WSU administrators have asked students to consider paying an additional $50 per semester to help bring the athletic department into the black.
Washington State University’s president has introduced a plan to balance the budget of the school’s insolvent athletic department.
But a piece of that plan has some students in an uproar.
Administrators have asked students to consider paying an additional $50 per semester to help bring the athletic department into the black. The department has been operating at a $13 million deficit since 2014, partly because of higher coaching salaries, an expensive new football facility and lower-than-projected TV revenue.
“With the athletics department messing up and not being able to budget properly, it’s not fair for students to have to pay for that,” said Jordyn Beckford, a senator in the student government. “No student wants to pay more. With tuition, books, mandatory fees, it’s already really expensive.”
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In an interview Monday, WSU President Kirk Schulz said the $50 fee is “a really modest piece” of the broader plan, which he and athletic director Bill Moos presented to the board of regents last week. The plan, which aims to make the athletic department solvent by 2020, involves increased support from the university, doubled spending from the Cougar Athletic Fund and revenue from proposed beer sales at Martin Stadium.
Projections say the student fee would generate between $1.7 million and $1.9 million annually. It would apply each fall and spring semester to undergraduates on the Pullman campus, who currently pay $1,255 in mandatory fees each year for services such as transit and the campus recreation center. In-state tuition is $9,884 a year, a figure that doesn’t include room and board.
The prevailing sentiment among students, based on numerous social-media comments, is that they’re unfairly being asked to “bail out” the athletic department for financial decisions in which they had no input.
An editorial in the student newspaper, The Daily Evergreen, says the proposal “rewards financial irresponsibility.” And one student wrote a letter to that paper, likening the athletic department to a greedy restaurant patron: “When was the last time you went to an expensive steakhouse, ordered more food than you needed and gave the bill to a stranger on the street?”
Schulz, a former chairman of the NCAA board of governors who has been on the job since June, said his office has received complaints from students and parents who help foot their bills. But it’s not up to him whether the proposal moves forward.
Instead, the Associated Students of WSU must decide whether students should vote on the fee in a November referendum. Beckford said it is unlikely her fellow student senators will give it a chance.
“The students have to decide whether it will even go to a vote,” Schulz said. “I think there’s been a lot of reaction like this is a done deal, when it’s far from that.”
Some professors decry WSU’s focus on sports, said A.G. Rud, a philosophy professor who is chairman of the faculty senate.
“A lot of teachers in the humanities feel marginalized,” partly because of increasing focus on science and engineering fields, and partly because of outsized spending on athletics, Rud said.
He noted more than half of WSU faculty members are adjunct, meaning they have short-term contracts. Last year, when football coach Mike Leach made $2.95 million, the highest-paid adjunct professor at WSU made less than $104,000.
Rud considers himself a Cougars fan, but said game days should never interfere with coursework. That’s what happened Oct. 31, 2013, when afternoon classes on a Thursday were canceled to facilitate crowds for a home game against Arizona State.