To the Editor:
I was disappointed in the article, “Professor: Sports shut out NIU faculty.” I was present at the presentation by professor Howard Bunsis and the article leaves out most of the significant information that Bunsis presented about NIU’s finances as well as his central message.
Bunsis provided information sourced from NIU itself, USA Today and other reliable sources. He told us that, while the lack of state contributions during Illinois’s budget crisis was a serious blow, NIU’s reserves in fiscal 2016 totaled about $100 million – not quite at the 25 percent of annual expenses considered best practice, but still pretty good.
Also, last year the salaries of the university’s top 20 administrators went up about 2.4 percent while the salaries of tenured and tenure-track faculty went up 0.6 percent. At the same time, the number of faculty at NIU has significantly declined over the past several years. And NIU’s student enrollment has declined by about 6,000 students since 2006.
The main solution that Bunsis identified was not eliminating football and men’s basketball as the article leads the reader to believe, but rather a stronger focus on improving student recruitment and strengthening academic programs.
The discussion of athletics at NIU was a small part of Bunsis’s presentation. However, the central point was that when many academic departments cannot hire teachers but the athletic department is subsidized by the rest of the university by about $18 million annually, then NIU’s core mission – to educate students – needs to be made a higher priority.
I was a student-athlete in college; I know that sports can be a positive part of students’ lives and the life of a university. However, the academic mission should be the highest priority and funds from tuition, student fees, state appropriations, etc., should not be diverted from academics to athletics.
As a professor at NIU, I also feel that the increases in tuition and fees have been unfair to my students to the extent that the increases go toward unconscionably high administrator salaries and toward subsidizing athletics.
Many different constituencies care about the future of Illinois higher education and among them are the professors who teach at Illinois universities. To trivialize our efforts to create a more transparent and productive discussion of the present state of NIU and plans for its future is a lost opportunity to help improve Illinois higher education.