This was one of the best Association of Governing Boards of Colleges and Universities Conference I have attended, if not because of the program speakers, definitely because of the level of participation of its attendees. A great number of student-trustees contributed sharp and important questions, one usually does not hear from the 60-something typical university trustee. Being one of the latter, I take my hat off to the former.

The AGB meeting raised more than a few eyebrows (and some fists) with its analysis of the cost of NCAA sports on campuses and its suggestion that eliminating NCAA Sports would save institutions of higher education a pretty penny. I can’t agree with that.

Viewing it from the perspective of an Auburn Tiger, our football team’s National Championship brought in new funds to Auburn University, new applicants for its academic programs, and monetary support helping to financially float other sports with a lesser fan base. It brought revenue to our community, which relies on sales taxes to make up the difference lost to sinking property values.  Additionally, the base of scholarship support increased, serving the needs of athletically gifted students whose opportunity to attend college would be compromised without it.

Our culture has come to expect higher education to groom future leaders from the ranks of these athletically gifted students.  But, what about the tuba players?  While football, baseball, soccer, basketball and even swimming some years cost more than what they bring in, so do concerts, plays and museum exhibitions. Universities have rightfully, perceived as an important part of their cultural development mission, to offer its students an opportunity to exercise their talents for the benefit of their community. This is education via another venue.

What the AGB conference did not bring us was new insight into the puzzling array of Federal policies threatening our institutions. In spite of many questions raised at plenary sessions, we still don’t now how Obama’s vision of restoring the US to its leading position in higher education degree holders is going to be accomplished by limiting student assistance, for example.  Certainly not the AGB’s fault that answers were not forthcoming.

What it did bring (for me) was a widely attended Roundtable discussion I was assigned to lead with inquiring minds that brought me new ideas and perspectives on my research I would not have gotten otherwise.

It also brought me a lot of questions, about football. Was Cameron Newton a good student, will he be the San Francisco 49ers 7th Round pick, will it take another 56 years before the Tigers are the national champions again? (That last question from an Alabama trustee.) I can only respond, War Eagle to you guy.

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