Eastern Washington University leaders have declined a faculty request for an independent analysis of the school’s spending on sports programs.
In a statement Friday, President Mary Cullinan and the board of trustees said the university “will not be moving forward with an independent review of EWU athletics.”
“We believe the athletics organization is moving forward in a positive way with their budget alignment and plan the (board of trustees) approved two years ago, and we believe under Lynn Hickey’s leadership it will continue to do so,” the statement said. “The board of trustees is obliged by law to continuously review the athletics budget, and we take that obligation very seriously.”
David Syphers, a physics professor who serves as treasurer of EWU’s Faculty Organization, delivered a presentation to Cullinan and the trustees on Thursday, arguing millions of dollars spent on athletics would be better spent on academic programs. He asked Cullinan and the trustees to hire consultants to analyze the athletics budget and make recommendations.
Syphers and three other EWU professors previously authored a report that suggests the university rein in spending by eliminating football or moving the school to a lower NCAA division, among other options.
Faculty members began airing frustrations over athletics last year as EWU’s administration began reorganizing colleges and academic departments to address a $3.6 million budget shortfall – a process that involved layoffs.
In their statement, the trustees said they are “committed to asking questions and hearing feedback from all areas and groups to understand and guide our university’s future.”
They said they look forward to hearing feedback from a recently established Student Success Academic Committee and “all the new and innovative ideas that the faculty have in helping and ensuring success for our students today and in the future.”
The statement did not address any specific concerns raised by faculty members, such as the athletic department’s reliance on student fees and tuition revenue, or the lower cost of sports programs at similar institutions like Central Washington University.
Faculty members also have disputed claims by EWU administrators that athletics help the university enroll and retain students.
Kelly Evans, a librarian who serves as president of EWU’s Faculty Organization, said in an email Friday: “The Faculty Organization leadership continues to believe that Eastern Washington University needs a review of the degree of athletics expenditure, done by a third-party expert who is not affiliated with the NCAA.”
Syphers, in an email, said the growing cost of EWU’s sports programs is unsustainable and the trustees should be more proactive in addressing the problem.
“If they believed that the data and an independent, expert analysis would support their current funding levels for athletics, I would have expected them to wholeheartedly embrace such an analysis,” Syphers wrote, adding that such a review would have cost “a very small fraction of what we annually spend on athletics.”
“I can only conclude that they are afraid that an independent expert will disagree with their current course, and they’ll have to contemplate large changes,” he wrote.
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