People keep noticing Berkeley’s White Elephant money-draining stadium – one of the grand capital projects that the Regents routinely approve based on pretty slides and business plans offered by the campuses. Peter Schrag in the San Francisco Chronicle today ties the low graduation rates of Berkeley athletes with the stadium:
…Fueling the… issue is the chronic matter of cost – what the university kicks in to the sports program – and what someone called “its gold plated” spending. Brian Barsky, a Berkeley computer science professor and vocal critic of the athletics program, says between 2003 and 2011, athletics “drained campus coffers of more than $88 million that could have been used instead to support the university’s core mission.” Cummins and Hextrum talk about “accumulating deficits over nearly 20 years totaling some $170 million at a time when the campus faced substantial staff layoffs and furloughs.” [Sandy Barbour, Berkeley’s director of athletics,] claims those numbers are flat wrong. With the exception of one year, she said, there have been no deficits. But there’s no question that its football and basketball coaches, like other big time coaches, earn 10 times as much as the average full professor, or that Barbour gets paid more than the chancellor, or that the sports program isn’t self-supporting. More important still is the huge debt UC Berkeley faces for the cost of the recent rebuilding of Memorial Stadium and the construction of the adjacent “Student-Athlete High Performance Center” – all together totaling more than $450 million, some of it to be paid by 100-year “century” bonds. All told, including interest, those facilities will eventually cost $1.25 billion. Paying it off depends on football. And given the dismal records of the past two seasons and the disappointing sales of expensive long-term rights to seats in the stadium – originally priced at $225,000 apiece – that were supposed to help retire the bonds, a strategy since supplemented by a “more diversified approach,” that’s hardly a sure thing. What is a sure thing is that Berkeley has mortgaged itself in perpetuity to the success of its football team.
There are lessons to be learned here by UCLA [the Grand Hotel], the Regents, and all the campuses. But will there be lessons taken? So far, however, there is little sign of such learning. If Gov. Brown is as concerned as he says he is about dealing with UC budget affairs, he might consider attending meetings of the Regents’ Committee on Grounds and Buildings and maybe putting some state auditors to work on analyzing what has been approved over the past few years.