Education, as I often tell my students, is a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing because it allows you to break out of convention and think freely. It is a curse because unconventional free-thinkers don’t have an easy time of it. The burden of thinking differently becomes painfully apparent to me around this time of year. People are always trying to get me to wear poppies on my lapel, which I don’t, and want me to be excited about university sports, which I’m not.
In fact, I’m against university sports all together. And believe me, I know why they exist. Supposedly they bring students together; they help recruitment by raising the profile of the university; they promote physical well being. Frankly, I’m not sure if any of these are really true. I’ve heard more than one student complain about the preferential treatment that athletes receive; I can’t believe that anyone is coming to CBU for the sake of girls’ soccer; and athletes pay a hefty premium in injuries in return for their cardio-vascular prowess. Besides, sports take students out of class, promote artificial rivalries among schools, and divert money from university coffers.
But to me, none of these things really matter, because whatever else sports are, they have nothing to do with what a university should be about: the life of the mind. This is not a case against sports in general mind you. I like sports — baseball especially — and in high school I played on two different sports teams (and that does not include Reach for the Top). And I have no beef with any particular student athlete (if you want to do the work, you’re welcome in my class any day). But in our society, sports will thrive without the university; intellectual life will not. Sports are played all throughout the public school system; every newspaper has a sports section (but no scholarship section); there are numerous TV channels devoted to sports coverage, and people are happy to pony up their hard won money to see their favourite stars. Can’t we have just one place, just one institution, that is exclusively devoted to advancing knowledge, to celebrating the arts, to reflecting on the most important questions of our lives?
Shouldn’t the university be that place?