Board of Regents debate student athletic fee increase

Jessica Voorhees

The increase in the student athletic fee as part of the proposed 2015-16 tuition and fees schedule spurred a passionate debate at the Board of Regents meeting Friday, April 24.

The student athletic fee will increase from $212, which it was from 2012 to 2015, to $218 next school year. 

Faculty Regent Barbara Burch motioned to discuss the tuition and fees schedule before the actual motion to pass it.

Burch said Faculty Senate and SGA both motioned to remove the athletic fee during their sessions because it unfairly singles out the department for extra funding at a time when every department on campus is suffering from university budget cuts and low enrollment as well. 

“The dropping student enrollment has a very negative impact on athletic funding,” she said. “But it’s had a negative impact on funding across the campus, and I think it’s not sending a very good message to single out athletics to increase that fee at a time when everybody else is suffering in the same way.”

Student regent Nicki Taylor said in the SGA motion to oppose the increased athletic fee, 15 students voted in favor of opposing the fee, because now that athletics is part of Conference USA it will generate more funds. 

Taylor said 10 voted for the institution of the fee because of enrollment decreases and budget cuts. 

Burch also said 70 percent of athletic funding that is not foundation supported is subsidized by WKU.

“That is the third highest of all the subsidies the university provides,” she said. “I just do not see how we can find a case for subsidizing when everything else on campus is being equally affected by the change in enrollments.”

Burch said $68,000 in salary increases for athletic coaches for next year will come out of the education and general Budget.

“At a time when athletics is saying the enrollment drop is making it difficult to get by, being able to put forth $68,000 in salary increases out of E and G doesn’t make sense,” she said.

Todd Stewart, director of athletics, said there will be no increased spending in football salaries for 2015, and Burch made an incorrect assessment of the allocation of those funds. 

Ann Mead, senior vice president for finance and administration, said the increased student athletic fee from $212  is not a budget increase for athletics, but rather it will reduce the deficit that they will be required to cover. 

She said any enrollment decline in the past few years impacts the athletic budget.

“When we have reductions in state funding or fluctuations in enrollment requiring us to adjust our budget as we are going to do for next year, athletics participates in that as well,” Mead said. 

Burch said every department is equally affected by the budget reductions. 

“There is probably not a unit on campus that would not like to return to the 2010-11 budget, so you could call it deficit covered, but the fact is everybody has [the same problem],” she said.

Other fee increases for 2015-16 include the $30 parking structure fee and the $2 increase in the student centers fee.

Burch said she does not oppose the student center fee increase because Downing Student Union recently underwent construction and doesn’t have revenue-generating capacity as athletics does. 

“I think that’s prioritizing athletics in a way that’s not healthy for us,” she said. 

The board approved the 2015-16 tuition and fees schedule despite three votes against it coming from Burch, Taylor and Harris. 

“All in all, I think there is strong feeling among faculty on this campus [that] this singles out one unit for increase, which is dependent on student fees, when no other unit is singled out, and I think that’s not a good message,” Burch said. “I think it’s a priority that takes away from other priorities.”