Editor's note: See Thursday's Journal Star for a rebuttal to this Local View.
Shortly before the Ohio State game, the University of Nebraska announced a new $155 million, 350,000-square-foot football complex. Its training table alone will serve about 600 student-athletes, or about 0.002% of the student body.
There are about 150 players on the football roster, who will get the most use of the complex. This project will cost about $258,333 per student-athlete per year. UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green said that “This will put us at the top of the country.”
UNL is a land-grant school whose primary function is education. The football team provides entertainment, same as the NFL; it does not provide education. A majority of the players on the Nebraska football roster are not from Nebraska, and many will leave after they finish playing.
What are we “at the top of”?
Meanwhile. About a mile from Memorial Stadium, is Lincoln’s main public library, Bennett Martin, built in 1962, the oldest mid-20th century public building still in use in Lincoln. Libraries are part of the American system of public education, as is the University of Nebraska,
The Big Ten Conference consists of 14 universities. Lincoln, Columbus, Ohio, and Madison, Wisconsin, are all cities that are the capitols of their state and the home of the flagship state university. All three have national football teams, large stadiums, skyboxes and very highly paid coaches.
But both Madison and Columbus also have new 21st-century public libraries. In fact the home cities of all Big Ten teams, other than Nebraska, have 21st century public libraries. And the home cities of our former conference, the Big 12 (now 10 teams) all have modern 21st-century libraries (save Lubbock, Texas, home of Texas Tech University).
But Lincoln has refused to replace Bennett Martin, for reasons that have never been made clear, despite a decade-long effort by the Library Board of Trustees.
Libraries are not warehouses for paper books, and never have been. They have always been a place where people of all walks of life, regardless of income, can go and become connected to the world of ideas.
It costs a citizen nothing to go into a publicly funded public library. Memorial Stadium is also a public structure, but it costs a minimum of $60 a seat to enter. Do the attendees enter the world of education, the obligation of local government? They enter the world of entertainment, which is not the obligation of local government.
The library nourishes the mind, the obligation of local government. And football games? How do they fit into this picture?
The Board of Regents have approved this proposal.
But let me offer another modest proposal: Suppose the Regents rent Memorial Stadium and sell the Cornhusker brand to the NFL. They would probably raise more money than the $155 million it would cost for the new project; save the $750,000 they are paying the former NU president to raise the $155 million.
They could give, or loan, part of the money to Lincoln for a new city library -- it will only take about $40 million -- and use the rest to increase faculty pay, give scholarships to advance education (which is why the university is there in the first place) and to set up a fund to care for the young men who suffer chronic physical and brain injuries as a result of their years of playing football.
And Nebraska can then stand proud with the other Big Ten cities, all of which seem to balance their duty to educate with the public’s desire to watch football games.
Then Nebraska would really be at the “top of the country.”
Herb Friedman is an attorney who previously served as president of the Lincoln Library Board of Trustees.
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