RAYMOND LESNIAK -- RU LEGISLATIVE BOOSTER #1
word that State Senator Raymond Lesniak, said to be a powerful
NJ politician, has returned to the fray. He is now the sponsor
of bill S2880, which would raise a total of $75 million for various
purposes, but a large part of which he wants to see steered to
Rutgers athletics: "This is part of my overall plan,"
he told a NJ newspaper, "to make Rutgers' athletics program
Big Ten ready."
thought, after our last encounter with State Senator Raymond
Lesniak, that he had folded his tent and gone home. Since he
was obviously just lying low, we are now reposting the original
page we devoted to State Senator Raymond Lesniak and his somewhat
unfocused ideas about universities and commercialized college
sports. You will find it below.
In the meantime,
we'd like to propose a simple decision procedure for State Senator
Lesniak to use on similar occasions in the future, should they
If (1) you want
to keep pushing commercialized Div I sports this way, you should
save money by simply abolishing the superfluous "academic"
portion of the university: library, classroom buildings, dormitories,
faculty and staff salaries, etc. The money then available for
things like coaches' salaries and weight rooms and recruiting
lounges and chartering jets for away games and putting players
up at the Hyatt Regency in New Brunswick to "help them concentrate"
before home games would be huge. You wouldn't need special bills
that asked the taxpayers to subsidize them.
But if (2) you
happened to think that Rutgers was at all valuable as an institution
of higher learning, you might consider sticking to your daily
work as a legislator and spending your time persuading fellow
NJ politicians to keep their hands off the university. The political
culture you and they represent is not widely admired by ordinary
citizens. Many get quite upset in seeing it trying to remold
the university in its own image.
In NJ Voices,
4 September 2007, this State Senator spoke up in favor of pouring
still more millions into the Schiano-Mulcahy football franchise
while Rutgers is reeling from savage budget cuts.
Here, in part, is what
the Senator said:
Rutgers Football: Worth
Our investment of state tax dollars
in remodeling Rutgers Stadium and the University's spending to
support the football program can be legitimately supported and
criticized. There are plenty of valid arguements on both sides
of the issue. From my perspective, the spending is not out of
Likewise, the material benefits from
the winning football program (increased applicants from more
highly qualified students, alumni contributions significantly
higher, etc) can be countered by "better" use of the
dollars for more academic programs, increased law enforcement,
you name it.
But how do you measure Brian Leonard
and Ray Rice, stars of the team, reflecting the values taught
by coach Schiano and giving credit on national television to
their teammates for their individual success.
Or looking at the New York sky line
and seeing the Empire State Building lit up in Rutgers red prior
to last year's game against undefeated Louisville?
Or the thousands of fans rushing
onto the field after the upset victory?
Or wearing a Rutgers hat in Florida
and having strangers come up to you and say, GO RUTGERS!?
There's only one way to sum up those
Um. Senator Lesniak, where have you been
for the last 15 years? Are you at all aware that Rutgers alumni,
students, and faculty have taken extraordinary pains to demonstrate
that (1) every single thing you say there is wrong, and that
(2) football is, in addition, doing inestimable damage to Rutgers
as an institution of higher learning?
Okay (sigh). Let's look at this item by
"Wearing a Rutgers hat and having
strangers come up to you and say GO RUTGERS"
Look, Senator Lesniak, we'll make you a
deal. Let Rutgers go back to being a university and we, personally,
will buy you one hat from every sports factory school in Div
IA. You can wear them serially. So if, for instance, you go to
Tucson, Arizona, you can wear your Nebraska hat and people will
come up to you and say GO CORNHUSKERS! Then you can smile modestly
and pretend you are from Red Cloud, Nebraska, and you'll get
just the same thrill as you get from your Rutgers hat. It will
give you a feeling of being somebody, sort of having an identity,
being important. Same thing with your Ohio State cap and your
Boise State cap and all the other caps we'll get for you. It
will be fun. Meanwhile, you won't be killing higher learning
"Increased applicants from more
highly qualified students"?
Are you aware that Rutgers has been LOSING
top NJ students at an increasing rate ever since it joined the
"Big East" in 1994?
Are you aware that The College of New Jersey
was drawing more entering students in the Outstanding
Scholars Recruitment Program than Rutgers was right up to the
time that the program was abolished? Are you aware that it was
abolished in part so that more money could be spent on million-dollar
coaches and stadium expansions for your Mulcahy-Schiano football
Are you aware that national studies show
that the only students drawn to a university by a winning football
or basketball program are low-SAT applicants that more selective
institutions would never touch?
Are you aware that Rutgers is now widely
perceived as a "school of last resort" among NJ high
school seniors, and that the sports buildup is routinely given
as one of the reasons why?
Are you aware that students transferring
to better schools almost invariably cite the "sports factory
atmosphere" at Rutgers as a reason for leaving?
Are you aware of any of these things, Senator
Lesniak? If not, where exactly have you been while this discussion
has been going on? Does it get sort of really lonely and isolated
over there in Trenton, by any chance?
"Alumni contributions significantly
This one is hardly worth addressing. There
is now a shelf-full of serious economic studies showing that
winning football or basketball teams do not attract higher
For instance, elsewhere on this site you'll
find an article from the Seattle Times
about alumni contributions to the University of Washington today
versus back when Richard McCormick was president and the UW team
went to the Rose Bowl.
Since UW got rid of McCormick and his million-dollar
football coach "Rick" Neuheisal," the football
team has had a series of losing seasons.
The result? Alumni contributions to UW
are way up. This may, arguably, have something to do with
their having gotten rid of Richard McCormick, but it very clearly
has nothing to do with the W-L record of the football team.
Please stop recycling this nonsense. It
just makes you look silly.
"Seeing the Empire State Building
lit up in Rutgers red"
This is grotesque. The Empire State Building
lit up in Rutgers red?
If you don't see why it looks just a tiny
bit tacky, try to imagine how it would strike anyone who went
to a real university.
Columbia, for instance, or NYU. Both are
right there in New York. Can you imagine what would happen if
the Empire State Building crew for some weird reason lit the
place up in Columbia blue one night? Try to imagine a conversation
between Columbia alums on Wall Street the next day.
Alumnus #1: "Hey, did you see they'd
lit the Empire State Building up in Columbia blue last night?"
Alumnus #2: "Why the hell would they do a thing like that?"
Alumnus #1: "Nobody really knows. One theory is that it
was supposed to be some school over in New Jersey, and they got
the color codes mixed." Alumnus #2: "How embarrassing."
"The thousands of fans rushing
onto the field"
We know about those fans, Senator Lesniak.
We go to class with them. We have
to live in the dorms with them. Since your crazed spending on
football and neglect of everything else at Rutgers has begun
to drive every top student in New Jersey to schools elsewhere,
we see almost nothing BUT these "fans" who rush onto
Senator Lesniak, we do not think this is
a reason for making Rutgers the plaything of a bunch of legislators
who see it as a source of weekend entertainment. They have other
options, from "American Idol" to Monday Nite Football
to NFL games to cable-TV wrestling. Why does higher education
have to suffer?
Senator Lesniak, if you want New Jersey
to develop "pride in Rutgers," here are a few simple
steps you can take: (1) get rid of the football and basketball
franchises tomorrow, (2) put legislative pressure on the Board
of Governors to raise admissions standards, (3) pour the half-billion
dollars that's needed NOW for "deferred maintenance"
into arresting the decay of our classrooms and campus, (4) while
you're at it, put another half-billion dollars into tearing up
the streets and weed-choked parking lots on Rutgers' "slum
campus" and getting a building program underway that will
give us new classrooms, seminar rooms, student theater facilities,
and lecture halls, (5) try to meet some of the few remaining
bright and intellectually motivated students on campus. Ask them
what they're reading, what they're thinking. Ask them what it
feels like to be at college amidst the mob of "party animal"
types who "rush the field" after playing academically
substandard sports factories like the University of Louisville
and the University of South Florida. They might just let a bit
of light into your view of Rutgers. You might learn a little
Meanwhile, there's only one way to sum
up your NJ Voices op-ed: fatuous.