I’m not exactly sure how I did it, but I booked the my trip to Edinburgh with three connection (pretty sure it was to save YSU some money). So today I get to travel from Akron to Chicago; Chicago to Toronto; Toronto to Edingurgh.
I got to start my trip old school-no walkway, 6′ cabin height, and three seats per row. The only things missing were a couple of propeller props on the plane.
After a brief stop in at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, it was off to Pearson in Toronto for another short layover. It has been years since I have been to Canada, and to Tim Hortons. Unfortunately they were so busy I wasn’t able to get some of the strangely addicting coffee (I’ll try again on my return trip).
[Note: An earlier version of this post mistakenly listed the cost of cell phones at $175,000. The actual number is $17,500. Also, it is 44% of overhead lights and not 48% that require replacing.]
In 1939 Robert Hutchins, then president of the University of Chicago made what many would see as a radical move. He abolished the football team “citing the need to focus on academics rather than varsity athletics.” This move came just four years after the first Heisman Trophy was awarded to a University of Chicago player. Football would eventually return to the university in 1969, but only as a Division III program.
Aside from athletics, the university also instituted what was at the time an innovative approach to undergraduate teaching. These included small discussion based courses, a focus on primary source materials, and an interdisciplinary approach to learning.
What were the effects of these decisions? In the years following Hutchins’s changes, the University of Chicago transformed itself into a world class undergraduate and graduate university.
What does this have to with the current contract talks at Youngstown State University? Everything. For many years those charged with making decisions and setting priorities for the university have lost sight of the purpose of a university—the collecting, creating, and dissemination of knowledge. To illustrate this we need only to look at the supposed $6-$9 million dollar deficit. While it is true that there is a deficit, it is a deficit piggybacked by a $10 million subsidy to the athletic program. A program which saw a nearly 5% increase in its budget this year.
And what has suffered due to priorities set by the board of trustees and the administration? Just those things necessary for an urban research university to function. For example:
The university library is one of the worst funded in Ohio. It is also faced with cutting essential subscriptions such as JSTOR which give faculty and students access to journal articles necessary for their research.
The university has been increasing class sizes while simultaneously decreasing the number of full-time faculty. In some departments adjuncts provide 50% or more of the instruction to students. Theses individuals are often overworked, underpaid and unable to give the attention to students that aids in retention.
While the athletic program receives $17,500 for cell phones, 58% of stage spots and 44% of overhead lights remain unreplaced at the Bliss Recital Hall.
Although digital technology and web-based distance education becomes an ever increasing aspect of higher education, the administration, the university chose to drastically cut the Information Technology Services budget by close to a million dollars.
While student retention is deemed a priority, the university decided to spend $4 million to renovate a house for the university president instead of allocating it for a new or drastically updated student center.
There is no doubt that YSU is facing tough budgetary decisions amidst lower enrollments and drastically reduced state funding. Still, those running the university need to get their priorities in order. If we want to increase our enrollment, and retain students we need to invest in those things that will increase the academic reputation and climate of the university—something a commitment to Division I athletics is not going to do.
In the next few weeks and months Youngstown State is going to be making decisions that will dramatically affect its future. It is convenient to characterize these decisions as strictly financial. Youngstown State is currently facing somewhere around a $6 million deficit. How the University chooses to deal with this deficit is not only an economic decision, but one that defines the very values and principles of the university.
Unfortunately, I fear that the university will fall back on traditional approaches to dealing with this deficit, namely, reduction increasing class sizes, reductions in adjunct instruction, failure to replace full-time faculty positions, and reduction in research and scholarship time. Ironically, cuts in these areas negatively affect the perception and reputation of the university. Rather than approaching the budget deficit by attacking the very foundation of the university, it is time the board of trustees and the administration take a serious look at the two sacred cows of academia: administration and athletics.
According to a report by the Goldwater Institute between 1993 and 2007 the number of students at public universities increased by 14.6%. At the same time the number of full-time administrators increased by 39%. At the same time, instruction, research and service employees at the university increased by a mere 9.8%. So while an increase in university employees may may be required to accommodate the increased student populations, a three-fold accommodations seems excessive if not wasteful. If the board of trustees and administration is serious about cutting waste, then it appears they should begin by looking in their own backyard.
Athletics is the second area that seems to have been immune from budgetary cuts. According to the FY 2013 budget, the intercollegiate athletics will generate $2.9 million in revenue. Yet, the athletic program currently has budget of $11,958,956. In order to maintain our current programs, the university subsidizes the program to the tune of $9,058,167. Now it is true that $4,180,573 goes to scholarships for 395 student athletes. While $10,583 per athlete may not sound like much, if that same money was distributed to students based on need, we could provide over 542 scholarships. And the real cost of these scholarships would be less since each additional student would increase the amount of money received from the state. What is further disturbing about these numbers is the fact that we could achieve many of the financial savings, not by getting rid of the football program, but simply moving down to Division II or III. Without having to provide scholarships, we could get the benefits of ticket revenue without the huge expense.
“Administrative Bloat at American Universities: The Real Reason for High Costs in Higher Eduction” Policy Report No.239 August 17, 2010