Eugene Weekly : Commentary : 2.4.10


Jock in the Box
It’s just not fair … to student-athletes
By Shaun O’Dell. Photos by Trask Bedortha

Why the big fuss over the John E. Jaqua Center for Student-Athletes? If you think about it, it’s obviously far inferior to the beloved, small and cozy Teaching and Learning Center (aptly abbreviated TLC) buried in the Prince Lucien Campbell basement that the rest of the student body gets to use. Let’s compare and contrast, shall we?

Sound proof computer lab in the John E. Jaqua Academic Center for Student  Athletes
Study room in the Teaching and Learning Center on the bottom floor of PLC

First off, the Jaqua Center is too darn flashy. The glass walls letting in all that light are just absurd. No self-respecting Northwest resident would associate himself with sunlight! Vitamin D processing is overrated. And how can athletes study knowing every other person driving down Franklin Boulevard is looking at the glass box to see if they can catch them picking their noses while working on their several-thousand dollar custom-engraved laptops? 

The PLC basement, on the other hand, is just the kind of place for students looking for future careers. Consider the dim corners and the fluorescent tubes flickering overhead as a kind of boot-camp for a near-inevitable future of cubicle life. It’s a valuable resource for the students who come to PLC’s basement to prepare for a real-world career. They will be stronger for it and should thank the university for the opportunity to be tutored in such an uplifting and reality-based environment. 

And heck, when that money from the stimulus bill comes in and the UO can afford to fix the HVAC system and make steam trap repairs, maybe it won’t be so cold in there. What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger, you know. The athletes though won’t be working on their resistance to heat and cold in the Jaqua; the R-G reports that the UO’s already dropped $200,000 to improve the building’s heating and cooling system.

TLC tutoring is available for free from the writing or math lab, or after paying the individual tutoring fee of $9 to $11 for lower-division courses (100-200 level) and $11 to 13 for upper-division courses (300 level and above), or paying $120 for small group tutoring, according to the TLC website. Of course, tutors are a covered cost for student-athletes at the Jaqua, but how are they supposed to learn the age-old lesson of “spending money to make money”? In essence, athletes are really being cheated out of an education, and with a 49 percent graduation success rate for our Duck football team, according to a November R-G article, that’s a problem.

But don’t go thinking the PLC learning center clobbers the Jaqua in terms of quality. The TLC sports on its walls an elegant, understated little poster of Albert Einstein, and JJC has a multi-floor wall mural of Einstein composed entirely of photographs of student athletes taken by a photographer who followed them for one year. Because we all know Einstein’s great work in physics and the sport of … wait. Einstein? The same guy who said, “You teach me baseball and I’ll teach you relativity …  No we must not. You will learn about relativity faster than I learn baseball.” That guy? Another choice might have been more appropriate as a testament to brilliance AND athleticism. Thank goodness one classroom’s wall decor mixes the name “Knight” in with lesser lights like Shakespeare, Melville and Fitzgerald, or athletes might get confused about where their priorities are supposed to lie.

That’s not it for Knightly touches. Using the facilities in the upper stories of the Jaqua, if you’re a lady, means doing your business in a black-tiled bathroom while the likeness of Phil Knight beams down on you from the mirror. If you want to pee in the TLC, just wander down the simple, dark hallway to the small bathroom and you’re set to go, with only your own reflection peering back at you from the polished metal mirror-like object on the wall.

The 40,000 sq. ft. (that’s about 77 sq. ft. per eligible student-athlete) Jaqua Center can be a tad confusing to those uninitiated to its halls. On a recent tour of the facility, several members of our party kept disappearing as we tried to keep up with our guide. And the glass walls that divide rooms are bound to be a problem for the nearsighted navigating the maze. One expects David Bowie to pop out at any moment in heavy make-up and begin singing. For anybody who has seen Labyrinth, this prospect is likely to chill you to the bone. 

Compare this to the TLC, with its easy-to-navigate handful of rooms. The entire nine-story PLC is a gross square footage of 108,889, according to a UO facilities report. If we figure (estimating high) the basement gets 10,000 sq. ft. and half the basement is offices, then the TLC gets 5,000 sq. ft., probably less, generously allowing less than half a square foot per non-student-athlete. Talk about learning to use space wisely!

If an athlete wants to study, the plethora of choices at the Jaqua is a little confusing. One hundred part-time tutors and 20 or so part- and full-time staff members for 500 or so athletes is a bit much. The far less liberally funded TLC’s small staff and drop-in office hours are much easier. TLC offers free drop-in writing support Monday through Friday from 9 am to 4pm. With about 16,000 non-athlete undergrads, we figure that’s about 38 students a minute on a given day of writing tutoring. Fast, efficient. That’s what a UO education’s all about. 

Finally, for those upset about having parking spaces reserved exclusively for athletes, forget it. Possible conflicts with NCAA rules aside, the university obviously feels that if you were in better shape, you too would be deserving of a parking spot right on campus. 

This is the direction we as a community are heading: true equality for all students. No longer can we treat our student-athletes as second-class citizens but must instead recognize the lack of opportunities provided to them. The Jaqua must be acknowledged for the disgrace it is. We say it doesn’t go nearly far enough in catering to the needs of athletes! Give that crappy new tutoring center to the UO journalism students and finally punish them for their misdeeds of criticizing those with money and power. That’ll teach ‘em.