Monday, January 10, 2005

Beer and Circus

I just finished reading Murray Sperber's provocative book, _Beer and Circus: How Big Time College Sports Is Crippling Undergraduate Education_ (New York: Holt, 2000). Sperber makes some intriguing linkages among NCAA Division 1-A sports (especially football and basketball), Greek-dominated campus life, alcohol abuse on campus, and dysfunctional mass education at big state universities. Maybe I was ready for this book given the hard year that the traditionally great football team of my alma mater, the University of Nebraska, has suffered. But I think this book could be very useful reading for someone thinking about working at a big sports school. I think Sperber is on target in his critiques, and he doesn't limit his attacks to college sports alone....a faculty reward system dominated by research at the expense of teaching also comes in for a predictable bashing. He does a nice job of drawing some disparate issues together. Sperber made me think more about how much I have been sucked into the college sports culture over the years...I always felt a little disconcerted by all the hype, but now I have a more solid foundation for my misgivings. The book's greatest weaknesses are its lack of serious treatment of race and class issues, which to me should be absolutely central to thinking about this stuff. And I'm not sure if I agree with the idea that research and teaching should be separate jobs. But as a starting point for dealing with some of the realities on the ground, this book is extremely useful.

I have a whole stack of other bedtime reading books ready to go, which I hope to review here as I finish them...including several more on universities and the world of commerce. Also Peter Singer's book on the ethics of globalization and Janet Poppendieck's challenging book on how emergency food programs (food pantries, soup kitchens) have provided a moral safety valve to absolve Americans from having to deal more seriously with issues of poverty, hunger, and structural inequality. Any other suggestions?

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