Friday, May 04, 2012

Rutgers University Faces Bigger Problem Than Merger Talk

While New Jerseyeans are questioning the wisdom of Gov. Chris Christie's proposed merger of Rutgers University with Rowan University and reorganizing the state university and Rutgers trustees are opposed to the merger (with caveats), a far more important question needs to be asked of the university and its priorities.

Is the university truly dedicated to teaching the next generation of students or is it an athletic program run amok?

The university has imposed significant fees on all students to help bail out the athletic program, which is costing far more than the program takes in. It's costing every student $1,000 a year to bail out the athletic program.
Rutgers funneled $28.5 million from the university budget and student fees into sports, the most among 54 U.S. public universities in the biggest football conferences, based on data compiled by Bloomberg for the fiscal year ended last June. It was at least the second straight year at the top of the list for the state university of New Jersey, despite cost-cutting after lawmakers and faculty protested that academics were losing out.

“Rutgers puts too much money into athletics at the cost of basically every other department,” said Stephen Sweeney, the Democratic president of the New Jersey Senate, in an e-mail. He applauded efforts by Athletic Director Tim Pernetti to increase revenue. At the same time, he said, “the faculty, student body and the families of students who are supporting them through school simply pay too much.”

Faculty Council’s Demands
Pernetti reduced spending by $4 million, or 6.3 percent, in fiscal 2011. Bloomberg filed open-records requests and obtained financial reports on athletics from taxpayer-supported universities in the six largest football conferences.

The Rutgers belt-tightening wasn’t enough to make up for a drop in revenue from a losing 2010 football season. The school’s faculty council voted March 30 to demand $5 million of cuts in university funding of athletics by fiscal 2016 and a referendum on sports fees required of students. The group called college athletics a financial “arms race.”
Rutgers is hardly alone among schools whose athletic programs are money-grubbing losers, but the scope of the costs at Rutgers exceeds those of other major schools.

The university has spent considerably on expanding its football program, primarily under Greg Schiano, but now that he's gone on to the NFL, one has to wonder whether the football program will remain succcessful, or whether it will fall back into mediocrity and become a permanent drain on the university system. One poor season shows just how that can happen (back in 2010), a series of bad seasons could have significant and permanent damage to the academic programs as well.

This should also serve as a warning to other universities that think that they can make money on their athletic programs (particularly football and to a lesser extent basketball). There's only so much money to go around, and the costs to maintain those programs add up - and with universities limiting their budgets, it will adversely affect their academic programs.

That has to change.

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