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Regents place athletics above academics

By The Wildcat Opinions Board
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
August 2, 2000
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Lute Olson now makes $613,475 a year after the Arizona Board of Regents last week gave the UA basketball coach a $40,000 raise. Not too shabby. He's the state's highest paid official, making more than the three state university presidents combined.

Olson's duties "related specifically to coaching basketball" will earn him $160,573 per year, while the remainder of his salary will come from television programs, advertising, public relations, fundraising and other activities.

Olson will also receive an additional $25,000 bonus if the men's basketball team's grade point average is greater than a 2.7 or the graduation rate is 75 percent.

Even though the increase in Olson's salary comes from athletic department funds, not from state-allocated funds, a $600,000 salary for coaching a college basketball team is ridiculous.

UA President Peter Likins is in charge of a university of about 35,000 students and about 15,000 faculty and staff. That job earns him about $200,000 a year.

As for Olson, well, his responsibilities aren't quite as extensive. He directs one team comprised of 12 players.

But he did win one national championship. (And in the minds of the ever-faithful UA fans, another one cannot be far away.)

The university and the state's message with all of this is that athletics mean money, and thus must receive top priority at our institution, leaving academics to flounder along at a distant second.

Even though the increase comes directly from the athletic department, not a single member of the Board of Regents thought to question whether Olson deserved a raise this particular year. Did they forget the Wisconsin Badgers? If we worship athletics so much at this school, we should at least be prudent in giving raises to coaches whose teams give disappointing performances.

As the No. 1 jock school in the nation (as we were so complimented by the Princeton Review last fall), perhaps the UA should continue its tradition of placing athletics above academics in the priority scale.

But then again, is that the image that a "student-centered Research 1" university wants to project?

There are top-notch professors of all kinds here who add more value to this university than Olson and his teams ever will. But that value is intellectual; it's educational. That value is not monetary, so they are pushed aside, ignored and underpaid. Then they leave and the university - the students - suffer.

Until the university can pay enough money to keep its top professors from running away to better jobs, Olson's salary increases should be tabled.

With every tuition increase and professor exodus, the education process at the UA gets a little more blurred. And every time Lute Olson and Jim Livengood receive enormous raises, one must question whether this is a "student-centered" university or an athletic mill.

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