Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Phil Knight vs. Oregonian's Rachel Bachman

Last week the Portland Oregonian newspaper ran a story by Rachel Bachman how the Phil Knight-funded academic center for student athletes at the University of Oregon cost $41.7 million dollars. Click on title above for a link.

The news story pointed out that the entire 41.7 million million dollars for the "Jaqua Academic Center" was paid for by Nike founder Phil Knight.
Some quotes from the article:

The Jaqua Center, dubbed the "jock box" by critics, has spurred controversy because of its opulence and exclusivity


Forty million dollars buys a lot of new faculty, reduced class sizes, better facilities for the rest of campus," UO senate president Nathan Tublitz said. "It is a travesty to spend so much money for the benefit of such a small subset of students who already receive enormous perks."

She then compares the cost of the building with several others to prove her thesis that the building was too expensive. (Click on title above for link)

Today Phil Knight struck back with a letter to the editor of the Oregonian:

The University of Oregon, for whatever reason, felt a need to benchmark the cost of the Jaqua Center. It had someone make an estimate. There was no reward or punishment for being right or wrong in the estimate. The resulting "guesstimate" was so far off, so far inflated, as to be meaningless. Or maybe it was accurate as to what it would have cost had the university been managing the process. (And, by the way, prevailing wage was paid in the entire construction process.)

At any rate, The Oregonian took this meaningless estimate and turned it into a front-page story critical of the extravagance of the building. Great journalism.


A friend sent me an email today with a collection of comments, made online, by others regarding the Bachman article:

It would be interesting to see the dollar numbers for the many gifts of Mr. and Mrs. Knight that they have made to both U of Oregon and Stanford academic programs. The gifts at Oregon to the law school, to the library, etc. In 2005 he gave $105 million to the Stanford Business School - the largest single gift that school at Stanford had ever received. Or, the 2008 gift of $100 million to the Oregon Health Sciences University...part of the Oregon university system. A 1996 gift of $25 million to U of O for two purposes: $15 million to create endowed chairs and professorships across campus and $10 million to finance construction of a 138,000-square foot building for the School of Law. A significant family gift toward a $27.4 million expansion and renovation of the UO’s main library, the heart of a research university. Completed in October 1994, the expansion increased library space by 50 percent, tripled student seating capacity, added 22 new group-study and seminar rooms, updated facilities for computerized instruction and research, expanded the Instructional Media Center to include state-of-the-art distance learning classrooms, and modernized heating, cooling and lighting systems for user comfort and protection of perishable and often priceless library collections.
Like many donors of gifts he may prefer to invest in bricks and mortar rather than programs where it is difficult to track how the money was spent and squandered. And, I certainly don't begrudge him spending more on bricks in Eugene, than directly benefiting academic brickheads who seem to delight in trying to insult him and his wife. ....end of comment.

Another commenter:

I challenge all of the people with the condescending attitudes towards this to answer the question why they think they should be able to tell someone how he/she should spend his/her money? Is this building extra lavish, yes. Is it deserving of another one sided, slanted Rachel Bachman UO bashing article? Not really. Knight has donated plenty to the overall university and the Sports programs (of which his extremely profitable companies are related to). For the life of me I don't understand how this is such a bad thing. Could the money have been spent differently? Yes. But you know what it is his money and he can donate it however he sees fit. Period. End of story. Instead of complaining about what Knight does (as others have said no complaints about the Knight Library or the Law school) why don't they complain about all the other companies/people who benefit from the University and do nothing to give back to the University.

And, another:

The technology used in this building in terms of energy efficiency, electronic communications systems, life span of materials, etc. is not the same as normal commercial construction. It is not a tip up concrete box.
Therefore, instead of just throwing around cost numbers with irrelevant building comparisons, how about doing a serious article about the building and the types of cutting edge systems it has in place? Since Oregonian columnists are too inexperienced for that type of article, go interview professors in the architecture school at UO, consult with energy experts, or with construction engineers, etc.Trying find and present factual information without innuendo might actually be of public value.

And, another:

Perhaps we should just say "thank you."
This building was built without a dime of tax payer dollars. I appreciate the passion that Phil and Penny have for the University. It is not unlike the passion that the Reser family or CH2M Hill has for Oregon State. I applaud the generosity and appreciate their gifts, regardless of the recieving

And, another:

I’m outraged. Why can’t Phil Knight be a normal billionaire and spend his money on a fleet of yachts with tennis courts? Or an olympic sized swimming pool for his dog? Or a rocket pack that he never even uses. I’m just disgusted that, with all the super expensive rich-guy toys out there, Phil Knight decides to spend his “play money” on improving life for college students.

Rachel is right, the next time Uncle Phil feels the need to open his checkbook, I hope he’s looking for a car worth more than my house. Or a minor league hockey team. Or breeding show ferrets. Rich guys are supposed to invest only in themselves and spend their wealth on things that us normal folks can’t even comprehend, like a rollercoaster designed for giraffes. Every time Phil Knight spends his money to help some young athletes enjoy college life, or law students have an easier time studying, or makes his football team just a little more special when the TV cameras are on… he looks a little more like you and me. Like a guy who really loves his Ducks and is doing all the things us regular folks would do if we were in his shoes. How dare he.

Even the Oregonian's Ken Goe has a commet:

While calling Bachman's story "good" he goes after the critics of Phil Knight:

A few thoughts spring to mind here:

1) You can question Knight's priorities at a time when the school is scrambling to fund academics, and UO professor Nathan Tublitz did exactly that while commenting for Bachman's story.

2) But sheez, Dr. Tublitz, it's Knight's money. Like it or not, he made it and he gets to spend it as he pleases.

3) I don't think you can fault the university for accepting a swank, new building that a benevolent donor was willing to construct on his dime (well, his $40 million) and then hand over. That would be silly.

My comment: Thanks Phil Knight for all you do for the University of Oregon both athletically and academically.