12 August 2008

Dancing Fool

The University of Illinois Alumni Association has extended a "free" membership to all alumni. I'm going to decline. I'm not a paid member, and won't become a "free" member, because the Alumni Association is... full of crap is probably the nicest thing I can say about it.

The main reason I won't join is its concerted refusal to provide actual, worthwhile services to alumni who have not moved out of Chambanana, but are not directly affiliated with the university. For example, one must pay to get stack privileges in the libraries; the free membership does not confer any access to university computing systems, not even an e-mail account, unless one lives in Chicago; there are no (even occasional) discounts on tickets to university events or at the bookstore; and so on. Instead, this is strictly a "membership grab" to increase the apparent influence of the Alumni Association under the "bigger states" theory...

...which, if the past is any indication, will be exerted almost solely on athletics. And I'm not just talking about the details of the controversy over Chief Illiniwek, the bigoted/racist (former) "athletic mascot". It's the fact that something concerning the bloody athletic department has taken so much time, energy, and attention away from a world-class university's mission. Say all you want about how athletics helps build character, etc.; Division III schools like the University of Chicago, Johns Hopkins and my other alma mater manage just fine without running the athletic departments as multimillion-dollar corporations. And the UIAA remains pro-Chief, ungraciously bowing to the inevitable.

To use a law-school technique, let's examine a hypothetical. Imagine a corporation that has an industry-dominant computer software division that provides most of the corporation's revenue and profits, along with a small, local chain of West African restaurants that it inherited almost by accident called "Tommy Tutsi's." The restaurant features a special children's birthday-party celebration centered around a young man in a bad Hollywood conception of African tribal dress, usually in blackface makeup (the local demographics mean that not many young black men are employed there). The clientele of the restaurants is mostly non-stockholders in the corporation. Can anyone reasonably doubt that the directors of the corporation would be breaching their fiduciary duty to the stockholders — and, for that matter, failing to exercise business judgment — by refusing to even consider changing the children's birthday-party celebration and/or restaurant name in the face of a publicized, legal boycott led by the NAACP? Particularly given the minor role of the restaurant in the corporation's operations?

So the UIAA can just sod off until it grows up. It does not represent me. And it bloody well better not claim to do so or There Will Be Words.