SENATOR RAYMOND LESNIAK -- RU LEGISLATIVE BOOSTER #1

We've received 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."

We 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 occur.

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 the Price

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 line.

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 feelings: priceless.

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 item.

"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 at Rutgers.

"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 franchise?

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 higher"

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 alumni contributions.

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 the field.

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 something.

Meanwhile, there's only one way to sum up your NJ Voices op-ed: fatuous.