Are you Ready for Some "Football"?

Monday, September 5, 2011

If there's one thing Wisconsin seems to agree on, it's the Badgers. Even if you never attended or even cared to attend UW-Madison, you're most likely a fan. Why? Honestly, I won't pretend to know--college football's never been my thing. But I do think it's cool that people throughout the state seem to feel they have a little bit of Madison they're connected to. Football-- Bucky-- makes that happen. As my late colleague and friend Doug Toma wrote in Football U, "football humanizes seemingly impersonal large universities for external audiences."

But a few recent incidents regarding UW football seem to have affected UW Madison's activities and image in ways that deserve some scrutiny.

First, last Thursday afternoon (on the eve of the first day of classes), Madison faculty and staff were urged to abandon their offices early and clear out of campus so that the crowds could take over for the season opener against UNLV. Many campus administrative offices shut down at 1 pm. People who paid sizable fees for annual parking (e.g. $1000 per year) were told they needed to leave so their spots could be sold to others for the night. Basically, we threw all real business (class prep?) aside for a beer and circus show. For more, check out this spot-on post over at Sifting and Winnowing.

The message was clear: Football comes first. Get out of the way.

Second, 6 weeks after her much-discussed departure from campus, we've come to learn that Biddy Martin has left some goodbye presents. One is the apparent revelation that she unilaterally decided that UW-Madison would vote against AAU membership for Nebraska. Reports the Lincoln newspaper: "After endorsing the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's entrance into the Big Ten Conference -- in part because of its academic strength -- leaders at the universities of Wisconsin and Michigan apparently helped oust UNL from an elite academic group."

UW Madison is famous for its shared governance of all issues, big and small. According to actions and rhetoric around campus (including last Thursday's events) football is a BIG darn deal. So why does it seem that Biddy went it alone on making such an important decision?

Honestly, I don't know. But I'd really like to hear some campus discussion of it. I'm concerned that it serves to perpetuate our elitist image, an appearance Biddy did much to reinforce. Football may have been yet another tool in her arsenal of weapons intended to barricade Madison from the public--using it in this way manages to undo its powerful ability to bring Madison to the people. I'm especially concerned that efforts by journalists to understand what's happened here have been rebuffed-- the Journal Star says that its open records requests were declined by UW. And most of all, I hope that those of us who benefit from shared governance act now to find out why we--the faculty, staff, and students--were bypassed on this one. Who knew what, and when? This institution isn't supposed to act on issues that seemingly matter most of all ... like FOOTBALL... without us.