Athletic Fee Referendum Proposed to Hire More Faculty
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With pending state legislation that includes a senate bill proposing the freezing of tuition at state institutions of higher education for the next four years and another calling for each college or university to reduce their budget by 15 percent for the next academic year, growing universities like Texas A&M University-Commerce (that already have a shortage of faculty to fulfill the demands of an expanding student body) are faced with a dilemma when it comes to the hiring of more instructors.
Recently, President Ray M. Keck III was given permission by the Texas A&M System Board of Regents to pursue a possible solution to the problem – to hold an Athletic Fee Referendum in which students would vote over whether to not to raise the athletic fee so that less of the revenue that comes into the university through tuition has to be used for that purpose and can instead be allocated toward salaries for new faculty.
“Right now, $3.6 million is going to the athletic side of the university out of your tuition money,” Keck said at the beginning of a Student Government Association meeting last Wednesday, as he explained observations he had made about the university’s budget since coming on board in June. “We need to move that money back to the academic side, and we can’t do that unless we raise the athletic fee, and we can’t raise the athletic fee unless the student body agrees to do it.”
One of the “catches” with a student referendum, though, is that (since Fall 2014) Texas universities are required to offer incoming freshman a fixed tuition rate that will not increase for four years. In addition to this, the Texas A&M System Board of Regent enacted a policy that also keeps students’ fees locked in at the same rate as they proceed through their undergraduate education. This means that if the “yes” vote wins in this referendum, the fee increase will only effect next year’s incoming freshman and each class after that.
“Our athletic fee is $10.99 per semester credit hour, everywhere else in the system is 20-something, and West Texas A&M is $32,” Keck said. “There is a dilemma in that no one who votes on this will pay the higher fee…but if this referendum fails, I don’t know what we’re gonna do because we don’t have another source of new money to create more faculty lines.”
While it is estimated that a $21-per-semester-hour increase in the athletic fee would result in an additional $866,000 in funding for the university, multiple members of the Student Senate expressed concern over whether or not the additional funds, in fact, be used for the hiring of new faculty.
“One of the things that I’ve heard is hesitation or worry about whether or not we’ll really, really do what we really, really say,” Keck said as he encouraged them to pass a motion to support and host the Athletic Fee Referendum before presenting it to the student body as a whole. “There must be an audit trail [as required by the Board of Regents] that says the money is going where you say it’s going. So, if I wanted to do something squirrelly with this fee like make a bigger pond to fish in, I might get away with the idea for about a month before someone figured it out and stopped me dead in my tracks. I can assure you, if the fee passes, the money will go where it’s supposed to go.”