The Game of Life, a book by Williams Bowen and James Shulman that sparked much of the athletic discussion at Williams and other colleges, suffers from “anti-market” and “liberal” bias and its authors have no moral vision except for “academic snobbery,” according to Hal Scott, the Nomura Professor of International Financial Systems at Harvard Law School.
Scott wrote his critique – “What Game Are They Playing?” – for “The Journal of College and University Law.” In his article, Scott argues the book was an “attack by the liberal elite on the values of more conservative and less ‘high brow’ athletes.”
According to Scott, the book’s main flaw lies in its attempt to impose a college vision on a society that largely demands a different paradigm. “In the authors’ view, the sole aim of every college and university should be to ‘educate’ students in academic disciplines,” he said. “Most students have some non-academic objectives at college, such as making friends and having an enjoyable social life, living in a pleasant environment and preparing for a career of earning a living.”
In reality, Scott wrote, there is little demand for the Shulman-Bowen college or university model. “Williams has a crown jewel in its athletic program,” Scott told the Record. “My basic view is if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Scott said Williams should be proud of its ability to attract students interested in athletics and the attacks on the athletics department over the last couple of years have “engendered anxieties and hostilities that were unnecessary.”
Scott also argued that athletes, who are typically more conservative than other students, serve an important function by counterbalancing the liberal bias of the faculty and student body. “Despite the authors’ implications, there is nothing ‘intellectually’ wrong with liking capitalism, majoring in economics and wanting to make money. If the authors got their way, athletes and the conservative point of view they represent, would be less likely to infect the “elite” at the “elite” schools,” Scott wrote.
He also criticized the authors for suggesting schools should “act in concert” to de-emphasize athletics, which would raise serious antitrust issues.
According to Scott, Schulman and Bowen’s liberal bias becomes clear, if one compares the findings of The Game of Life with the findings of a book on affirmative action, Shape of the River, written by Bowen and Derek Bok.
“It is almost comical to see Bowen and Bok blaming the colleges and universities in The Shape of the River for underperformance of minorities,” Scott said, “while blaming ‘jock culture’ and not schools for the underperformance of athletes.”
One of the main questions raised by The Game of Life is whether colleges waste resources on athletics that could be better used serving educational goals. By this logic, Scott asks why colleges do not spend resources on anyone who doesn’t have a 1600 SAT score or 4.0 GPA.
One of the main issues raised last year by the Ad Hoc Committee on Athletics concerning athletics at Williams was that the supposed benefits of an athletic program are largely being taught to students who the College recruited because of their athletic accomplishment. Therefore, according to the report, the lessons are not as available to the average Williams student.
Scott said he did not have enough knowledge of the specific situation at Williams to comment directly, but conceded, “if it were true that a very high percentage of a given team were all ‘tipped,’ then there may be a problem.”
He also said statistics presented by the Ad Hoc committee regarding athletes’ effect on the College were not particularly problematic. The Ad Hoc Committee found 52 percent of Division Two faculty members â€“ the academic disciplines athletes tend towards â€“ felt athletics detracted from the academic mission of the College.
Similarly, 42 percent of students who do not participate on a varsity team felt athletics detracted from the educational mission of the College.
“Maybe they don’t like [varsity athletes’] point of view,” Scott said. “Maybe they don’t like the fact that they are not intellectual, which means being speculative, rather than being interested in ‘just give me the facts, ma’am.’”
Scott also questions why The Game of Life had such a profound impact on the nation’s colleges and universities. According to Scott, the book was a significant factor in Swarthmore’s decision to eliminate its football team. He said the book’s sponsor, the Mellon Foundation, is largely responsible for its influence.
The Mellon Foundation, of which Bowen is president and Shulman is Financial and Administrative Officer, is a multi-billion dollar foundation committed to funding higher education and scholarships. Scott argues the influence of the Mellon Foundation cannot be differentiated from the influence of the book.
“In my view, the influence of the book is largely because of the Mellon connection rather than the quality of the research,” he said. “Mellon is a powerful force in higher education and when Mellon speaks, universities and colleges must listen.”
In his article, Scott also specifically referenced the relationship between President Schapiro and Mellon. Scott says Schapiro has been funded by Mellon and “regards Bowen as a mentor.”
Schapiro said the book has received attention because of Bowen’s reputation in academia, just as his books on diversity, graduate education and governance did, but rejected the idea there was anything else at play.
“The idea that college presidents live in fear of the Mellon Foundation â€“ and will do something that is not in the interest of their institutions in order to curry favor with an outside group â€“ is as ridiculous as it is insulting,” Schapiro said.
He also said Williams had been grappling with the issue of the proper role of athletic ability in admissions decisions “long before any book came out and will continue to do so long after it is out of print.”
Ultimately, Scott said The Game of Life is not about the game of life. “In attending games at Williams, I have often passed by the following plaque on a facility on Cole Field. . .which reads ‘Dedicated To The Women Athletes And Their Coaches Who Strive Together To Be The Best They Can Be. A Lesson Learned On Cole Field But useful In The Game Of Life.’ It could not be said better,” he wrote.
Scott will be debating Shulman on the issues raised in The Game of Life and his response on Nov. 22 at Harvard University as part of Harvard’s celebration of the 150th anniversary of its athletic program.
Attempts to reach Shulman for comment for this article were unsuccessful.