A faculty affairs subcommittee at the University of Central Arkansas plans to look into the finances at the Athletic Department to see whether switching back down to a Division II status would save UCA money that could go toward academic needs like maintenance, housing or salaries.
The university received full NCAA Division I Active Membership in July 2010. The move was at least partially funded by money from other auxiliaries, such as food service and housing.
The faculty subcommittee will meet early next week to begin looking into what benefits moving up a division has provided UCA, said Faculty Senate President Kevin Browne.
"Some people want to see what it would save and then decide whether it’s worth it or not," Browne said.
The subcommittee, as charged by the four-member Executive Committee, will "Investigate and make recommendations regarding the feasibility and desirability of returning to Division II," according to the Faculty Senate agenda for Thursday’s meeting. The subcommittee’s recommendations will be heard by the senate and could be passed along to UCA administrators and the Board of Trustees.
"The power we have is the power of moral persuasion, and the fact that we democratically represent the faculty," Browne said.
The administration is interested in the faculty’s collective view and has taken action on senate recommendations in the past, Browne said.
The move to look closer at academic program finances stems from faculty who remain upset over privately funded bonuses that went to some athletic employees when other faculty have seen only one pay raise in five years. The faculty-led investigation is expected to take up the next few months, Browne said.
"There is a great deal of concern about the athletic employees getting bonuses and raises and the rest of the faculty not," Browne said.
Earlier this month, the Board of Trustees approved using money from the Purple Circle, a private foundation for UCA, to pay for some pay raises. Athletic employees also received bonuses, officials said. The athletic department has received other perks too, including new offices at Bear Hall — an $18 million facility that opened this August.
Browne has met with President Tom Courtway over the issue.
"I believe he understands why we are concerned," Browne said.
Courtway said previously he intended to look into giving cost of living adjustments to faculty for the next school year.
But the timing of the athletic department’s pay raises and bonuses couldn’t wait, Athletic Director Brad Teague said. The department had to give pay raises and bonuses because the "market" of athletics is based on merit and UCA won the championship last year. That means coaches expect pay raises to stay, he said.
"The market is that you have incentives based on how well you did, unfortunately that’s not the market in academics," Teague said.
Teague said becoming Division I is an investment in UCA and a recruitment tool. Student tuition and fees make up a large portion of funding for the university, but UCA’s total enrollment has stayed flat for years.
Going back to Division II won’t help give faculty pay raises, Teague said.
"I’m not sure the result of going to Division II would be exactly what (faculty) hoped it would be in terms of funding for academics," Teague said.
Still, the department spends more under the new division, Teague agreed. The costs are up because of more scholarships and travel outside Arkansas, but the new designation also recruits more students and brings in more revenue, Teague said.
"It’s really an investment at the end of the day," Teague said.
Concerns over athletic expenditures in public universities is not new, according to a 2011 Annual Financial Condition Report by the state higher education department. The report said "athletic expenditures since the 1990s have often grown faster than many institutions’ overall budgets." However, the report also said universities would lose a "significant portion of tuition and fee income" without athletic departments.
Teague said UCA does better than other universities. UCA uses less than its maximum allowable transfer of state money to athletics, and for the first time, the department reduced what it used by about $100,000 last year, Teague said. That money went back to academics, he said.
"One-hundred-thousand dollars probably is not a lot, but every little bit helps," Teague said.
During the Faculty Senate meeting Thursday, interim Provost Steven Runge said the academic side didn’t have enough money to give pay raises from "salary savings." That money is generally created by not filling vacant positions or filling them at a reduced level than what was budgeted.
Runge said the university needs more students, recruited and retained, to afford pay raises.
"There is not a pot of money out there for those raises," Runge said.