To critics, the Mariota Center is another reminder of UO’s wrong priorities

Photo illustration by Stacy Yurishcheva.

A previous version of this article stated the athletic department was only partially self-sustained. The athletic department doesn’t receive any direct institutional support. The article also stated Phil Knight had given $50 million to PathwayOregon. This was not correct.

Student athletes have special tutors in the $41 million Jaqua Center. The rest of the student body is tutored in the basement of Prince Lucien Campbell Hall.

Student athletes can study in chairs made of Ferrari leather on floors made of Brazilian Ipe wood in the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex. The rest of the student body studies wherever Wi-Fi is good.

And soon, student athletes will be able to catch a nap in rest pods, work out in a boxing ring and improve their form with 3D image-capturing technology in the $19.2 million Marcus Mariota Sports Performance Center.

With the construction of this new athletes-only performance facility breaking ground this month, critics are raising questions about the University of Oregon’s priorities and whether athletes are put on a pedestal above the rest of the student body.

To build this center, UO went around the world gathering ideas — even going to NASA. The focus is mostly recovery: There will be therapy available for athletes and big areas for stretching and foam-rolling.

UO isn’t actually putting up the money to build the complex. The initial construction costs are $19.2 million, according to a building permit the university filed in November, and the complex is funded by Nike co-founder and chairman Phil Knight. The center is expected to be 29,000 square feet when completed, according to materials from the Board of Trustees.

That doesn’t mean UO isn’t investing in this complex. Power, maintenance and paying two full-time staff members will come out of athletics’ budget, but it’s not clear yet how much that’s going to be, according to Craig Pintens, a spokesperson for athletics. The Jaqua Center has $2.2 million in academic and operational expenses per academic year, according to Steve Stolp, executive director of services for student athletes. (The athletic department doesn’t receive any direct institutional support, according to Pintens.)

These lavish facilities have drawn lots of criticism from the university’s faculty and students. Dana Rognlie, a doctorate student in philosophy who has been a vocal critic of the university for years, calls Knight’s contribution “a private donation to a public university for private use.”

This question came up back when Jaqua was being constructed in 2010. At the time, some faculty told the Emerald that Jaqua was “a symbol of the university’s wrong priorities.”

Carol Stabile, a women’s and gender studies professor and another outspoken critic of the university, points to older buildings on campus with “terrible technological infrastructure” like outdated Wi-Fi. IT has compared the university’s Wi-Fi to “one of the older buildings on campus” and says it needs an upgrade. Stabile points to other buildings that are full and “bursting at the seams,” like Allen Hall. Many faculty members have been moved out of Allen and into Franklin Hall; they often have to walk 10 minutes to their classrooms.

“Where are the beautiful buildings for the academic side?” Stabile said. “What message does that send?”

Stabile ties sports into a detrimental “party culture” at the university. She calls the culture one of her biggest impediments as a teacher.

“I need to give my students the education they deserve,” Stabile said. “I feel like that disproportionate emphasis [on sports and partying] compromises my ability to do that … on this campus.”

But Phil Knight has also given donations to the academic side. He and his wife have created 27 endowed professorships and chairs across campus, were the lead donors to the School of Law’s Knight Law Center, and supported the expansion and renovation of Knight Library.

And Devon Allen, a wide receiver for UO football and track and field champion, believes he and other athletes need the Mariota Center.

“There’s a lot more stuff that just helps with recovery and helps student athletes perform better,” Allen said.

Critics also wonder what this focus is doing to athletes’ psyches. Stabile says athletes are really segregated from other students: They live, work out, study and get tutoring in separate buildings, and they’re “celebrities” on campus.

Rognlie and Stabile, along with other feminists and sexual assault awareness advocates, believe putting athletes on a pedestal like that could even be connected to past behavioral problems.

At a press conference in May 2014, Rognlie asked UO men’s basketball coach Dana Altman what sexual assault training his basketball players went through. Three of Altman’s players had just been accused of sexually assaulting a UO student.

“The athletic department has a number of programs that we put our student athletes through at the beginning of each year,” Altman said to her. “One, specifically, for this type of activity, was not done this year.”

Rognlie told an Oregonian reporter at the time that she was “deeply disturbed” by that. Now, she wonders why the university is building athlete-only complexes when all athletes aren’t getting sexual assault training.

“I’m deeply concerned that the focus is more on the players’ well-being and the institution’s well-being rather than the survivor’s well-being,” Rognlie told Altman at the press conference.

Student athletes do go through the same training that every student goes through, a two-hour program called “Get Explicit” that talks about boundaries, consent and social norms. But that’s not enough, Stabile said. She and other members of Oregon’s Sexual Assault Task Force have been asking since November 2014 for more staff and money devoted to fighting sexual assault, and the university has responded, but not in all the ways they asked for.

To them, it’s about where the university is focusing — and they don’t think it should be focusing on complexes exclusive to athletes.

“How does this enhance the real mission of the university?” Stabile said. “You just have to question the priorities of the institution.”

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