By Peter C. Herman
Here we go again.
After a few years of no athletics vs. academics stories (excepting departing San Diego State University President Elliot Hirshman’s trying to hide authorizing a “one time” allocation of $4.7 million toward a new basketball practice facility), we’re back.
On March 22, the trustees of the California State University system reluctantly voted 11-8 for a 5 percent tuition increase. Why? Because there is just not enough money coming in to ensure a quality education. Governor Jerry Brown’s budget proposal gave the CSU less than half of what the system requested, and we have not made up what we lost thanks to the 2011 recession.
Trustee Peter Taylor neatly summarizes the result of state disinvestment: “Our tenure track density is an embarrassment, our worn-out buildings are an embarrassment, our class size is going in the wrong direction…Quality costs money.”
But at the same time the CSU makes its case for increased tuition (which is about half the amount charged at equivalent institutions), SDSU’s Athletic Director, John David Wicker, decides to announce SDSU’s intention to build a new stadium at a cost of up to $150 million.
Of course, SDSU’s proposal is silent on where the money will come from. And then there’s the question of why SDSU would spend so much money for a stadium that will benefit very few people. True, the announced crowds at recent football games is pegged at about 25,000. But “San Diego State officials have acknowledged actual attendance is lower than the announced crowd, which is based on tickets distributed.” While inflating the attendance numbers may be “common practice,” that does not make it right. Or accurate. Let alone the basis of spending a huge amount of money.
But the real question is: how can the CSU claim that we need a tuition increase (which we do) when SDSU is planning to spend $100-150 million on a new stadium? Shouldn’t that money go to benefiting the entire university? Aren’t there more immediate needs?
For example, SDSU claims that it wants to be a major research university. Yet the library’s funding still lags far behind where it should be. Acquisitions are way down, online resources (very expensive) may be cancelled, and the building itself looks increasingly shabby. Arizona State University just announced a plan to spend over $100 million to renovate and revitalize its library. Why doesn’t SDSU do the same? Shouldn’t a library, which serves the entire university and is essential for SDSU’s research ambitions, come first?
And while SDSU has done better recently in hiring tenure track faculty (about 60 a year), spread that number over the entire university, and it does not amount to very much. Imagine what $100-150 million could do for replenishing the ranks of teacher-scholars?
But the most serious problem is that SDSU’s stadium proposal undermines the very real need for increased revenues. If I were the legislature, I’d demand to know why CSU students need to pay more if there’s sufficient cash to spend on a new sports facility. This is like buying a Tesla when you have problems paying for groceries. No doubt, the project’s backers will claim they will rely on private donations, not state funding. But again, the money will go to a luxury while class sizes remain too large, we desperately need new professors, and salaries for both faculty and staff lag way behind where they should be.
Once students can be assured of small classes taught by tenured and tenure-track faculty, the library is appropriately funded, and SDSU can once again afford basic maintenance (the garbage in my office gets picked up only once a week, if that), then maybe we can talk about a new stadium. But not until then.
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