Thursday, July 22, 2010

Palin, Payments and Profits

Sarah Palin's speech at CSU Stanislaus in June was controversial not just for the speaker, but because the cash-strapped school shelled out $75,000 in speakers fees and tried to keep the financial details away from scrutiny.
This past week all the gory details were released. Overall the CSU Stanislaus Foundation states ~$257K was spent on the speaker's fees, accommodations and security. Spent by who? Was it out of the foundation's pocket or the University's? The Foundation took in around $473K which after expenses nets $207,000. According to the university, $80,00 of the net proceeds are to go to "student scholarships", but no firm details are provided. This contradicts information provided by the CSUS President and reported here that claims all 207K went to scholarships. What's the deal with that? Furthermore, despite a lot of statements that the foundation is private, their incorporation indicates that they are an auxiliary arm of the University.

But lets' forget Palin for the time being, the speaker doesn't matter. What matters is the way money is brought into universities, how the spoils are divided and how much accountability there is.
OK, first of all, despite some claims, public money may have been used (the details are still vague). If so, the University should get  it back from the foundation, but when? How much of the proceeds actually go to students and how much to administrative overhead? Finally, what is the point of enabling more students to attend when the content of their education will be gutted?
Foundations, alumni groups, athletics and the universities themselves are supposed to be non-profit. But this just means they don't pay dividends or divvy up a surplus. But when you have evergrowing overhead expenses for salaries and benefits for excessive (and expensive) administrators, and you cut money from the educational/research mission to pay those expenses, you are acting like a for-profit entity. Add in the fact that much fundraising (including athletics) exists now to support the fundraisers, and we have an unsustainable situation developing in higher education. Colleges and universities may end up as nothing more than overpriced sports-entertainment-resort complexes with the occasional dumbed down high-school level class to attend.

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