Athletics in the Crosshairs - Again - at Dartmouth
by, 02-02-2010 at 11:40 AM (3010 Views)
The world of higher education continues to get rocked by the financial meltdown of 2008, and at private schools around the country college staffs - some facing severe budget cuts - keep looking at the budgets of the athletic programs and wonder if they should be dropped.
Dartmouth of the Ivy League has been on the battle lines of "faculty vs. athletics" for quite some time now - and with a recent announcement that [URL="http://thedartmouth.com/2009/11/16/news/layoffs"]layoffs are on the way[/URL] in order to implement $100 million in budget cuts over the next two years, faculty members recently struck back. In an [URL="http://thedartmouth.com/2010/01/26/news/letter"]open letter to Dartmouth's president Jim Yong Kim[/URL], a group of 75 faculty members made it clear how they feel:
[QUOTE]English professor Ivy Schweitzer, who also helped organize the effort, quoted an excerpt from Kim’s letter that represented the underlying goals shared by the administration and the faculty, she said.
“We are committed to identifying savings that minimize job losses while also protecting our competitiveness and guaranteeing a rich Dartmouth experience for our present and future students,” Kim said in the response, according to Schweitzer.
The letter outlined a series of proposals that the authors argue could help preserve jobs, including freezing construction projects, [B][I]cutting back on spending for athletic programs[/I][/B], distributing pay cuts across senior faculty and administrators and selling off College assets. It also expressed concerns about unpaid furloughs instituted by the College that would reduce work and health coverage to nine months annually for employees and the practice of subcontracting services to non-Dartmouth employees, according to the letter.[/QUOTE]
While the letter stopped short of calling for the abolishment of any sports programs - only "cutting back on spending" - Dartmouth's football team has been a very sensitive subject over the past decade as the former college dean of admissions, Karl Fursterburg, wrote a letter on a Dartmouth letterhead [URL="http://www.petitiononline.com/Dmouth/petition.html"]praising D-III Swarthmore for discontinuing their football program[/URL]:
[QUOTE]Furstenberg wrote: "I am writing to commend you on the decision to eliminate football from your athletic offerings. Other institutions would do well to follow your lead. I wish this were not true but sadly football, and the culture that surrounds it, is antithetical to the academic mission of colleges such as ours.” [/QUOTE]
Were the teachers targeting the football team? While football isn't the most expensive sport per student on campus (news flash: that would be the [URL="http://ope.ed.gov/athletics/InstDetails.aspx?756e697469643d31383236373026796561723d32303038267264743d322f322f323031302031323a32333a343820504d"]men's ice hockey team[/URL]) the Big Green do sponsor 34 varisty sports - typical for the Ivy League, but becoming more atypical for small, private institutions. And while Dartmouth's total of $1.8 million spent on football is not all that pricey compared to other FCS institutions - you have to believe "cutting back on spending" have to be a thinly veiled proposal for "cutting".
Fortunately, saner heads appear to be prevailing, such as [URL="http://thedartmouth.com/2010/02/01/sportsweekly/glenn"]this editorial comment by [I]The Dartmouth[/I]:[/URL]
[QUOTE]These professors, of course, are not the first to come up with the idea of saving money by scaling back athletics, or by finding alternative sources of funding for them. Don Mahler, a sports columnist for the Valley News, proposed in late December that some or even all of the “minor sports” at Dartmouth (that is, not football, hockey and basketball) take on the funding model that saved the swimming and diving program in 2002: private donors. He thinks that the College could continue to enjoy the benefits of its 34 varsity sports without footing the bill, instead putting their fates at the whim of each team’s ability to scrape together $250,000 every year from its “Friends” donation program.
The only positive thing I can say about this plan is that at least Mahler recognizes that the teams shouldn’t cease to exist. But how does he think Dartmouth will have any shot of attracting the top talent in the Ivy League when prospective athletes are being asked to commit four years to a team that — barring the sustained generosity of its donors — might not be around by the time that recruit returns from his DOC Trip? The short answer is that it will be very difficult, and probably even tougher for the coaches splitting their off-season time between recruiting and fundraising to save their own jobs.
[B][I]The real value of athletics to Dartmouth is something I think that these 75 professors and even Mahler fail to recognize — the gifted, multidimensional students who choose to attend Dartmouth because of its athletic opportunities.[/I][/B][/QUOTE]
There's some more interesting food for thought from some faculty members with a different point of view, too, that busts the myth that eliminating athletics will fix the problems:
[QUOTE]“I don’t agree with it at all,” economics professor David Blanchflower said of the letter. “I’m afraid it doesn’t take into account the realities in the marketplace — we are in the middle of the greatest financial crisis in a hundred years.”
Blanchflower pointed out the absence of any professors of economics and hard sciences or faculty at the business school on the list of signatories. The majority of signatures are from members of the humanities departments, which did extremely well under the previous administration, he said.
“President Kim is quite right and he has to deal with the economic realities,” Blanchflower said.
Colleges and universities are often personnel-heavy relative to other types of organizations, with as much as 80 percent of the budget spent on employee costs, according to Jane Wellman, executive director of the Delta Project on Postsecondary Education Costs, Productivity and Accountability.
“That’s the lion’s share, by a long shot,” Wellman said. “You have to make changes in personnel in order to restructure costs. No other option.”
During the 2009 fiscal year, Dartmouth spent roughly [B][I]$438 million[/I][/B] on employee salaries and benefits — more than 59 percent of its total budget, according to the College’s 2008-2009 financial statement.
Measures short of restructuring — renegotiating contracts and leases, or reducing energy costs through conservation — are good management decisions, but are not enough to “save huge gobs of money,” Wellman said.
Making the College’s administrative structure more efficient could also result in significant savings, according to David Blanchflower, a Dartmouth economics professor and former member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee. Blanchflower recently called on the College to implement aggressive cuts to avoid future financial shortfalls in a column in The Dartmouth.
“There’s been a significant growth in non-faculty staff, a nearly unsustainable increase,” Blanchflower said. “That would certainly be something you could look at.”[/QUOTE]
Look at that number again: $438 million on employee salaries and benefits. Saving $1.8 million that goes towards giving students an opportunity to attend an Ivy league school won't even come close to balancing [I]those[/I] books. Athletics appears to once again is a popular target by academics at Dartmouth, but even if they eliminate it all - it won't come close to balancing the books.