Berkeley athletics task force ducks engagement, steams onto rocks

Berkeley’s Task Force on Intercollegiate Athletics (TFIA)  has submitted its report  on what to do about an enterprise that soaks up tens of millions of dollars of subsidy each year while the university as a whole is being asked to eat almost $200m of budget cuts (see the TFIA assignment below). It’s appropriate to thank the members for the time they spent on this project. I wish it were possible to recognize their efforts as consequential or useful, but no such luck.  My expectations were modest, but this result dashes even my cautious hopes, and as I know several of the members to be smart people with the best intentions, it saddens me to say so. Eleven members, working for almost a year, have come up with five single-spaced pages of content (no, this is not the executive summary, and it is not a memo boiled down for Donald Trump), and one big table of financials uncritically assembled from IA’s annual NCAA P/L reports.

A bitter irony is the appendix listing (without links to access any of them) five previous TFIAs, from 1991,’92,’99,2000 and 2010. Isn’t a standard definition of insanity “doing the same thing again and again expecting a different result”?

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Ashurbanipal’s Library, a drama in three acts

The urgent restoration of an ancient library in Mosul.

Ashurbanipal was a conqueror and warlord on the grand scale, and in his long reign (668-627 BCE) extended the Assyrian empire to include even Egypt. Assyrian treatment of the conquered was brutal, and included massacres, flayings and population transfers. Three kings later, a coalition of rebels led by Babylon destroyed the kingdom.

Assyrian cuneiform tablet, British Museum

But he was a cultivated and multilingual man and assembled possibly the world’s first great library. The British Museum has 30,000 fragments of cuneiform tablets taken by Layard, and that must be only a fraction. Persian traditions hold that the relics inspired Alexander to build his own, a project taken forward after his death by the Ptolemies at Alexandria.

Under Saddam Hussein, archaeologists hatched a plan to recreate a research library at Mosul University under the title of Ashurbanipal Library.  It would be focussed on archaeology. The British Museum agreed to supply copies of all its collection. The plan moved ahead slowly after Saddam fell. A campaign was launched by the Biblioteca Alexandrina in Cairo, another ambitious revival, directed at universities in the Arab world. Call this Library 2.

This is what Mosul University looks like today.

Credit Reuters

ISIS of course burnt the idolatrous library before the artillery and rockets got to work. The people in Cairo are relaunching the library campaign, though I couldn’t find anything on their website.

The archaeology research centre is a nice idea and I hope it moves ahead again. But what the students need tomorrow is a basic working library in all fields: science, languages, technology, medicine, law …. While the fighting on the East bank of the Tigris was still going on, students and professors were working to clear the rubble and start teaching again. The website is back up (only in Arabic). This determination deserves practical support. ISIS was a threat to all of us, and the people of Mosul paid very heavily for its destruction.

This does not look like a case where individual donations can be useful. It needs at least sponsorship from university departments and schools prepared to assemble a starter library in their discipline, plus expert input from librarians and IT people, and an operational fund from a government or billionaire. And tact as well: the university is in the Arab world, and that will be the language of instruction. Perhaps along with Kurdish? You see the problem.

Ashurbanipal Library 3 can be the one that sticks.

The new Berkeley Aquatic Center

At least every few months, the Intercollegiate Athletics (IA) enterprise at my school gives us something new to be ashamed of.  This fall, it’s the opening of a new aquatic center, for about 120 letter athletes only, that commits a whole catalog of the typical sins of that firm [sic: it has it’s own .com website], and the injuries it inflicts on the university.

To start with, it’s in the wrong place, a large lot on a corner close to downtown that badly needs street activation, across the street from land uses (a track stadium and the existing aquatic center) that also don’t generate any foot traffic. The city fathers are furious that the university used this valuable lot for something that could have gone anywhere. For more on the location mistake, see Sam Davis’ takedown.

It has been touted, at a time when the cost of the IA program is attracting serious criticism, as being completely funded (about $15m) by the generous donors, and here we confront one of the most persistent qualities of IA, which is its insouciant, arrogant, mendacity, especially about money.  A building like this needs to be cleaned, heated, repaired and maintained.  It is actually rather expensive to keep a great big pool of water warm enough to swim in, outdoors in the climate of the Bay Area, and there are light bulbs to change, etc. A rule of thumb some institutions use for planning this is that maintaining a building requires an endowment approximately equal to the cost of the building itself.  At 5% return on such an endowment,  the new pool will cost the campus about $750K per year to keep the lights on and the doors open, or about four full professors.  Those light bulbs and gas bills will be paid for with real money.  You might think IA would pay for this, but that operation is already costing us about $30m a year in net subsidy, so even the part they might pay for directly just comes right back to the campus.

Completely funded by the donors? Let’s look at this again:

Donors gift (thank you)                           $7.5m

State and federal funds*                            7.5m

Campus gift of land                                     (10m)

Operation and maintenance                      (15m)

Total net                                                           ( $10m)

So “completely funded” actually means “paid less than a fifth of the cost, reached into our pocket and the taxpayers’ for about $17.5 million, and put a $750k/year tapeworm in our lunch.” Talk about leverage! Don’t you wish you could muscle your public agencies to house your hobbies at better than 5:1?

Just to add insult to injury, IA is going to give about a third of their exclusive time at our existing pool back to the other 40,000 citizens of the university for recreational use and physical education.

*the gift is a charitable deduction against state and federal income, and the donors are certainly in top brackets.




“An unfortunate series of coincidences and errors”

That’s the latest spin on the Trump University/Trump Foundation/Pam Bondi scandal from the Trump campaign. I think we can all agree on “unfortunate.” Harder to believe in “coincidences” and “errors.”

Since the cable nets, the New York Times, and the Associated Press have all been too busy trying to find wrongdoing at the Clinton Foundation to cover it, and even now don’t seem to be able to get the facts straight, here they are (courtesy of CREW and the Nonprofit Quarterly:

  • Trump University fleeced students around the country.
  • Some of them complained.
  • The Attorney General of New York backed the students legally.
  • Victims in Florida asked the state AG - then and now, Pam Bondi - to do the same.
  • Bondi called Trump personally and asked for a campaign contribution.
  • The Trump Foundation issued a check for $25,000 to Bondi’s captive PAC, called “And Justice for All.”
  • Of course a foundation can’t give charitable money to a PAC. That’s illegal. Internally, the Foundation recorded having paid the money to another group called “And Justice For All,” a Utah-based disability-rights group. That group never actually received any money from the Trump Foundation.
  • When the Foundation filed its annual report with the IRS, it didn’t list the illegal contribution to Bondi’s “And Justice for All” PAC. Nor did it list the imaginary contribution to the Utah disability-rights group (which would have been legal). Instead it reported a contribution in the same amount to a Kansas-based anti-abortion group called “Justice for All,” which also never got a nickle from Trump.
  • Three days later, the Florida AG’s office announced that it would not join the lawsuit against Trump U.
  • A few months later, Trump and Rudy Giuliani headlined a fundraiser for Bondi at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club, giving the campaign a bargain-basement price for the use of the space.
  • After the scandal broke, Bondi’s PAC tried to return the money, but the Foundation said “Never mind.” Trump wrote a check to the foundation as “reimbursement,” as if that made everything OK.
  • The IRS just now hit Trump with a $2500 penalty.

So, if you’re like the White Queen, and practice believing six impossible things before breakfast, you can try to believe that:

  • Bondi, when she made the fundraising call, didn’t know complaints against Trump were pending before her office, and didn’t bother to check.
  • Trump, who brags about making political contributions to buy influence, made this one entirely innocuously.
  • Trump somehow mistakenly ordered a $25,000 political contribution made illegally out of his foundation rather than writing a personal check.
  • The Trump Foundation staff coincidentally found two other groups with similar-sounding names and actual charitable status. They actually sent the check to the correct address in Florida, but mistakenly recorded it internally as having been made to the Utah group and then made a completely different mistake by reporting to the IRS a contribution to the Kansas group, in the latter case with the correct address - not, of course, the address to which the check had actually been sent - and IRS number. And all of this mere sloppiness happened to one of the foundation’s biggest disbursements of the year.

Or, if your mind is as cynically twisted as mine, you can believe instead that Bondi asked for a bribe (or made an extortionate demand), that Trump made the payoff as demanded but tried to get a tax break for it by making it out of foundation money, the Foundation staff did the best they could to cover the whole thing up, the investigation was duly killed, and Trump made the balance of the payoff (or simply indicated his gratitude) by hosting the fund-raiser.


Giving Tuesday, No Giving Required; and Jail for the President

Over on The Nonprofiteer, I critique the whole Giving Tuesday concept and particularly its latest iteration, in which people don’t have to actually give to participate.

Plus, h/t to our friends at Political Wire, for quoting a Republican legislator who can’t seem to imagine a black man who isn’t incarcerated.


My dinner with Julian

A few weeks ago, I got to have dinner with Julian Bond.  We have a friend in common, who asked me to recommend a play for when “my friend Julian Bond” came to town. “Did you say ‘your friend Julian Bond?’” I squeaked into the phone; whereupon she invited my boyfriend and me to join her and her husband and Bond and his wife for dinner.

As I drove our star-struck way downtown, I listened to Michael read from Bond’s biography on Wikipedia, even as I pretended to ignore him: “Honey, they’re not going to give us a test!”  But after he rolled through the familiar list of credits–leader in the American civil rights movement, helped establish the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, first president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, twenty years in the Georgia legislature, University of Virginia history professor, past chair of the NAACP–Michael said, “Oh, listen to this.  His father got one of the first PhDs granted to an African-American by the University of Chicago.”

“Really,” I said.  “I wonder if he was a Rosenwald Fellow.”

You’ve probably never heard of the Rosenwald Fellowships, but you’ve undoubtedly heard of many of the Fellows: W.E.B. DuBois, Gordon Parks, Jacob Lawrence, Zora Neale Hurston, Alain Locke, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Marian Anderson, Katherine Dunham, James Weldon Johnson, Ralph Ellison and nearly every other African-American artist and scholar active in  mid-Twentieth Century America.  The Rosenwald Fellowships, like the MacArthur genius grants which succeeded them, gave no-strings-attached cash to scholars and artists to continue their work; but unlike the MacArthur grants, the Rosenwalds went almost exclusively to African-Americans.

The fellowship program was part of Julius Rosenwald’s one-man campaign for racial justice, a campaign which led him to build the Rosenwald Apartments in Chicago and YMCAs in other Northern cities to provide housing for African-Americans moving up from the South.  It also led him to construct 5,000 schools for black children who were kept out of public classrooms occupied by white students.  The Rosenwald Schools provided primary education to one-third of the South’s African-American schoolchildren between World War I and Brown v. Board of Education.

So why haven’t you learned about any of this?  Because Julius Rosenwald, who made a fortune as the president of Sears, gave much of that fortune away during his lifetime and directed that the rest be spent within ten years of his death.  So his legacy isn’t a foundation with a big building giving out the occasional grant and the frequent press release; it’s the thousands of people educated and housed by his generosity.  But no good deed goes unpunished: for failing to make perpetuity his highest concern, Rosenwald has largely been forgotten.

Not by all of us, though.  I learned the story several years ago when the Spertus Museum in Chicago put on an exhibit of work by Rosenwald  Fellows.  One item in the exhibit was enough to persuade me of the Fellowships’ significance: a kinescope of Katherine Dunham performing new dances influenced by her Rosenwald-funded trip to the Caribbean.  As I watched the motions and the gestures, I recognized the origins of Alvin Ailey’s classic “Revelations.”  Ailey was Dunham’s student; and so, from Rosenwald to Dunham to Ailey, we have perhaps the premier work of American dance.

Thus, after a pleasant dinner in which we talked about theater and travel and the demographic transformation of Washington–Bond’s wife Pam said, “Yes, Julian calls our neighborhood Upper Caucasia”–I turned to him and said, “So, your father was a Rosenwald Fellow?”

He seemed equal parts surprised and gratified to encounter someone who knew about the Rosenwalds, and what an honor it was to receive one, and told the following story:

During a trip South in the mid-1930s to do research as part of his fellowship, Horace Mann Bond drove his car into a ditch.  Apparently a pair of rural African-Americans made their living digging holes in the road and then charging hapless motorists to tow their cars out of them.  While the two entrepreneurs were hooking up the tow truck, one of them observed Mr. Bond’s elegant city clothes and the new car he was driving, and asked how a black man came to have such luxuries.  Mr. Bond explained that he was a Rosenwald Fellow and that the fellowship had paid for the clothes and the car as well as the research he was about to do.  His interlocutor smiled: “You know Cap’n Julius?”  He hoisted the car back onto the road.  “No charge.”

Later, over coffee, Julian showed me an iPhone photo of himself seated next to an extremely elderly white lady who was holding his hand in both of hers.  “Do you know who this is?” he asked.  “In 1961 her book outsold the Bible!”  It was, of course, Harper Lee, author of To Kill A Mockingbird; and on one of his recent trips South, Bond had gotten to meet her.  “I’m so excited, I’m stopping people on the street to say, ‘Look at this!  I had coffee with Harper Lee!’”

Which is, of course, just how I feel about my dinner with Julian.

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