Phyllis Wise, UW President and Nike Board Member, Swooshes into Another Controversy

When University of Washington provost Phyllis Wise took a seat on Nike's board of directors late last year, she said it wouldn't be a conflict of interest even though Nike--its trademark Swoosh prominent on UW uniforms--held an exclusive 10-year, $35-million contract to provide apparel, footwear and sports equipment to the Huskies. "Athletics does not report to me" as provost, she said. Except now, as interim UW president, the athletic department does report to her. And there she was last week, bawling out the UW's athletic director for speaking ill of the University of Nike, otherwise known as Oregon.

A sore AD Scott Woodward, likely in anticipation of the drubbing his football Huskies indeed got from the No. 1 Ducks, called Oregon in a pre-game chat a "once-great academic university" that had declined in academic standing while its sports programs were, he implied, getting all the juice. And the juicer--of roughly more than $140 million (including a new $41.7 million athlete's center)--is of course Nike founder Phil Knight, who former WSU coach Jim Walden likes to call the "best owner in college football." (Duck gridders sport not only a Swoosh on their jerseys, but at least five more on their pants, shoes and helmets).

Woodward apologized two days later. But that wasn't enough for Wise, who, as a Nike board member, answers to Nike chairman Knight. The next day, she wrote Woodward requesting he "personally apologize to the president and athletic director at the University of Oregon.'' She herself called UO president Richard Lariviere and apologized to him.

Wise receives about $200,000 annually in Nike compensation; after controversy erupted early this year over her taking the seat, she said she would donate the income to UW programs. That still left her in an embarrassing spot: the UW faculty association, questioning Nike's labor practices, asked her to resign the corporate position, while UW President Mark Emmert was warning Nike its UW contract was at risk due to the mistreatment of workers at two Nike factories in Honduras.

It's no small irony that Wise now thinks Woodward has embarrassed the UW because of criticisms that can be traced to Nike's money. She says her request for an apology has nothing to do with her seat on Nike's corporate board. But as UW instructors asked when Wise took the Nike job, "is she acting as a faculty member, as Provost, or as private citizen?" Or, in this case, as the president of the UW or a director of Nike?

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