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Waste, fraud and stupidity

by: Eric B.

Mon Mar 31, 2014 at 11:58:29 AM EDT


The Freep had a great couple of articles this last weekend about how the decision making process at the state's public universities has ceased to be open and transparent. News article here, and Stephen Henderson wrote a column here. I'd like to echo this, having been around and covered CMU's Board of Trustees occasionally as a stringer. The last presidential search here in Mount Pleasant was anything but open and transparent. It felt rushed and as if they had the candidate they wanted to hire already in-house. That candidate was George Ross, an accountant who hired attorneys who later lied to a local judge in order to have the First Amendment suspended on campus for a week.

Last year, Ross gave CMU's athletic director a hefty raise and they also extended the head football coach's contract several years because he hit .500 and got invited to one of the many chump bowls that have sprung up the last 20 years to support the awful, awful megamonster of college athletics. They did this for reasons that are now so shop-worn that they're practically transparent: You must spend money to attract top talent.

I give you the results:

While Central Michigan University is in compliance with NCAA Division I standards for football game attendance, a dwindling student base and declining attendance continues to plague the program.

A large share of the compliance is due to the 5,500 season tickets bought by International Management Group, a global sports and media company.

If you read the entire article, the picture painted is that CMU's football program remains compliant with NCAA rules thanks to the same kinds of numbers massaging that lands books published by rightwing publisher Regnery on the New York Times' Bestseller list: Mass purchases by individual organizations.

This is the kind of thing that undermines the value of a college education, because it inflates the costs of getting one. Someone has to pay for all of this, and since the state has been on a 40-year campaign of disinvesting in its public university system it's now the students themselves.

It's also the sort of thing that university boards are supposed to stop, because those people are elected and appointed to ensure that the public's interests is being represented in how our universities are run. But they aren't doing that. They're overseeing the state's universities in closed sessions oftentimes not even in the same town that is home to the university. Can anyone really claim to be surprised by this sort of outcome?

Eric B. :: Waste, fraud and stupidity
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It's a long term goal of mine to serve on the CMU Board of Trustees. (0.00 / 0)
Can you imagine the headaches I would cause? I'd gum up the whole process just to lower the tuition increase by .1%.

Board of Trustees (0.00 / 0)
The board is always presented with three options: High, medium, low. They have a work session the night before where they discuss everything and then do the actual voting the next day. It all feels very choreographed and each time I've covered it, they've always gone with the middle option.

Odd, that.

Among the Trees


[ Parent ]
Choreography (0.00 / 0)
This editorial from 2008 says things better than I could.

The only thing I'd add is this: It does nothing to CMU's brand to keep disagreement and dissent behind closed doors (and also to make key decisions behind the same closed doors).

Now on Great Lakes, Great Times, Great Scott: McCann (D) seeking recount for state Senate in Kalamazoo County


[ Parent ]
Murray Sperber's book "Beer and Circus" addresses this problem (4.00 / 1)
He argues that colleges spend huge amounts of money on money-losing athletic programs in the hope that sucess on the field can increase their prestige, attract students, and make wealthy businesspeople more willing to donate to them. Most of the time, the money goes down a rathole.

Sperber goes on to argue that money spent of stadiums and coaches, as well as luxury dorms and cafeterias, should be spent on educating undergraduates--which is what is supposed to be the main reason for the schools' existence.

By the way, Eastern Michigan has an even bigger problem than CMU with low attendance. Thirty years ago, EMU was threatened with demotion from Division I-A for low attendance. It sold thousands of cheap tickets, brought in entertainers such as the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders, and gave away cars as door prizes to get attendance up to acceptable levels.

A government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always count on the support of Paul.


That's the rationale (4.00 / 1)
You always get two rationale for lots of spending on sports: A. The teams wind up making their money back, which is horseshit. B. It creates prestige, which brings in students. That is also horseshit.

I just use CMU here as an example I'm familiar with. I'm willing to bet that it is the rule, rather than the exception. In fact, all across this fair land of ours, there are maybe four or five athletic programs that make money for their universities ... and none of them are in Michigan.


Sperber goes on to argue that money spent of stadiums and coaches, as well as luxury dorms and cafeterias, should be spent on educating undergraduates--which is what is supposed to be the main reason for the schools' existence.

Yes, yes, a hundred billion times, yes. Unfortunately, university boards do not have the balls to challenge budgets that siphon off vast sums of student tuition dollars into things other than educating students. As I keep arguing, a college education today is critical to competing in the job market, but because universities squander so much money on garbage like athletics, it's also a terrible investment.

Among the Trees


[ Parent ]
Just to expand on a couple points: (0.00 / 0)
The last presidential search here in Mount Pleasant was anything but open and transparent. It felt rushed and as if they had the candidate they wanted to hire already in-house.

And what gets me is that they've had a few VP searches since then - each of which has been transparent.*

Why couldn't the top job on campus be filled in a similar fashion? As you say, Eric, it gives off the impression that they'd wanted him all along. That would be okay if George Ross was truly the best person to become CMU's new president - and assuming he was, a public search process would've made it apparent.

FWIW, now-President Ross was previously VP for Finance and Admin Services before becoming President of another college and then, just a couple years later, taking CMU's top job. Make of that what you will.

You add:

They did this for reasons that are now so shop-worn that they're practically transparent: You must spend money to attract top talent.

Yep - just like they always say. Except when it comes to faculty talent.

Anyway, you all know how proud I am to be a CMU grad - I grew so much in my years there, I've been back for each Homecoming since I graduated, and I've even given them a few bucks (for Alternative Breaks, libraries, and so forth).

But sometimes I wonder about the priorities of some folks near the top. One certainly doesn't get the impression that they're the same priorities that most faculty, staff, alumni, and current students share.

Scott Urbanowski
CMU Alum and, who knows, maybe future trustee**

*By "transparent" I mean that the finalists were known beforehand, and members of the campus community - faculty, staff, alumni, and students - had the opportunity to get to know them and ask questions.

**You and me both, Brad. I'll be their good cop, you be the hell-raiser. Deal?

Now on Great Lakes, Great Times, Great Scott: McCann (D) seeking recount for state Senate in Kalamazoo County



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