Public Comment

Commercial Sports Is Not UC’s Mission

By Anamaria Sanchez Romero
Thursday July 10, 2008 - 09:50:00 AM

Big-time college athletics” training facility destroying the oak grove—far from the mission of the university: teaching, research and public service—yet so close to the Hayward Fault? 

Lest we forget, the university’s mission is for teaching, research and public service. Since the founding, the tradition of students playing amateur college sports as an extracurricular activity is justified by the ideal of educating the whole person. The Save the Oaks humans perched in the trees are human sentinels committed to preserving the oak grove trees. And, like sentinel birds, they provide an early warning for the university community. Is the planned facility compatible with the university’s mission? In plowing ahead on building fancy facilities for “big-time college athletics” staffed by highly paid coaches with no academic duties, does this provide anything at all to improve the educational program?  

Or, simply stated, are the purposes of higher education led astray by boosters who generate funds in an “arms race” for commercialized athletics? 

The athletic training project has nothing to do with higher education, nor research, or does it serve the greater good of the general public. It takes out a tranquil grove of oak trees where scholars often sit. It is a commercially driven project boosted in “an arms race” by nostalgic donors who largely come from afar to expensive American football games in crumbling Memorial Stadium, bisected by the Hayward Fault. 

In removing the sentinels, then bulldozing to destroy the rooted oak tree grove’s sloping topography, civil engineers wonder what will replace the deep oak tree roots that presently hold up the hill? Where are the State of California building codes for construction workers’ safety while the athletic training facility adjacent to the stadium is underway? Now that the university’s attorneys removed the stadium reinforcing beam from the plans, what will be done to support the heavy stadium should the predicted Hayward Fault shake the ground on a day when construction workers are at work tunneling underneath? 

For the larger picture, the Save the Oaks movement is contiguous within UC Berkeley history, going back to 1961 with the faculty wives’ movement to Save the Bay from filling with toxic garbage to make soggy manmade land for developers dreams to build on, unthinkable today.  

Going forward to 2007, we see three elderly ladies who put on safety lines and climbed an oak tree at the grove to “tree-sit” on a platform in support of Save the Oaks. A lovely photograph of Berkeley’s former Mayor Shirley Dean, City Councilwoman Betty Olds and octogenarian Sylvia McLaughlin, the widowed faculty wife, of a UC Regent, was featured all over the world in the international press: a significant moment in UC Berkeley history, a photograph that has since been memorialized in encyclopedias and history books. 

In 1961 Sylvia McLaughlin with Kay Kerr, the wife of UC President Clark Kerr, and faculty wife Esther Gulich organized Save the Bay to protect and preserve the San Francisco Bay waters from toxic rubbish-fill to make cheap soggy land for construction projects. They were the sentinels, soon joined by flocks of UC families to build a movement which successfully stopped the powerful developers, leading to legislation to protect the Bay for the public good. 

Deeply rooted in the ongoing Save the Bay culture, steadfast Sylvia is backing the Save the Oaks tree sitters and supporters. And, too, Sylvia and Shirley Dean are founding members of a new movement, Save Strawberry Canyon from overdevelopment by the University and the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory. 

The significance of the Save the Oaks demonstration at the mouth of Strawberry Canyon is a visible protest to not only protect the oak grove, the student athletes, spectators and construction workers, but indeed, to restore our university’s mission dedicated to teaching, research and community service.. 

Commercializing college sports must never skew the mission of the university; student athletes must be respected as students first, and athletes second. Students and the management of college sports can be comfortably accommodated in modest facilities without destroying the serene park-like quality of university grounds that is essential for our thinking as we walk to classes, offices and labs conversing with other scholars and students. 

For the good of all communities including sports fans, Save the Oaks supporters and the City of Berkeley are asking that the University consider moving the construction much farther from the several active earthquake faults to flatter stable university land accessible by public transit instead of by automobiles in a densely congested town.  

Other sites include adjacent to the Edwards Track Field downtown, or even purchasing Golden Gate Horse Racing Fields in Albany for both an Athletic Training facility and a new Stadium that could be used for American football, safe large public gatherings, concerts, and perhaps, even the Soccer Americas Cup of the future. 

Let us hope the new university president considers a change of course—one that we all can celebrate. 


Anamaria Sanchez Romero is a Berkeley resident.