A longtime critic of Rutgers University’s drive into big-time sports is being criticized over a newspaper article comment that university officials have branded as racist.
At the end of a New York Times article last week about William C. Dowling’s failed efforts to get Rutgers to turn away from high-stakes athletics, the tenured English professor responded to arguments that athletic scholarships provide opportunity to low-income, minority students.
“If you were giving the scholarship to an intellectually brilliant kid who happens to play a sport, that’s fine,” Dowling said. “But they give it to a functional illiterate who can’t read a cereal box, and then make him spend 50 hours a week on physical skills. That’s not opportunity. If you want to give financial help to minorities, go find the ones who are at the library after school.”
Rutgers Athletic Director Bob Mulcahy told local newspapers that Dowling’s comment was “a blatantly racist statement.”
In a statement released by the university, Rutgers President Richard McCormick called it “inaccurate and inhumane.”
“It also has a racist implication that has no place whatsoever in our civil discourse,” Dr. McCormick said in the statement.
A Rutgers spokesman said Thursday he did not know if Dowling would face any sanctions.
Contacted Thursday, Dowling defended his statement, saying that Mulcahy and McCormick had taken it out of context, that he was directly answering a question related to minorities.
“If someone has a way to answer that question without mentioning race, I would like to hear it,” said Dowling, who called the officials’ accusation of racism the “cheapest rhetorical ploy I’ve ever heard.”
Dowling, who said he was arrested in the South during the 1960s for work in the civil rights movement, said McCormick was racist for running an athletics program that exploited minorities.
“None of these kids would have been able to get into Rutgers if they hadn’t been able to throw something or kick something or slam dunk something,” Dowling said.
Rutgers’ aspirations to elite status in college athletics, most notably in football, have provoked considerable controversy over the years in the university community, with some arguing that the university should spend less and compete at a lower level. And last year, the university axed six of its smaller intercollegiate sports teams amid state budget cuts, even as more money was poured into the football program.
The investment in football has paid off in unaccustomed success for the team, a sold-out stadium and major increases in sales of licensed merchandise. Last year’s team went 11-2, won a bowl game and finished No. 12 in the final AP poll. This year’s team is 3-0 and ranked No. 10 in the country.
Rutgers athletic officials say the football team’s 2.7 grade-point average is on par with the university as a whole.
An NCAA academic progress report for the 2003-04 to 2005-06 school years listed the Rutgers football team’s academic progress as being in the 80th to 90th percentile for Division I football programs.
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