Wright State faculty members have sent an angry letter to university leadership, calling WSU’s 2018 budget proposal “disgraceful” and “absurd” because of the emphasis placed on athletic spending.
The letter, bearing the names of 254 faculty members, comes just days before Thursday’s WSU Board of Trustees meeting, where the board is expected to vote on the budget proposal.
The faculty pointed to a $1.6 million proposed budget increase for intercollegiate athletics at the same time that WSU is planning $30 million in cuts, $9.5 million of it at the school’s seven core colleges.
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“Putting athletics on a par with academics and thus before the needs of our students is disgraceful and a gross strategic blunder!” the letter reads. “It continues the misplaced priorities that have characterized WSU spending in recent years and, along with gross mismanagement, led to the present fiscal crisis.”
Doug Fecher, vice chairman of WSU’s board of trustees, said a big issue is the difference between budgeted numbers and reality. He said athletics went over budget by so much in previous years that 2018’s proposed $1.6 million budget increase would result in a $200,000 decrease in actual spending.
“In a comparison of Wright State University athletics against similar schools, Wright State actually spends a fairly modest amount on athletics,” Fecher said. “My belief is that it was never appropriately budgeted. It was budgeted much too low just to make an overall budget work on paper.”
The faculty letter — sent to the WSU Board of Trustees, Interim President Curtis McCray, and incoming President Cheryl Schrader — says spending on intercollegiate athletics totals about $10 million per year, but athletics revenue has been about $2 million. The letter said continuing athletics spending at nearly the same level is “absurd.”
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“We’ve been complaining for more than a decade that they’ve been grossly overspending the athletics budget, basically since we switched to Division I,” said Marty Kich, president of WSU’s American Association of University Professors chapter.
For the second time in two weeks, Fecher left the door open to Wright State leaving Division I — the highest level of college athletics.
“Because athletics is a long-term decision that needs study, let’s put a budget number in that is realistic to what they need to spend to stay at a D-I level this year,” he said. “Then let’s have the conversation about what level they need to be at moving forward.”
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The faculty argued that WSU’s emphasis on athletics does not match student and community interest. Wright State’s most prominent sport, men’s basketball, draws 4,000 fans per game to the 10,400-seat Nutter Center, despite full-time students having access to two tickets to each home basketball game.
“Students come to Wright State looking for a quality education at an affordable price so that they can have rewarding careers rather than McJobs,” the letter says. “Taxpayers expect and need the research of our faculty and students to benefit our communities and foster economic development. None of these objectives are advanced by increasing spending on intercollegiate athletics.”
Fecher said he understands the sentiment of the faculty letter, adding that the university needs more time for long-range planning.
“Right now, the university doesn’t have what I would consider to be a comprehensive strategic plan,” Fecher said. “Athletics would be part of a plan. … After doing the required study, we may decide to make a change in athletics. To do it in 90 days in response to our current financial situation … I would rather take more time to study it in the context of what priorities do we want the university to have?”
Wright State’s Board of Trustees will meet Thursday at the WSU Student Union, with a closed executive session at 7:30 a.m., followed by a public meeting and budget presentation at 8:30 a.m. in the Apollo Room.
WSU Director of Communications Seth Bauguess said the board is reviewing budget comments from the university community, including the faculty letter.