Faculty Senate resists million-dollar commitment to athletics

Money would account for 10 percent of this year’s deficit; no data for student retention based on intercollegiate athletics



Faculty Senators have been concerned about WSU paying Pac-12 annual membership fees starting in fiscal year 2022.

EMMA LEDBETTER, Evergreen news editor

WSU Faculty Senators expressed concerns during a meeting Thursday that a proposed $2 million to $3 million commitment to help resolve the Athletics budget deficit could harm academic quality. 

Budget cuts have already affected faculty members because many positions are not filled, said Von Walden, senator for the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. This detracts from professors’ ability to teach effectively. 

The $2 million to $3 million would be used to address Athletics’ projected $22 million to $30 million net revenue loss for this fiscal year, according to a presentation from Stacy Pearson, WSU vice president for finance and administration. The current year proposal includes money from a Pac-12 loan program. In future years, the monetary commitment would come from WSU, if the university is able to cover the expense. 

That money would account for about 10 percent of this year’s deficit and about 2 percent of Athletics’ cumulative deficit, Walden said. Athletics has incurred a multi-million dollar annual budget deficit every year for the last decade. On top of that, its budget has been negatively impacted by COVID-19.

Senators have also been concerned about WSU paying Pac-12 annual membership fees starting again in fiscal year 2022, Pearson said. 

The proposal to move the $2 million to $3 million to Athletics was presented to the Board of Regents before it was presented to the Faculty Senate, Walden said. 

“Membership in the Pac-12 has clearly shown to be financially unfeasible for WSU,” Walden said. 

Walden said senators are worried this is just the beginning of Athletics receiving money that could potentially be used for academics. 

WSU President Kirk Schulz said the university chose to invest in intercollegiate athletics before his arrival in 2016. The current leadership inherited debt and has tried to make up the deficit.

The proposed budgetary plan is based on the assumption that participation in intercollegiate athletics increases WSU’s “institutional visibility at a national scale,” which benefits students, faculty and staff, according to the presentation.

“What proportion of our graduating seniors … list, of their own volition, Pac-12 athletics as one of, say, the top three reasons for why they were ultimately successful in graduating?” said Luke Premo, College of Arts and Sciences senator.

That data is not available for WSU, Schulz said. 

Glen Duncan, Spokane Regional Campus senator, said there is no compelling data to support the assumption that funding for intercollegiate athletics increases student enrollment or retention to a greater level than that same funding going to academics.

“Our mission is teaching, research and service — we want to do it to the best of our ability,” Duncan said. “It takes resources to do those three things.”

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to reflect that the proposal for WSU to contribute $2 million to $3 million to Athletics is for future fiscal years, not the current fiscal year.