Rutgers professor isn't racist

Tuesday, October 02, 2007


In The New York Times of Sept. 26, Rutgers University English Professor William C. Dowling articulated his concerns that the school's recent athletic ascent has been accompanied by academic descent. Among other notions, Dowling opposed the often-cited rationale of those who support big- time college athletics that the athletic scholarships they provide offer opportunities for low-income minority student athletes. Specifically, he offered, "If you were giving the scholarship to an intellectually brilliant kid who happened to play a sport, that's fine. 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."

Shockingly, last Thursday, Rutgers Athletic Director Bob Mulcahy told assorted media that Dowling's comment was a "blatantly racist statement." As a black dad who has coached and counseled black athletes, I strongly support Professor Dowling and find Mulcahy's responses to the professor's postulations to be consistent with the low academic expectations that many leaders of big-time college athletic programs have of their black athletes.

Also supporting Professor Dowling is Dr. Roscoe C. Brown Jr., a college president for 15 years, the current director of the City of New York's Center for Urban Education Policy and the former New York University professor of two head U.S.Olympic track coaches (i.e., Dr. Leroy Walker and Princeton University's own Larry Ellis). Dr. Brown, also one of this country's first black collegiate lacrosse players and an assistant college basketball coach of the first black man to play in a NBA game (i.e., West Virginia State's Earl Lloyd), has written about intercollegiate abuse of black athletes for close to 40 years.

Dr. Roscoe C. Brown, Jr

Last week (during an earnest father-son conversation), he again articulated his disdain for college coaches who bring academically at-risk black students to college campuses and "let" them play a sport often requiring upwards of 50 hours per week, in-season, of out-of-classroom time, whereas what such stu dents really need is intensive academic intervention -- and not of the variety or amount offered by the athletic department's own tu tors.

What has happened with Rutgers' pursuit of a top-flight football team in a financial environment where New Jersey is effectively broke is nothing short of unconscionable. During the 2006-2007 academic year, close to 250 adjunct Rutgers instructors were let go and nearly 800 Rutgers class sections were canceled. Numerous nonrevenue-generating sports at Rutgers learned that they would soon be extinct. To add insult to injury, their deaths were declared at a time when Rutgers was happily approving increased appropriations for its football team.

Many of us who are committed to the notion of having true scholar athletes (black or white) attending elite, publicly funded research universities, find it interesting that it is affluent white alumni who are mak ing compromise of black athletes possible at rapidly expanding sports factories such as Rutgers. How? By cutting huge checks to booster clubs that black alumni, generally speaking, aren't in a position to tender (even if they wanted to).

There is no reason for which Rutgers shouldn't be relying on home-grown talent, regardless of ethnicity, to fuel its athletic programs. Apart from affluent alumni and other sports-crazed Jerseyans, I suggest there would be no widespread angst across the state if Rutgers became a Division I AA football team that, on average, won only about half its games because it wouldn't cater to academically at-risk students and/or out-of-state recruits.

Respecting Rutgers' black athletes, I've heard a few speak. And while I can't tell you how bright they are, I can represent that at least one or two need better speaking skills. While I know many blacks with substandard language skills who are exceedingly bright, it nonetheless stands to reason that any student matriculating in college should possess good speaking skills (if nothing else) by the time he or she graduates. And if those skills are substandard upon college entry, there is no reason for such young adults to be engaged in athletic activity that can take upwards of 50 hours a week, in-season. If they are to spend 50 hours a week doing anything, it should be enhancing their communication skills.

I -- and many other blacks -- agree with Professor Dowling that if Rutgers were serious about enhancing the development of a black intelligentsia, it would start recruiting "black kids found in the library after school" as aggressively as it does black kids whose primary attributes are an ability to run fast and/or to jump high.

Right on, Brother Dowling.

Donald Roscoe Brown is a lawyer who resides in Ewing.

Copyright (c) 2007 The Trenton Times