A few days ago, yet another article appeared in The Baltimore Sun about Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco and his contract that will pay him more than $20 million per year for the next six years. That's a total of over $120 million.
I don't know Joe Flacco. I am sure that if I knew him I would like him, and that if we were neighbors, we'd get along just fine.
But that is not why I write. And I am not writing because I am jealous of Joe Flacco's good fortune, or because I don't think he is worth it based on his competitive value in football. Not at all — he has worked hard and has been quite successful in a highly competitive and physically demanding game.
No, I write as a university professor at one of Maryland's top public research universities to tell you that neither I nor any of my colleagues could imagine an infusion of $20 million of new money a year into our institution (let alone for the salary for a single individual among us).
And we are hardly slackers at what we do. At my campus, we teach, guide and mentor more than 13,000 students. We secure upward of $100 million a year in external funding for the university. We produce new knowledge in our chosen academic fields. We write countless scholarly articles and books to disseminate that knowledge. And we do all the other stuff that is expected of university faculty. Furthermore, we seem to be doing all of this reasonably well, given the plaudits that our university continues to receive from various external bodies and rankings.
No, I am not jealous of Joe Flacco (well, maybe a little). But I am very concerned about a society — any society, but ours in particular — that seems to place professional sports, along with a number of similar entertainment activities, on a higher plane than that of one of the most fundamental functions of a society: that of educating its young.
Here are a few things that $20 million annually would mean to my university, if we were to get it. We could hire about 200 new assistant professors. We could start up 20 new science and engineering labs. We could offer full scholarships to large numbers of students. Every few years, we could build a new academic building to house classrooms and labs.
We could do a lot with $20 million to support the education of our students that would further ensure that they graduate with the best learning possible, and would make even more certain that, no matter where their futures take them, they are as well equipped to succeed as possible.
But, alas, this is not to be. And not just for our university, but for all of education, whether K through 12 or higher education. When we ask for greater funding, we are nearly always turned down, except for small increments that barely allow us to keep up. And when recessionary times occur, we are asked to give some of it back.
I do not blame elected officials for this dynamic. If there is blame to be placed, it surely belongs to the very people who send their kids to the public schools but who show by their behavior that they would rather buy expensive tickets to attend professional sports events, equip their dens with flat screen televisions sets and theater-style viewing gizmos, and buy the goods and services sold by advertisers and sponsors of the games, than adequately fund education.
It is about the values that are represented by this kind of thinking and behavior that I write. Would that I knew how to change it.
Donald F. Norris is professor and chairman of the department of public policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County where he also directs the Maryland Institute for Policy Analysis and Research. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.