From raising money to help those in need, to petitioning to save McArthur Court from being turned into housing, students at the University of Oregon collectively strive to make the world a better place. However, there have been instances where students have failed to make a difference. Back in 2000, students gathered around Johnson Hall to protest the schools biggest donor, Nike.
In 1998, prior to the school protest, child labor activists urged Nike to raise the age requirement for those working in their factories to 18. Nike gave their word that they would monitor their overseas factories. “Philip Knight, the company chairman, clearly stung by reports of children as young as 10 making shoes, clothing and footballs in Pakistan and Cambodia, attempted to convince Nike’s critics that it had only ever employed children accidentally (admits to mistake).”
When news of Nike’s ill treatment of its workers began to circulate through the media, students at the U of O began to take action into their own hands. Students, as well as some faculty members, believed Nike should be subjected to random factory inspections. The University’s president at the time, Dave Frohnmayer, promised the protesting students that he would make sure that inspections of Nike factories would begin. Nike officals, who were concerned by the former president’s statement, had Frohnmayer visit the Nike’s headquarters in Beaverton, OR to discuss a plan of action.
Nike informed Frohnmayer that they would rescind a $30 million donation for renovations to Autzen Stadium if the protests turned out to damage Nike. When he returned, Frohnmayer told the student’s that although there would be inspections at Nike’s factories, they would notify subcontractors of the factories six months in advance of the exact date of the inspection. Nike’s threat of taking away a donation of $30 million and how quick Frohnmayer changed his mind proves how much power and control Nike has over the school and its administrators.
For the past ten weeks, our group’s blog, University of Oregon and University of Nike, has researched and reported on a subject that is rarely talked about in the open. Nike, and more specifically Nike founder and CEO Phil Knight, has a strong hold on the university’s Athletic Department and the decisions it has to make. Our purpose is to bring this subject into a greater light and show the effects the powerful corporate sponsor has on university decisions. As we discovered throughout this period of keeping a blog, there is little to no information out there about Nike’s secret hold on our university. Also through our blog, we hope to show how Nike’s donations have become focused solely on the athletic system.
During this term, Nike and the University of Oregon agreed on a contract extension through 2018. The University of Oregon released a redacted version of their contract pertaining to Nike’s use of the UO athletics for marketing purposes to Rachel Bachman. This contract had information about the University of Oregon and Nike using the athletes at the UO as a marketing tool. Essentially Nike was producing the University of Oregon with funding for the athletic program and, to some extent, using UO athletes as a tool for their company’s benefit. The UO initially had the rights to the marketing purpose of their athletes with an opportunity to sell or withhold them, as the school would like. The University of Oregon sold marketing rights to Nike at an undisclosed price that was considered to be trade secret. The redacted version had missing information that Bachman thought was important to her research. The UO claimed the redacted information was a “trade-secret” which was protected information under the Oregon law ORS192.502 that states, “Certain public records are exempt from disclosure.” The legal term “trade-secret” according to definitions.uslegal.com, is “a process, method, plan, formula or other information unique to a manufacturer, which has value due to the market advantage over competitors it produces. Use or disclosure of a trade secret by an employee, former employee, or anyone else may be prohibited by a court-ordered injunction.” The information in this contract does not show the university in a negative light as it would for Nike. The University of Oregon has chosen not to disclose this information because it would affect their relationship with Nike in a negative way. In addition to the contract extension with the U of O, Nike, along with generous donations from Knight, have helped transform the visual appeal of the schools athletic department. From uniforms to athletic facilities, Nike has turned the University of Oregon athletic department into one of the best looking and respected athletic departments in the country.
Currently, construction is being completed on the new basketball arena, which upon its completion, will be one of the nicest facilities in the nation. Thanks to a $100 million donation by Knight, the stadium was rushed into construction and is set to be ready for the upcoming season. Also, courtesy of Nike and Knight, student athletes have an up-to-date, all-glass academic facility that makes all other buildings on the UO campus look outdated and out of place.
As of recently, the UO athletic department, with the charitable help of Knight and Nike, has plans to build a new football operations center near Autzen stadium. These plans, which were approved by the State Board of Higher Education on June 4th, require building on the current site of the UO soccer and lacrosse field. The approval by the board allows a private group financed by Nike co-founder Phil Knight to sidestep the public process of approval and disclosure of plans. This move allows for Knight and the private group Phit LLC to make the unusual move of leasing the property from the university, building the expansion and then donating the completed project to the university. This process is identical to what happened for the construction of the new student athlete center.
Having Nike become the main decision maker when it comes to things like uniforms and athletic facilities has become an increasing problem. It is not appropriate for a company, who is donating money, to have restrictions on where that money is used on the University of Oregon campus. With students consciously unaware of the ramifications Nike has on the university, the problem will only get worse. Ben Unger, who wrote the article titled University of Nike, puts Nike’s intentions out in the open. “All private money is supposed to make more money. Not one dime of their money is a gift, all of it is an investment.” Unger hits on a great point. Is Nike providing donations for improving the colligate experience for students and athletes or for marketing and revenue increasing?
Students at the University of Oregon have the privilege of watching college sports played in some of the nation’s premier facilities. Autzen Stadium, PK Park and the new Matthew Knight Arena are considered some of college sports most revered venues. With all of this to offer, the school attracts plenty of attention and fills new enrollment quickly on a yearly basis. Students are obviously attracted to the athletic perks of being a student and most of this is courtesy of Nike and Knight. The question that we wanted to answer here is how do students feel about Nike on the university campus?
It is obvious that there is a mixed feeling about Nike that has rather faded away since the incident in 2000. Knight has worked to keep any details about the operations of Nike under tight cover so the athletic products and the sporting facilities mostly dictate opinions about Nike. In an article in The Oregonian, Steve Duin stated, “Students at Oregon have settled for a marvelous lesson in the compromises that must be made in the name of expediency and Phil Knight.” The conflict of interest between Knight and the University quits a lot of students’ negative thinking.
Our blog has worked to cover the topic involving Nike and the University throughout its duration. Nike and the opinions regarding its interactions with the university have evolved over time. However, the influence that Nike has on campus decisions has not changed much. As it stands, Nike will be an influence on campus for a long time. Student awareness of the company and Knight’s actual influence on campus is something that will continue to evolve. With the national perception of the university influenced so heavily by Nike students should be inclined to pay more attention to the acts of the company.