The University of Washington has gotten plenty of ink on the sports pages recently. The attention has centered on the question of whether the Huskies will stick with the PAC-12 conference or follow the USC Trojans and the UCLA Bruins into a more lucrative and competitive grouping of college teams.

It is an interesting dilemma, but the fact is that even if the UW did not have a nationally ranked football team — or any team at all — the university’s value to the state would remain immense.

Over the past several years, the football team has had good seasons and bad, but, as an academic institution, the UW has been consistently in the highest rank of universities, not just in the United States, but globally. The Academic Ranking of World Universities recently evaluated 1,000 universities around the globe, and the UW came in 17th best on the planet and third best among American public universities. The university’s atmospheric science program was named No. 1 in the world and the oceanography department was No. 2.

That the home of the Huskies has achieved this level of greatness is quite a feat, given how, for decades, the university has had to fight for funding from state legislators who, too often, seem ignorant of the positive impact of the UW on the state economy. Not only is the university one of this area’s largest employers, the cutting-edge research done at the UW is a major driver of economic innovation and growth for the state.

And it is not just about jobs and money. As a big advocate of the humanities, I would also note the tremendous social benefits of having a world-class university in the heart of our city. Those thousands of Washington students who spend four years (or, in my case, six!) having their minds expanded and challenged by the smorgasbord of knowledge laid out before them in UW classrooms and laboratories become not only better workers and employers, but more enlightened citizens.

In an era when profound ignorance pervades so much of our social and political discourse, that is no small thing.

Go Huskies!

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