Student fees also help pay for major capital improvements. That's what happened at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, where fee income covered more than half of $76-million in recent construction, including a new football stadium and major renovations to the basketball arena—both completed this year—and an academic-services building for athletes. (The city of Carbondale chipped in $20-million for the project, and athletics raised $10-million in private donations.)
The projects coincided with cuts on the Carbondale campus—$13-million as of last year—and across the state, as Illinois lawmakers grappled with one of the worst budget deficits in the nation. William Recktenwald, a senior lecturer in the university's journalism school who serves as president of Southern Illinois's Faculty Senate, says the new buildings for sports raised a few eyebrows on the campus—especially as employees took furlough days and fretted over the possibility of layoffs: "We were very hard-pressed. At that point, when you're taking unpaid days, people say, 'Well, gee, they could afford a new stadium,'" he says. "We're not a rich school."
Mark Scally, the athletic department's chief financial officer, defends athletics' growth and the methods used to pay for it. "There isn't any money that we're using for this project that they could use for the department of history," he says. "It wasn't like we were taking food out of their mouths to do this."The typical response: money for my priority is different from money for your priority. Well, let's see. They are obviously taking it out of the mouths of our students in the form of student fees: fees for Saluki Way and for the regular operating budget. In 2009-2010, the last year for which I've found figures (on the very handy USA Today "College athletics finance database"), the athletics department ran a surplus. But 40.8% of its revenues came from student fees, and 14.7% from "direct institutional support" and 5.3% from "indirect facilities and administrative support" from the university. That means that more than 60% of their budget came from dollars that could have gone elsewhere. By contrast, only 7.4% came from ticket sales, and 20.4% from contributions.
Add to the financial burden the cost to academic morale on campus, and the cost to SIUC's image. We once had a solid party-school reputation. Then we made a play for a sports school reputation. Now, supposedly, we are promoting the excellence of our academic programs. While cutting funding for them and pouring money into athletics. Sounds like a winning plan to me.
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