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UNI faculty union speaks out against use of general university support funds for athletics budget

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UNI faculty union speaks out against use of general university support funds for athletics budget

Dec 08, 2023 | 6:18 pm ET
By Brooklyn Draisey
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UNI faculty union speaks out against use of general university support funds for athletics budget
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United Faculty, UNI faculty's chief negotiating agent, released a statement expressing disappointment in the university using general support funds for the school's athletics budget. (Photo by Brooklyn Draisey/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Chris Martin and other members of University of Northern Iowa’s faculty union were “astonished and disappointed” to learn that the university has put more than $1 million of general university support funds into the athletic department over the past two fiscal years.

The university said the move will bring its athletics budget closer to its peers and encourage recruitment and revenue.

According to a news release from United Faculty, UNI faculty’s chief negotiating agent, the university allocated $906,593 in general university support dollars to the athletics program in fiscal year 2023. The union said the university allocated $148,606 in fiscal year 2022, putting the total to just over $1.05 million.

“We are completely astonished to discover this,” Martin said in the release. “This amount is equivalent to funding 10 or more tenure-track faculty positions, which we desperately need as many faculty positions have remained unfilled. It’s a gut punch to our high goals and expectations for UNI academics.”

Expenditures on salaries at UNI also decreased by more than $2 million, according to Iowa Board of Regents documents, from just over $125 million to about $123 million.

There are currently eight open faculty and academic administrator jobs posted online. United Faculty said in its statement that the number of full-time tenure-track and instructor positions has decreased from 506 in 2018 to 408 in 2022, according to the UNI Fact Book, not including adjunct faculty.

UNI spokesperson Pete Moris said in an email that UNI’s overall faculty numbers total 624 this school year, up from 606 last year. According to the Iowa Board of Regents 2022-2023 Faculty Tenure Report, the total number of faculty had been decreasing until this year, from 641 in the 2020-21 school year to 606 last year.

Faculty hiring practices at UNI are based on the number of student credit hours needed to be taught each year, Moris said, and factors like recent reductions in general education degree requirements and more students coming to university with some college classes already knocked out have caused the number of student credit hours to decrease.

According to a statement from UNI responding to United Faculty, the university has one of the lowest athletics budgets of universities in its conference, and one of the department’s directives is to find opportunities to generate revenue and become more self-sustaining.

Supporting the program will serve to increase students’ interest in applying for and attending UNI, as well as drive donations and other monetary support, the university said.

“We understand and appreciate the concerns raised by members of our faculty union relative to these budget matters,” the statement said. “Campus leadership continues to carefully weigh difficult decisions with the best interest of the entire university in mind as we continue to engage in dialogue with the UNI community on this topic.”

UNI’s athletics department saw higher income and expenses in fiscal year 2023, with increased spending from some teams and costs from training and marketing coming under budget being offset by more monetary support from general university funds, team fundraising and unplanned NCAA support. Both income and expenses came out at just over $15.5 million, with incomes slightly higher.

If the general university support funds hadn’t been allocated to athletics, the department budget would have had a deficit of almost $1 million.

Faculty were not notified or consulted about these allocations, according to the union.

With cuts from the state already making academics more difficult and other impacts making budgets tighter, Martin, who has worked at UNI for more than 25 years, said in an interview it was discouraging to see funds go to athletics to plug holes.

“The loss of academic funding ultimately affects students at UNI,” said United Faculty vice president Fernando Calderon in the release. “It also raises a significant question about the budget priorities of this institution.”