COMMENTARY: WKU needs to prioritize

Tom Hunley

In a 4/21/13 Los Angeles Times op-ed, Jonathan Zimmerman asks “What if universities declared a moratorium on new construction?” Zimmerman goes on to report members of the NYU community have been protesting $6 billion in proposed new construction that would likely be funded by tuition increases. Sound familiar? Maybe it’s because last week the lead article in College Heights Herald was about how great it is that we have a wonderful new multimillion dollar alumni center, and this week the lead article was about how sad President Ransdell is because the CPE board didn’t grant him the full 5% tuition increase that he thinks he needs in order to balance the budget.  

Zimmerman points out that “Only in recent years did colleges start to resemble country clubs, with a few classrooms thrown in. Competing for students, universities also competed to see who could build the nicest dorms, gyms and stadiums. The expenses were passed on to students, of course, who met rising tuition costs by taking out more loans. Student debt has doubled in the last decade, topping $1 trillion, which is more than the total amount that Americans owe on their credit cards.” 

Maybe we don’t need constant construction of new buildings, including those named after sitting WKU presidents; maybe we don’t need layer upon layer of well-paid administration; maybe we could do without a million-dollar-a-year football coach, and in fact the case could be made that in times of austerity, college sports are a luxury that we can’t afford.  

It seems to me that by remembering that our business is teaching, learning, research, and creativity rather than acquiring land, constructing expensive buildings on that land, and fielding semi-pro sports teams, we could lower tuition below the rates of our competitors, we could give faculty a cost of living raise, and President Ransdell could even make himself into a real national leader by being the first college president to insist on doing right by part-time faculty, who currently live in penury even as they walk past lavish new construction on their way to classes.  If he does that, he will truly deserve that building and the statue that inevitably will be placed in front of it. 

 —Tom C. Hunley

Associate professor of English