Two unrelated events -- the cancellation of a planned middleweight championship fight between Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Andy Lee on June 16 in El Paso, Texas, for security reasons, and a highly lauded academic book that studies the rate at which college students learn -- may turn out to be not so unrelated.
Only minutes before a news conference at the Sun Bowl in El Paso on Tuesday to formally announce the fight, promoter Bob Arum was told Francisco Gonzalez Cigarroa, the chancellor of the University of Texas system, had canceled the bout. In a statement released by his office on Tuesday, Cigarroa said, "The Sun Bowl on the UTEP campus is not the appropriate venue for this event."
Arum was instantly skeptical and on Tuesday, told the El Paso Times that though he didn't know what was going on, he was certain it wasn't a security issue regarding the Mexican border town.
High security is code for something else. You figure it out. The problem was not with UTEP. This university has been great. The fight will happen June 16, and the fight will happen in Texas. Unfortunately, it may not be in El Paso.
On Wednesday, a news conference in El Paso was held in which the mayor, the city manager, the police chief, the sheriff and an FBI representative all said they were unaware of any security threat and that the Sun Bowl is safe to host the card. Ramiro Cordero, a spokesman for the U.S. Border Patrol, told the Associated Press that the agency has received no specific threats or intelligence indicating violence in El Paso related to the fight.
U.S. Rep Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas) of El Paso sent a letter to Cigarroa demanding an explanation and praising the city's safety record.
El Paso is the safest large city of over 500,000 in the country. In El Paso, we pride ourselves in hosting large functions, dignitaries, heads of state, and ambassadors. I am disappointed with the UT Administration's decision to cancel the Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. sporting event and have contacted UT Chancellor Dr. Francisco G. Cigarroa to express my concern. During my conversation with Dr. Cigarroa, I suggested our local law enforcement agencies, the El Paso County Sheriff's Office and the El Paso City Police Department, meet with the UT System Police Office of the Director of Police to address any concerns Dr. Cigarroa may have in regards to hosting the sporting event in El Paso. I have also reached out to the El Paso Intelligence Center and asked for a threat assessment of the City of El Paso. Finally, I asked Dr. Cigarroa that he reverse his decision immediately. I have an open invitation to all the UT Board of Regents and Dr. Cigarroa to visit El Paso so they can see for themselves the beauty and life of our great and safe city
Arum told Yahoo! Sports he thinks he's unraveled the issue behind the cancellation. His son, Richard, is a prominent professor of sociology and education at New York University who co-authored a heavily praised book, "Academically Adrift," that New York Times columnist David Brooks called "a landmark study." According to the Washington Post, the book found that 36 percent of students made no significant learning gains from freshman to senior year.
Though the University of Texas was not one of the 24 schools that was examined in Arum's book, Richard Arum was critical of Texas' performance in comments to The Post.
The seniors have spent four years there, and the scores have not gone up that much.
When Bob Arum was telling his son at a meal in New York on Wednesday about the odd circumstances surrounding his fight's cancellation, Richard Arum's jaw dropped. He immediately thought of his book and his critical remarks regarding the University of Texas.
"This is a crazy situation," Richard Arum told Yahoo! Sports. "It's hard for me to believe it's connected to my criticisms and the book. However, the timing of things is an incredible coincidence."
Bob Arum said he's given university officials until the end of the day Thursday to reverse the ruling. If they do not, he has a deal ready with the Toyota Center in Houston to move the fight, which is for the World Boxing Council middleweight title, there.
"They had this big press conference in El Paso and all the city leaders were there and everyone, including the FBI, said there isn't a security problem related to this fight," Bob Arum told Yahoo! Sports. "My son had been criticizing the University of Texas system and this is all retribution against me because my son told the truth about what is happening there in their education system."
Cigarroa could not be reached for comment. His office pointed to the statement it released Tuesday announcing the cancellation.