"Do we want to send a message that the education of our students is secondary to other interests? We have made a commitment as an institution to accommodate what we do for a living, and that's education," outgoing U. Academic Senate president Patricia Hanna, a professor of linguistics, told her colleagues on Monday.
Two Thursday games are on tap: Aug. 30 with Northern Colorado, and Oct. 4 against the University of Southern California's storied Trojans.
The 2010 invitation to join an enlarged Pacific Athletic Conference brought the U. a much-coveted stage, but not just for sports.
"The Pac-12 is going to provide us a pathway to showcase our academic excellence as well as our athletic strength to a much wider audience," said President David Pershing in a recent video message. But membership in an elite league will also challenge the U. to remain competitive against much better-funded sports programs and to manage weekday football games, required under the league's broadcast obligations.
"We certainly expect some of the largest crowds we've ever seen at the stadium this fall and traffic will no doubt be a major challenge," Pershing said in an email. "With guidance from the Senate, I look forward to exploring the most effective ways to meet our students' academic needs while allowing our loyal fans to enjoy the new Pac-12 competition."
It was then-provost Pershing's decision last year to cancel Thursday classes that triggered faculty objections. Montana State's Bobcats are in a third-tier conference, but that game filled the Rice-Eccles stadium, as most home games do, and Pershing felt he had little choice. In response, the Academic Senate formed a committee to propose procedures for avoiding campus closures. Law professor Wayne McCormack, who helped administrators cope with the 2002 Olympics, chaired the group.
His panel found that Thursday games could disrupt 260 classes, 70 of which possibly could be moved.
One example of a class that falls on gridiron ground zero is the School of Business's Professional MBA program. It meets from 6 to 9 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, coinciding almost perfectly with game time. The graduate business program is designed for working professionals who have little flexibility in their schedules. And the business school is just north of the stadium.
"The idea is people will have plenty of advance notice, and teachers can be flexible. The classes that can't be moved are in the dance studios and in the social and behavioral science labs," McCormack said. "Faculty will be pleased that there will be no cancellations [for football], but there will be disruptions. That's just a fact of life."
Parking is the biggest game day challenge. Many university lots close at noon and must be vacated by permit holders by 2 p.m. to make way for tailgaters and Crimson Club members.
The panel recommended administrators help faculty move classes or modify course schedules and requirements, adjust staff schedules and encourage students and employees to avoid driving to campus on game days.
It also suggested using "nonstandard parking options." Enough space for more than 1,800 cars has been identified on three grassy fields. Using those fields for parking would cost about $15,000 per game in staffing, lighting, signs, painting lines and repairing damaged grass.
Also, campus planners propose requiring that students arriving for late classes park in the engineering lots on the campus' north side.