Gauging financial priorities: some UK faculty want athletics money put toward school

By Brian Hancock

As debates continue over whether or not UK will build a new basketball arena, some faculty members feel the university has bigger priorities in other places.

“Like most UK faculty and staff, I am a supporter of UK athletics and consider those who are real student-athletes as valuable and important members of the university community,” political science professor Ernie Yanarella said in an email to the Kernel. “That said, I believe the overriding purpose of the university is best captured in its three missions of teaching, research and service to the university and wider community. I firmly believe that the UK athletics program should step up and contribute more to the UK general fund.”

UK athletics had a budget of $13.8 million in 1987, when it began its annual donation of $1.25 million back to the university’s general fund, according to Yanarella.

Today, the athletics budget hovers around $74 million. Its annual donation has increased to $1.75 million, according to Yanarella.

In a time where UK is facing budget shortfalls, and must again raise tuition to stay on par, Yanarella is not the only one voicing concern.

“I find it hard to believe that [the donation] is one out of nearly 80 million,” Joe Peek, faculty representative for the Board of Trustees, said. “In a time when our budget is so strapped, it seems like they should contribute more.”

The idea of a new basketball arena lies at the forefront of this debate. Many faculty members would rather see excess athletic funds routed back to UK instead of put toward a new arena.

UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart has previously stated that UK’s arena “must be the gold standard” in college basketball, whether that comes through renovations to Rupp Arena or through a new arena. A task force has been appointed by Mayor Jim Gray to explore the arena situation.

Yanarella argued that Lexington simply cannot support an additional arena, adding that the Lexington Convention Center already has troubles paying for itself.

“Can the Lexington downtown really support two arenas?” Yanarella asked. “Wouldn’t one become a white elephant when not used for sport? How many truck pulls and ice capades can be offered to make both arenas financially viable?”

Peek believes UK faces more pressing needs in the near future.

“I find [talk of a new arena] hard to rationalize,” he said. “The time doesn’t seem right. The state, city and university are in a very difficult financial situation right now.”

Among the most pressing concerns are faculty salary and student tuition. President Lee Todd sent an email Tuesday promising a three percent average salary increase for faculty next year, saying that “the risk of mass departures that would come with another year without salary increases is a risk we cannot afford to take.”

Todd also proposed a 6 percent tuition increase, which would equate to an additional $259 each semester for resident undergraduate students.

“Faculty and staff have suffered from no salary increases, a big hit on faculty retiree health care benefits, and other cuts on employee benefits [in the past several years],” Yanarella said. “Meanwhile, students and their parents have had to pay big taxes in the form of tuition increases at a time that UK’s buildings, laboratories and other educational facilities have deteriorated.”

Peek agreed that infrastructure is a pressing need, calling it “embarrassing” in some places.

“We have much bigger priorities than a new arena,” he said. “I can see a new classroom building on central campus, that is a number one priority.”

With tuition, salaries and infrastructure all in need of improvement, Peek acknowledged a need for athletics and academics to work together collectively during the coming year.

“We should all be in this together,” he said.

No one in the athletics department was available for comment regarding this article.