[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.