The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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Athletic budget records, data kept from student scrutiny

Two years ago, The Daily Campus published a story reporting that the SMU athletic department’s deficit had climbed to $93 million since 2004, a fact student reporters discovered through documents on the Faculty Senate website.

Since then, the deficit has grown by more than $20 million, totaling more than $113 million. But students have no way of knowing about the increase unless a faculty member provides access to the documents, which are now password-protected.

Athletics Policy Committee Chair Dan Orlovsky was unaware that students couldn’t access the site. According to Orlovsky, SMU was ranked sixth out of 57 members of the Coalition on Intercollegiate Athletics (the reform group of faculty senates of Division 1 football schools) in a survey on transparency in governance of athletics departments.

Orlovsky said he didn’t think the coalition asked a question about whether students had access to information about the faculty senate.

“I think they just assume that faculty senate stuff is public stuff,” he said.

When asked why that wasn’t the case, Orlovsky said, “I don’t know why it’s different at SMU – I don’t know how to answer that.”

Part of the SMU Faculty Senate’s website mission statement states,”The Senate seeks to further the university’s dedication to the pursuit of truth and the preservation, dissemination and extension of knowledge.”

Pat Davis, an adjunct theology professor who served as Faculty Senate President from 2000 to 2001, was also surprised to hear that students couldn’t access the site. During an interview, Davis called Fred Olness, who was president of the Faculty Senate at the time access was limited, for an explanation. Olness attributed the blockage to a technical update of the website.

However, the current Faculty Senate President José Lage said the reports and documents are restricted because the information pertains to the faculty’s interests only.

“Having this section open to the general public (including the students) would be similar to having letters exchanged between a married couple made public to other people (unless of course, there is a legal reason for making it public),” he said in an email.

Lage also explained the password-protected information on the website prohibits students from accessing data ranging from senate meeting minutes to the annual budget reports. Included in the annual budget reports are the actual and projected figures of funds allocated to the university’s various departments.

According a February 2011 Faculty Senate budget report, which a faculty member provided to The Daily Campus, the athletic department losses have topped $113 million since 2004.
Dan Fulks, a Transylvania University accounting professor and research consultant for the NCAA, said that refusing the free flow of information to students is unfair – especially at SMU, where student fees are high.

“At public schools, of course, this information is available. I’m a large proponent of student rights, and I believe the athletics budget should be made available. Students probably deserve it more than faculty,” he said.

When told that the athletic department denied The Daily Campus access to budget information, Orlovsky sarcastically joked that he was “shocked to hear democracy doesn’t exist at SMU.”

“But, I’m not going to give you the figures,” he said.

Davis addressed the athletic department’s deficit – and the use of the university’s operating budget to cover those losses – while serving as Faculty Senate President.

In her remarks to the faculty on Jan. 17, 2001, Davis said that athletic department was a problem for the university for one reason: it costs too much. Davis also said that the athletic department must be held to stricter standards for fiscal responsibility.

“This draining of the academic reserve accounts must not continue,” she said. “We must not give in to the temptation to let this issue rest. It is our responsibility – the faculty’s responsibility – to remind the administration that no unit’s financial problems should ever be allowed to impinge on the primary mission – the academic mission – of the university.”

Today, Davis said this argument is a moot point.

According to Davis, Faculty Senate would be spinning its wheels if it continued asking for a more even distribution of funds across departments.

“We’ve invested in a new football stadium, we’ve invested in our new football coach, we’re now investing in a new men’s basketball coach, we’re going to the Big East,” she said.

Davis said everyone has pretty much accepted that SMU’s not going to retreat on its athletic spending.

“SMU doesn’t go backwards,” she said.

Davis currently feels the more prevalent question is whether SMU has an athletic department that fits into the grander vision of the university moving forward as an academic institution with better students, grades and SATs.

When Davis was president, none of the documents from Faculty Senate meetings were ever posted because there was no way to post them.

“I think I might have been reticent to [post the documents] just because I know unless you have someone to sit down with you and look at them, you can’t really understand them,” she said.

But, Davis isn’t against sharing the information with the student body. “If any student came to me that really wanted to know, if I was president, I would sit down with them and show them myself,” she said.

Unless the information could be limited to SMU faculty, staff and students, though, Davis wouldn’t post the information online.

“I really wouldn’t want the Dallas Morning News getting it,” she said. 

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