looking at the Knight Library,” Lariviere said. “I have my back to the Knight Law School. And I can name several of the professors sitting in the 22 Knight-endowed chairs. We are incredibly lucky Penny and Phil Knight love this place so passionately.”

I came to UO in the middle of the building boom paid for by Phil Knight’s philanthropy. Library, law school, and then the Knight chairs. This all came to an end when Dave Frohnmayer signed UO up for the well-intentioned but naive anti-Nike Worker’s Rights Consortium. (But remember, many of the faculty supported this too.)  Knight immediately lost all trust in Frohnmayer’s judgment and said so very publicly. He then shifted all his academic giving to Stanford. Lariviere is rapidly earning back the faculty’s trust, I hope he earns Knight’s too.

In the end I think Richard Read of the Oregonian had the best take on the misguided idealism of the WRC supporters. What are those “exploited” Nike sweatshop workers actually doing? Saving their paychecks, sending the money home to build houses and finance new businesses for their families, sending their kids to college. That’s the life we choose – why do we think we should deny it to them? Who is doing more for these people – the WRC, or Phil Knight? Not that I’m an economist.

Anyway, from Duin’s version, the most interesting person in all this is Howard Slusher.

Sweatshop labor?

4/10/2010:  A reader asks what I think of this story:

MADISON, Wis. — The University of Wisconsin-Madison canceled its licensing agreement with Nike Inc. on Friday, becoming the first university to take that step over concerns about the company’s treatment of workers in Honduras.

Chancellor Biddy Martin said Nike hasn’t done enough to help workers at two factories that abruptly closed last year to collect severance payments they are owed.

I don’t know the details. In general, I think that by contracting with producers in developing countries Phil Knight has increased the wages, working conditions, and future opportunities of hundreds of thousands of the poorest people in the world. And that Dave Frohnmayer was an idiot for having UO join the WRC – or have I mentioned my feelings about Frohnmayer before?

Nike saves China from the idiocy of rural life

3/7/2010: Great story by Richard Read in the Oregonian about what all those exploited Nike sweatshop workers are doing: Saving their paychecks, sending the money home to build houses and finance new businesses.

It turns out that factory workers — not the activists labeled “preachy” by one expert, and not the Nike executives so wounded by criticism — get the last laugh. Villagers who “went out,” as Chinese say, for what critics described as dead-end manufacturing jobs are sending money back and returning with savings, building houses and starting businesses. …

The pay is minuscule by Western measures. But Mon Xijian, a 31-year-old who has worked at Ever Rich since 1996, has saved enough with his wife, who also works there, to buy a six-unit apartment building back home….

“They’re sleeping 12 in a dorm, and it looks like a pretty crappy life,” Chang said. “But you don’t hear workers say, ‘Oh, I have no hope, I’m a slave.’ They say, ‘I want to save some money. My dream is to be Bill Gates or to own a restaurant.'” 

Just like people did in the US and have all over the rest of the world ever since the industrial revolution started. If Frohnmayer had taken an economics class or two he could have explained this to those WRC kids, instead of caving in to some shouting and signs and pissing of Phil Knight to the point where he stopped what had been a very generous series of donations to UO academics.