I was shocked last week when I learned that the subsidy for faculty tickets to athletic events was being terminated in order to save the university several hundred thousand dollars per year.
I was neither shocked nor disturbed that the subsidy would end. I feel sympathy for those faculty and retirees who will not be able to purchase tickets without the subsidy, but, frankly, at a time when state government and the universities are undergoing quite significant budget cuts, a subsidy of this sort would be inappropriate. The money should be used for core university functions.
Nor do I blame the KU Athletics Association. If they want to subsidize faculty tickets that would be very nice, but I certainly don’t think that they have any more obligation to underwrite faculty attendance than they do for any other group. I think of KU Athletics as a professional entertainment and sports franchise loosely affiliated with the university. While I might personally wish the situation were otherwise, that’s the way things are; our sports program is highly popular with Kansans, it subsidizes non-revenue student sports, and it is a source of pride to many alumni
What shocked me about last week’s announcement was the fact that for the last two years university funds were transferred to KU Athletics to pay for the faculty discount. What was the university administration thinking when it decided to do this? As I said, if the athletics folks want to give faculty a discount, good for them. It would be a nice gesture. But for the university to transfer unrestricted funds for the discount is, to my mind, evidence of a total lack of perspective and priorities and ranks up there with the administration taking so many people down to Florida for a bowl game.
I sometimes think that university administrators forget that the money they spend is not theirs. It belongs to the people of Kansas and it comes from tuition, state grants, sponsored research, and donations from alumni and friends of the university. It seems to me that the only purpose for which university funds should be spent are those that support the educational, research, and service mission of the university.
It isn’t as though the university or the state had money to waste during the last two years. If one student has to leave the university because he or she cannot afford to continue financially, if one worthy research project must be abandoned for lack of university matching funds, then allocating funds to discounted tickets for athletic events is just remarkably insensitive and wrong.
I know that many faculty members view the ticket discounts as a fringe benefit and a part of their compensation. But regent policy requires that compensation be awarded solely on the basis of merit and not on the basis of who wins the football or basketball seat lottery. If the university wants to provide extra salary to deserving faculty then they should do it openly and in true salary, not hidden subsidies. Further, it was not so long ago that the university administration declined to help reopen the Adams Alumni Center restaurant because it required a subsidy, a subsidy that was far less than the one for ticket discounts. How do we justify subsidies for sporting events but not for an on-campus facility used not only by faculty but also by alumni?
We who work for the State of Kansas and its universities do so for the benefit of the people of Kansas. We deserve to receive fair compensation for the work we do. But, to my mind, there’s no justification for special deals, certainly not those paid for by general university funds. To put it bluntly, I think that the termination of the faculty discount, now that we know it was paid from university funds, is not only the right thing to do, but should have been done two years ago before it ever started.
I hope that the next administration, even when the economy improves, never spends university funds this way again. If Lew Perkins and his senior staff wish to extend a discount to a particular group, whether it be faculty, state police, firemen, K-12 teachers, etc., that is entirely for them to decide and no one ought to expect it. But university funds should only be used to support the educational mission of the university as defined by the regents.
— Mike Hoeflich, a distinguished professor in the Kansas University School of Law, writes a regular column for the Journal-World.