Friday, September 16, 2016

UA Regents get one right, and then go bad wrong ...

Friday's "First Post" by Alaskans for Sustainable Budgets: Surprised, stunned, disappointed, wonder if the Regents truly understand the state's fiscal situation .... What's the appropriate set of words for this.

"Of all the budget proposals created in the first wave of the Strategic Pathways process, the university athletics programs face the most severe cuts of any program. Of the three options presented by the athletics working group, none would keep all sports at all campuses."

In response, "[t]he regents were nearly universally in favor of keeping athletics a part of UAF and UAA .... The regents went a step further, approving a motion directing Johnsen 'to develop options allowing the university to avoid elimination of athletic programs. ... UAA’s athletics budget costs about $5.2 million in state funding ... UAF’s programs cost about $3.3 million in state funding ...."
Regents plan to minimize sports cuts, https://goo.gl/6vKe6k
The resulting $8.5 million in state funding? That's fully 7% of the level of overall state funding the UA system would (should) receive if funded at the average/student level received by its own, self-selected peer institutions. Looking to peers for guidance, state funding to UA system should be cut much more deeply, https://goo.gl/nR2sne.

President Johnsen's recommendation and the Board's approval of the consolidation of the University's teacher education programs into a single program deserve significant credit. But the Board's response on the athletics program undoes a lot of that.

In our view, that's the same sort of knee-jerk reaction that resulted in building UAA's $100+ million state funded Alaska Airlines Center which if the money had been saved instead, would be spinning off about $7 million/year in revenue or roughly enough annually to fund 70 teachers. Frankly, we thought this Board of Regents was better than that.

The sad thing is as state funding for the University continues to decline over the next few years -- as it must and will as state spending generally declines to long-term sustainable levels -- athletics funding will eventually be cut down -- and probably sooner than later -- to the size better reflective of what the state can afford.

By attempting to delay the inevitable now, the Board simply is setting the stage for jettisoning instead worthwhile academic programs that otherwise might have been retained in the meantime.

Regent Mary Hughes argues for retaining athletics funding for this reason: “It’s this whole sense of place. It’s not just the athletes — it’s athletes, the people who want to go into debate, the clubs, the sororities, the fraternities, that makes up a campus,” Regent Mary K. Hughes said. “... these 10 or 12 people on a team ... is what a college is all about.”

In our view, that's just wrong. College first and foremost is about academics. And the sooner the Board faces up to that fact and funds appropriately, the better off we will be.