Fresno State’s mission is “to boldly educate and empower students for success.”
Athletics plays an important role in this, contributing to the development of student-athletes’ character, leadership and teamwork skills, and for some serving as training for a career in professional sports or sports education and administration.
Athletic scholarships make higher education affordable for hundreds of Fresno State students each year. Bulldog athletics are also a boon to the region, offering entertainment and community for the public, employment for hundreds of people, and a symbol of pride when we win (and when we lose with grace after playing our best).
The reason President Castro has emphasized “academics and athletics rising together” is because the primary responsibility of Fresno State, like any university, is to educate its students and serve their needs. Unfortunately, some ardent Bulldog fans have called for greater university spending on athletics and have even insisted that the president raise student fees to provide more resources for athletics.
While this enthusiasm is laudable, we must remember the university’s primary obligation – education and, as a consequence, opportunity. Imposing new fees on already cash-strapped students would put these goals beyond the reach of too many of our students and therefore must not be an option.
We should support athletics, but we cannot allow sports to become the university’s primary concern. Education has been, and must always be, the university’s prime mission.
Fortunately, we’re good at it. In 2017, Washington Monthly ranked Fresno State No. 17 among the top 30 national universities because its academic excellence provides economic opportunity for thousands of graduates every year. That same year, U.S. News & World Report ranked Fresno State third among public universities nationwide for graduation rates.
Athletics has been a part of this. According to Fresno State Magazine, 155 Fresno State athletes made the Mountain West All-Academic team in 2015-16. These student-athletes have represented Fresno State in three of the past five Mountain West Championship football games, and the Bulldogs won the Hawaii Bowl in 2017. Fresno State softball won back-to- back Mountain West Championships in 2015 and 2016.
Sports wins are great, but what we really want is for all Fresno State’s students to succeed, and do so without taking on additional debt.
Increased funding for athletics cannot come through new fees imposed on students against their will. Fresno State students recently approved a fee increase to build a new Student Union, but they themselves voted for it. For many students, every penny counts and funds for athletics cannot come at the expense of food on the table.
Approximately 19 percent of our students come from families where the annual income is less than $24,000, for 43 percent it is under $48,000, and a New York Times study found that Fresno State’s median parent income for the class of 2013 ranked last of all universities in the Mountain West. Over 30 percent of students at Fresno State lack reliable access to sufficient nutritious food, which is why the Student Cupboard has been so vital.
If you want to support Bulldog athletics, please come to the games. For all of Fresno State’s sports, men’s and women’s. Come whether or not the team has a winning record, because these students need to look up into the stands and see you cheering for them; the athletes put their hearts into every game, win or lose, and so should we.
Encourage your friends, colleagues, and neighbors to come to the games. If the community wants to enjoy the Fresno State athletics program, we need to build it, but not on the backs of the students.
Thomas Holyoke is chair of the Academic Senate and professor of political science. Kevin Macy-Ayotte is past Academic Senate chair and professor of communication. Connect with them by email at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.