As if the breakup of the Southwest Conference, and being cut out of the prestige and possible big bucks of the Big Eight, weren't bad enough for the University of Houston's athletic department, the school's professors recently decided to add a little insult to injury.
Gathering at a faculty senate meeting on March 2, the UH professors voted 19 to 8 to recommend that the university bail out of the athletics business altogether. This wasn't the first time that the academic side of UH had taken a slap at their athletic brothers; last September the faculty senate voted 25 to 15 that basketball, football
and those other barbaric endeavors didn't fit into the intellectual atmosphere of UH. The September vote drew a lot of media attention, but not much response beyond that -- which was no real surprise, given the lack of influence the faculty senate seems to have on the university at large. It's the UH board of regents that has the real power, and it sloughed off the professors' suggestion.
This time around not even the media responded to the vote, perhaps because the UH regents had already met in emergency session following the SWC announcement and decided that UH athletics would continue.
The faculty senate, however, was not dissuaded. They see a weakness and appear determined to try to exploit it. "Until recently, I didnÕt think we had any chance," explains senate president Ernst Leiss. ÒBut with the breakup of the SWC, there is an opening."
According to UH physics professor George Reiter, last week the senate formed a committee that will present a formal proposal to the regents "detailing the various reasons why we want to get out of this [athletics] business."
The faculty cite a plethora of arguments for dumping sports. Reiter recalls a report in last July's Chronicle of Higher Education that said only 20 percent of the athletes who enrolled at UH in 1986-87 had actually graduated from the school. The figure placed UH second to last among Division I colleges. And for UH sports figures, the poor performance hasnÕt been limited to the classroom -- last year's football team finished 1-10-1, and the Cougar basketball team is presently 7-18.
But according to scuttlebutt on the UH campus, the faculty senate's real beef is with neither low graduation rates nor embarrassing rankings in national sports polls. Rather, they're still miffed that half of the $50.1 million that local businessman and UH alumnus John Moores donated to the school in 1991 has been channeled into athletics. Apparently the regents haven't shared this irritation, given that last November they approved construction of a multi-purpose athletic facility next to Hoffeinz Pavilion.
Meanwhile, construction work on academic venues hasn't been particularly robust. "The roof on my building leaked," grouses Reiter. "The day that the regents voted to actually build the [new athletic center], I came into my office and actually found water dripping down from the ceiling. That isn't uncommon."
At the March 2 faculty senate meeting, a motion was passed that the committee taking the faculty's anti-athletics proposal to the regents should emphasize the senate's financial concerns. In particular, the senate feels that the university should use any funds it has available for its libraries, faculty and core undergraduate classes.
Though to many this whole faculty quest has a quixotic air, senate president Leiss insists that the academic group is backed up by sound financial reasoning. Without the SWC, he says, the UH athletics program will flounder. It will no longer generate revenue, but instead will become a black hole that could annually suck $2 million to $3 million out of the university's pockets.
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UH athletic director Bill Carr reacts to this latest academic attack with what amounts to a shrug. "Nobody bats a thousand," he says. "If you go into any faculty senate in America and say, "Are you in favor of intercollegiate athletics?", you're not gonna get 100 percent of the vote. We will always have our critics, and we should. We would always hope to have critics that would help us improve."
"But," Carr adds, "we don't want to have critics that would escort us to the cliff."
The next meeting of the UH board of regents is scheduled for early April. But given the present chaos in UH athletics, says Leiss, a special meeting could conceivably be called as early as next week. If that happens, the UH faculty senate will be ready, he says, especially if Carr recommends that UH remain an independent rather than ally itself with a new conference.
"The only independent that is making it is Notre Dame," says Leiss, chuckling. "We are not Notre Dame.