Communication to Bargaining Unit Faculty, May 18, 2020
The University of Akron just announced $4.4 million in cuts to athletics, which President Miller has said amounts to 23 percent of the athletics’ budget[emphasis added].
Although we are relieved that the administration acknowledges that the university’s level of athletics’ spending is (and has been) unsustainable, we still have questions regarding the proposed cuts. We also question whether these cuts are enough, given the current crisis.
UA has budgeted $27,940,000 for athletics this year, with the latest projection that the general fund will provide $19,538,818 of this budget — with the rest coming from revenues generated by the athletic department (as indicated in the April Board actions, this “revenue” includes approximately $600,000 in football ticket purchases on a biennial basis from the general fund*). There are two essential points to make about the athletic budget. First, although this has not been made clear, it appears that the $4.4 million cut is 23 percent of the general fund subsidy and not 23 percent of the overall athletic department budget. A 23 percent cut of the whole athletic department budget would be more than $6.4 million. Are all campus units’ cuts only based on the subsidy that they receive from the general fund? Or, are there different rules for different units? More transparency would help bring additional trust to what is already a painful process.
We’ve previously noted the cuts to the instructional and research funding, and the growth of funds to athletics. Here that chart is again:
The second key point to make is documented in a March 2nd article in cleveland.com w
hich showed that The University of Akron students finance athletics at a higher rate than any other state university in Ohio. Meanwhile, student attendance at UA athletics’ events is among the lowest in its division according to NCAA reports.
Source: Rich Exner, Cleveland.com
The administration maintains its commitment to staying in FBS Division 1 of the Mid-American Athletic Conference–which is what drives spending on athletics. The administration maintains that it would be too costly to get out of the ESPN contract, that donors in the community want us to keep Division 1 status, that Division 1 athletics is important for student recruitment, and that many students benefit from athletics’ scholarships.
These reasons may have some validity despite the administration’s historic and current failure to prove that students come to The University of Akron because of its Division 1 athletics programs.
But what are our priorities as a university? How can we keep cutting the learning and research mission to fund athletics when our academic programs are the real reason students come here? How many students come here because we have Division 1 athletics? Shouldn’t our priority be our students’ education and the quality and value of their credentials when they graduate?
If we are truly all making sacrifices here, why isn’t it acknowledged that the instructional and research side of the equation has already been cut drastically as a result of the Academic Program Review, faculty buyouts, and hiring freezes, and that perhaps other areas of the university must now make the greater sacrifice for the good of the institution?
Has the university explored all the options, looked at all the ways it can find cost savings while safeguarding its academic mission and its revenues?
What is required now is a serious discussion about what is necessary in order to help The University of Akron emerge from this crisis the strong academic institution this region needs and deserves. Cutting students’ programs hurts the university. Cutting the ability of the remaining programs to meet the needs of our students hurts the university.
We have asked–and continue to ask–for the data that show protecting auxiliary spending while cutting the core of the university — revenue-generating academics– will solve the university’s problems. Until we have that, we will continue to rely on our own knowledge of what our students need.
Akron-AAUP has a long history of partnering with the administration to solve problems. Ultimately, we all have the same goal: to ensure that The University provides quality academic programs for the benefit of our students and the region for the next 150 years and beyond.
We rise together!
The Communications Committee of Akron-AAUP
*The NCAA requires all football teams in its FBS Division (FBS replaced Division IA, but commentators frequently still use the term Division I) to “Average at least 15,000 in actual or paid attendance for all home football contests over a rolling two-year period.” Because the team does not sell enough tickets or have enough fans attend games to meet this criterion, the University uses its general fund to “buy” tickets from the Athletic Department. The Athletic Department, as an auxiliary with a sales account, can then claim these purchases as revenue when they essentially are a budget transfer from the general fund. It strains credulity to claim that there is strong community support for remaining in Division I while at the same time not having the community support needed to buy enough tickets to football games to remain Division I.
Some further reading:
Reductions to Athletics – Your Union Responds