Evaluating number of personnel key to universities’ survival, guest speaker tells USU faculty

Cost containment is the name of the game when trying to make athletics program and academic budgets work, said William E. Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland during a seminar at Utah State University last week.This includes trimming the number of personnel, such as lecturers and extra “suits” on the football field, he said.Kirwan was invited to the university by USU President Stan Albrecht and gave a series of lectures on the future of research institutions and how to create financially sustainable athletics programs.The Knight Commission, which Kirwan currently co-chairs, issued a report titled “Restoring the Balance: Dollars, Values and the Future of College Sports.””We’re on a mission, and we’re on it because really we think intercollegiate athletics is so important to universities, and we’re just concerned that we are moving to a place that will make it difficult for intercollegiate athletics programs to survive in a competitive kind of fashion,” Kirwan said.When an athletics program overspends their budget, the rest of the money must come from the university, Kirwan said, which takes away from academic programs. Average university subsidy for all Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) programs was about $10.2 million in 2009, which is a 25 percent increase from 2008. Of the 120 programs in the FBS, only 14 programs had operating profits in 2009, which is down from 25 programs two years before.From 2005 to 2009, average spending per student stayed relatively the same, whereas spending on the average student athlete grew noticeably.”So at a time when universities are struggling to make ends meet on the academics side, the rate of expenditure in intercollegiate athletics continues to rise creating a mismatch between the priority, measured by financial investment, in academics versus the investment in intercollegiate athletics,” he saidPart of what is driving up the cost of athletic programs is an increase in non-coaching personnel and support staff. Some football teams go as far as hiring a videographer for its defensive line and another for its offensive line. The average University of Texas assistant coach makes more than $300,000 per year. This kind of spending on coaches and support staff is not sustainable over time, Kirwan said.In order to lessen the gap between athletics and academics funding, all athletics programs would have to be on board for a change, Kirwan said. Greater transparency could help fix the problem. If the public had easier access to financial statements, athletics programs might feel more responsible for tight budgets. Other ways to better athletic programs are to create rewards for schools with strong academic values and treat student athletes as students first. College baseball has a long season, Kirwan said, making it difficult for the student athlete to go to all their classes and focus on school work. Student athletes need to be treated as students, and not as athletic professionals.A few schools seem to be able to generate the funds they want to finance their athletic programs he said. The problem lies with the schools who are not able to generate these funds but still must compete with schools that do, Kirwan said. The school in the FBS with the least amount of sports teams has the largest budgets.”This is the madness we’ve gotten ourselves into,” he saidWhile Top Ten schools have not received the report with much enthusiasm, Kirwan said they recognize that the fiscal disparity between schools threatens their own athletic programs. These athletic giants need other teams to play during the season, so they need other athletic programs to survive. Larger schools are not feeling the problem as much as smaller schools, and Kirwan said they will need to look at the bigger picture beyond their own athletic programs.Kirwan also addressed the importance of research universities to the nation’s future. In this current “fiscal famine,” Kirwan said limited resources jeopardize the work of research institutions.Higher education has “played the tuition card” already, he said, by raising tuition as high as they should. Tuition and fees across the nation have increase 274 percent from 1990 to 2009. However, Utah still has comparatively low tuition, Kirwan said.Kirwan said while the state needs to “step up and meet its responsibilities for funding,” universities must also find ways to create quality education and conserve resources.”70 years ago, my parents’ generation faced a monumental crisis, a global challenge to the future well being of our nation. They rallied together as a nation, brought all of their collective talents to bear, and moved our nation out of harm’s way. Today, we face another global challenge with huge implications for the future well being of our nation. Our generation, the generations reflected in this room, must now step forward. We must rally together and once again move our nation out of harm’s way. And if we are to do so, it will be through the creativity, innovation and work of our research universities,” he said.Cost containment and creating quality education are necessary for a research institution to survive shortfalls in budgets, he said.Personnel accounts for 80 percent of most universities’ budgets, so reducing costs requires looking at personnel issues, he said. The ultimate goal is to reduce dependency on personnel such as adjunct faculty and lecturers. Kirwan said he read that in four-year institutions, more than half the instruction is done by adjuncts. Technology can be used to reduce this dependency on adjuncts, as can increasing the quality of instruction and maximizing class time.Kirwan praised USU for its use of a role statement, which defines the broad responsibilities of a faculty or staff member and sets performance expectations. It shouldn’t be assumed that a faculty member will have the same productivity from day one to retirement, he said, and USU’s role statement is “a model other universities should follow.””At the end of the day, when you get cut to the core, a university is only as good as its tenured faculty, and we can never forget that,” he said.The rest of the world is starting to make huge investments in higher education and research, he said. In order for the U.S. to compete globally, the nation must work smarter with their money and increase the number of people getting college degrees.Despite having to deal with budget cuts, Kirwan said USU’s research, growth and influence has progressed.”Clearly it is an institution that is on the move, and good things are happening here even in a very difficult fiscal climate,” he said. – rachel@cvdaily.com

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