UMass faculty senators are hung up on football

  • UMass’s football program came under fire from the faculty senate again Thursday.

Friday, April 29, 2016

AMHERST — It’s become an exercise in grandstanding or an organized venting session.

Several members of the UMass faculty senate are passionately opposed to the school supporting a Bowl Subdivision (FBS) football program. This isn’t a secret.

The body has no actual power when it comes to football or athletics. It exists to advise the chancellor, usually on academic issues.

On several prior occasions, current Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy has clearly stated that he supports the direction of UMass’ football program and has no plans to downgrade or discontinue the program. He wrote and circulated a letter saying as such before Thursday’s meeting. But that didn’t prevent one senator, David Gross, a science professor, from offering a motion to urge upper administration to “either move to a different division or discontinue NCAA football altogether.”

Before the motion was defeated 26-14, Subbaswamy informed the senators and observers at Herter Hall that he’d be supporting football regardless of how the vote turned out. That didn’t stop the vocal minority from repeating similar arguments that failed to convince the chancellor or many of their colleagues the last time this issue was up for a vote.

It’s true that the program is expensive and hasn’t been successful since its upgrade. But the chancellor has expressed optimism in its long term prospects.

The senators are using their advisory capacity a soapbox knowing full well they won’t convince Subbaswamy. Their windmill tilting has become a waste of time for a group that could focus its collective intelligence on better pursuits. Even Subbaswamy, whose default approach is diplomatic, said as much.

“It’s a non issue being made into an issue by a small group of faculty senators. This is now the third time in my four years that they have brought up a motion and have not succeeded,” Subbaswamy said after the session. ““I can’t control what the faculty senate does. It’s a waste of this important body’s time, in my opinion, to keep bringing up this issue. We have lots of issues on the curriculum, and we have lots of issues on our future planning and so forth. So I think the academic senate’s time should be more wisely spent than debating something over and over again.”

UMass administrators may someday determine that supporting football, especially if the program doesn’t find a conference in short order, is not in the institution’s best interest. But it won’t likely be because of the scattered and disorganized efforts of a small collection of faculty senators.

Their motion contradicted itself. It pointed to the dangerous affects of football in terms of brain injuries after first suggesting that a move back to Championship Subdivision football (FCS) would be acceptable to save money. Does that mean brain injuries are OK as long as they’re not as expensive?

Senator Frank Hugus made himself a lightning rod for implying that having a big-time football program means that UMass could have more violent crime in the future. The chancellor and several other senators chastised him for the comment that also earned him some ire from people following on social media.

In this economic climate, it’s a good idea to question how a school is spending it’s money. It’s not unreasonable to scrutinize the athletic department or any other department on campus.

The concerns about unfilled faculty positions and lack of funding for academic programs are important issues that need to be raised and are an understandable source of frustration for faculty, students and administrators alike.

But the rehashing of the same arguments by the same football-fixated professors has caused many people to tune them out altogether and lower their regard for the senate. Instead of lobbying the state legislature for the financial support that flagship schools in other states enjoy, they opted for whiny infighting.

Still, publicly announcing their hopes of convincing the school to diminish football wins the anti-football crowd a few points in the public relations guerrilla war thanks to social media.

USA Today previewed the faculty senate meeting under this headline: “UMass meeting to call for departure from FBS” with the subhead “The Senate cites rising costs, low attendance, and ‘the destructive nature of football.’ ”

It’s not entirely inaccurate. But to anyone who doesn’t know, the senate could be the state senate, which unlike the faculty one, actually has some power. The headline circulated on social media, making it possible to be seen by countless readers who might never click on the story. There are undoubtedly some people who thought that UMass football’s future was legitimately being threatened Thursday.

Minuteman linebacker Shane Huber was fooled by a similar report. He briefly withdrew a commitment to attend UMass after a similar faculty senate proposal drew media attention in 2012.

It’ll happen again. Max Page, a professor, who has been the willing face of the anti-football faction, suggested the senate isn’t done with the issue.

“Yes, I think this issue will be here,” he said. ” It won’t be just the faculty senate. It’ll be the board of trustees and the president’s office saying is this the best use of our millions?”

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage