Eugene community members filled Tsunami Books on Tuesday evening to listen to author Joshua Hunt discuss his new book, “University of Nike: How Corporate Cash Bought American Higher Education,” in which Hunt details the power and influence that the sportswear company and its owner Phil Knight have over the University of Oregon.
The book has garnered national media attention in the past week, with the New York Post writing that Hunt’s book “exposes how Knight’s massive corporate donations to the University of Oregon’s athletics departments made him and his corporation the defacto leaders of the college.” The New York Times published an interview with Hunt and Inside Higher Ed also covered the book.
In a statement to the Emerald, UO wrote that the Knights are “unquestionably the most generous philanthropists in our state’s history,” and that “their support for both academic and athletic programs at University of Oregon comes without strings attached and has transformed this campus in profoundly positive ways.”
The statement did not comment on the book, saying that “given our focus on the university’s future, we will not engage in debate over Mr. Hunt’s book, which largely speculates about and rehashes historical events that have been covered elsewhere.”
“Oregon set down this path of defunding public education earlier than other states did,” he said.
Hunt added that the approval of the measure was partially due to Oregonians perceiving themselves not as citizens, but taxpayers — a description that resonated with one member of the audience.
“I thought the book made a really important point that we should be thinking that people have allowed themselves to devolve from citizens to taxpayers guarding their wallets,” Sharon Schuman, a former professor of literature at UO’s Robert D. Clark Honors College, told the Emerald. “When you don’t want to pay taxes, schools crumble. We have to fear that corporations have undue influence in universities.”
Scott Landfield, the owner of Tsunami Books, said that he expected some backlash from audience members but that the moderator of the question-and-answer section, former law professor Michael Rooke-Ley, handled the session well.
“I knew there would be strongly opposing views,” Landfield said, “but he sees things from all sides. This one was very pretty, I thought.”
Schuman, a family friend of former UO President Dave Frohnmayer, said that while she enjoyed Hunt’s book, she disagreed with the passages relating to Frohnmayer’s family and passed out flyers refuting certain portions of the book which she believed were incorrect.
One major disagreement deals with Knight’s annual million dollar contribution to the Fanconi Anemia Research Fund. The disease took the lives of Frohnmayer’s three children.
In the book, Hunt said that Knight refused to give the annual donation after Frohnmayer sided with student protesters who opposed Nike’s factory working conditions and urged the UO to join the Workers’ Rights Consortium. The Frohnmayer family disputes the account, with their publicist sending the Emerald a statement from Frohnmayer’s wife Lynn. In the statement, Lynn wrote that Knight continued to donate to the fund during the time the UO sided with the protesters.
“Contrary to what is reported by Joshua Hunt in his book “University of Nike,” Phil Knight continued to donate to the Fanconi Anemia Research Fund (FARF) during the period in which the University of Oregon was a member of the Workers’ Rights Consortium (WRC). On Jan. 4, 2001, Phil Knight gave FARF $1 million,” the statement said.
Schuman isn’t the only one to refute the account. The Portland Business Journal reported that during Hunt’s talk at Powell’s Books in Portland on Monday, a member of the Frohnmayer family presented a similar list of what she considered inaccuracies to the audience.
Frohnmayer played a crucial role in the university’s history, as Nike’s relationship with the university solidified under his tenure. Hunt wrote that the school’s relationship with Knight provided new forms of revenue to complete renovations.
“Knight’s money quickly breathed new life into the stadium, which had become saddled with ballooning costs necessary to make up for lost time and finish the job before the 2002 college football season,” Hunt wrote.
Hunt added that other universities are considering the “University of Nike” model, but they may fail to recognize what comes with the adoption of a corporate benefactor.
“From afar it’s shiny buildings and money,” Hunt said. “It works a lot like credit card debt; it encourages the university to live a little beyond its means and not address its responsibilities.”
Responsibility was a theme that came up in another aspect of Hunt’s book — the University of Oregon Police Department’s failure to properly report a March 2014 rape by three UO basketball players in the campus police department’s clery crime log, a document that lists recent crimes. The log is required to be kept up-to-date under federal law.
“Crime statistics are only as honest as the people who report them,” Hunt said.
Hunt said that the university quickly drafted a public relations strategy and that the school’s public relations team created a plan that focused “on a number of ‘key messages’ to advance in the event that the rape accusations became public.”
One of key messages, Hunt wrote in his book, was “the idea that the ‘University of Oregon provides a safe environment for its students, and leaders are committed to cultural changes to focus on survivor support and shared responsibility of each member of our community to prevent and respond to misconduct.’”
Hunt added that another aspect of the PR strategy “emphasized planting media ‘stories about sexual violence prevention, education and resources to inform campus audiences.’”
“Put more simply,” Hunt wrote, “the school sought to promote positive media stories about its efforts to educate its students about sexual assault, even as it failed to comply with the Clery Act by altering them to a rape that had been reported in the community, and which involved multiple students.”
While he focused on the university’s past during his talk — from the adoption of Nike of as a source of funds to the March 2014 rape scandal — he also discussed the future of the Knight Science Campus, writing in his book that faculty members had ethical concerns about the research that would take place at the campus.
Toward the end of the talk, a member of the audience asked Hunt if he was hopeless about the future, to which he replied “Not at all. It’s really nice to see this resurgence of a younger generation protesting.”
Hunt said his book came out of persistence and wrote in the introduction that university officials “locked themselves in their offices” until he left the buildings they worked in.
“This book is the result of hanging around a lot and keeping coming back. Follow the rumors until you track it back to a document or source,” he said.