Moving from “DAPER” To “DAR”

Many other letters have spoken passionately and clearly about the need for MIT’s varsity athletic programs and so I will try and constrain my comments to addressing solutions to DAPER’s budget gap.

I am convinced that an alternative to the present plan exists. While the difficult financial times add urgency to DAPER’s actions, they may also serve as a catalytic agent for unorthodox thinking. Therefore, I would like to propose that before any varsity or club programs are sacrificed, MIT wholly eliminate its physical education (PE) program. Of course it is lamentable that any part of DAPER be cut, but there are compelling fiscal and philosophical reasons making PE a preferable source of savings.

First and foremost, eliminating PE appears to solve the fiscal problem facing DAPER. MIT has tasked DAPER with finding savings of $1.46 million over three years. According to figures published in The Tech and sourced to DAPER, PE accounts for 16% of DAPER’s expenses. Given that DAPER’s budget is between $9.7 and $12.9 million (operational versus operational plus faculty salaries), 16% accounts for potential savings of $1.5 or $2 million. While it is ambiguous from the figures which number most accurately reflects the cost of the PE program, it doesn’t matter — both provide adequate savings to address the entire 3 year budget shortfall in a sustainable manner.

Moreover, there are hidden fiscal costs associated with eliminating varsity athletic programs. Through my volunteer work at the Alumni Association, I have been in touch with classmates over the years to encourage philanthropy on behalf of MIT. I know firsthand how important a varsity sport experience can be in convincing an otherwise reluctant alum to make a donation. Beyond my personal anecdote, the same figures I alluded to earlier illustrate the fiscal importance of alumni participation — alumni gifts and endowed funds account for roughly 14% ($1.8 million) of DAPER’s annual revenue. Every dollar of savings realized through cutting varsity sports is offset by a reduction in the pool of future and current alumni donors. Moreover, I would find it very difficult to believe that a similar emotional attachment exists among my classmates to MIT’s PE program.

I have always been proud that MIT provided opportunities and encouragement to students to live healthy lives through the PE requirement. But when I compare the value of PE to varsity sports, there is no competition. It seems obvious that if we must cut offerings, we should preserve the programs that students elect to participate in and eliminate the programs that they are compelled to attend.

DAPER ostensibly agrees with this point since “student interest” is a primary factor in deciding which sports teams will get axed this year. More fundamentally though, MIT’s PE program isn’t actually that important in promoting a healthy student population. I’ve found that students that want to exercise are likely to hit the treadmill or erg, use a gym, play pickup sports with friends, or join a sports or IM program. My friends that wanted to avoid physical activity have had no problem finding enough sweat-less PE offerings (e.g. Upgrade your Health and Happiness: Nutrition/Fitness Focus or perennial favorite Pistol) to fulfill their requirement.

That all said, I’m sure there is even an alternative to the outright elimination of the PE program. After all, PE programs do allow students to explore new activities that they may not want or have the time to explore more rigorously. For instance, despite being a varsity rower, I learned to sail and shoot arrows through PE classes. This valuable feature of PE classes could be easily preserved if the program switched over to a fee supported or “pay-to-play” model.

Despite Paul Blascovich’s claims to the contrary, DAPER’s announced cuts to varsity sports programs lack transparency in both fiscal and philosophical terms, making it difficult to judge the wisdom of its actions. Since the cuts were announced, DAPER has put forward no compelling fiscal reasoning (i.e. line-item budget numbers) as to why sport elimination is the only possible course of action. Besides making it difficult for others to offer substantive fiscal alternatives to their proposal, DAPER hasn’t even fully explained its own reasoning in how the cuts should be prioritized.

Many alternatives in addition to my PE proposal must exist — for instance, DAPER hasn’t provided any substantive reasoning as to why the cuts affect only students’ programs and not full-time DAPER employees. Given that the average sport apparently has an operational budget of $25,000–$30,000 (if you live in a world where a football team costs as much as a wrestling team), there should exist equal (if not greater) saving from the elimination of 1 full time employee position as compared to the cutting an entire sport.

If we are going to make cuts the right way, DAPER needs to provide a more full public accounting. According to the Michigan Daily (http://www.michigandaily.com/ content/2009-04-20/other-ivory-towers), DAPER is looking to cut 5-8 varsity sports. This savings of $125,000-$240,000 is dwarfed by the potential savings available from deep or full cuts to MIT’s PE programs. More importantly though, cuts to the PE program allow for savings that properly prioritize all students’ athletic experience at MIT, since it is unclear what unique value PE classes hold to students.

Dwight Chambers is a member of the Class of 2007.