While I’ve generally been pretty trusting of the University’s plans for the South Campus, I’ve heard a lot of complaints that the University exhibits poor fiscal management. The evidence most people point to is the athletics department deficit. News came today that the deficit was getting paid down far more quickly than expected, as reported by Betsy Cohen in today’s Missoulian and Erin Madison in today’s Kaimin. The story of athletics deficit is an interesting one, in part because I think most people still are unaware of how the deficit was structured or why the fee assessed to students was structured the way it was.
When the athletics deficit became publicly known last year, two different problems quickly became confused in the mind of most of the public (myself included for a while until I made it to a couple meetings with administrators): a structural athletics deficit resulting from inflation and a temporary athletics deficit caused by mismanagement in the department. Historically, the department and its finances didn’t fall under the watchful eye of Bob Duringer, the Vice President of Administration and Finance. But Duringer was in charge of getting the athletics department back on solid footing. The money to do that, in addition to coming from some stepped up donations, had to come from some university sources. As Duringer pointed out, the money probably had to come either from students in the form of a fee increase or by diverting money from other places within the University (like, say, money for hiring adjuncts). The University isn’t allowed to run deficits, so when they might do it, Duringer’s job is to scramble to prevent it.
During has come under fire from students. That really has more to do with his people skills than it does with his financial abilities. I also know that Duringer is more than happy to work with students who ask questions and make suggestions respectfully (how surprising). Like most of us, he doesn’t like being attacked publicly for his ability to do his job, especially when he is often being blamed for issues that weren’t his fault.
That said, it doesn’t surprise me one bit that the athletics deficit is being retired early and that students paying for football tickets is going to be phased out. I was involved in the decision to impose a cost for student tickets as an alternative to steeper general fee increases. Personally, I would still like to see some general relief on this issue before we return to the days of free recreation (although a reduction in those prices is certainly called for). I simply don’t understand why some people on campus complain about the socialized health care costs at Curry Health Center, but want students who don’t go to football games to pick up the tab of students who do.