In any successful organization, alignment is essential from top to bottom. It’s not a concept that never came easily to Rutgers. In defense of the university, it is as complicated an institution of higher learning as there are for many reasons, including location, size, and politics, to name a few. . However, a lack of transparency and infighting in public over the years have certainly created issues that Rutgers has been challenged to overcome.
There has been no more polarizing issue at Rutgers over the years than athletic spending and no more vocal adversary than its own faculty. Semi-regular hit tracks backed by the same attention-seeking professors with the same old arguments, academics who’ve been in college for decades preferring Rutgers went the way of the Ivy and Patriot leagues rather than the high-profile athletics, as well as concerns that sports are overemphasized at the expense of academic spending are part of the culture of the university at this point. Lately, politicians and journalists have become more vocal in demanding answers and change to appease their own constituents and readers.
University management over the years has generally treated such naysayers with the punt equivalent of surrender. Those days are now officially over.
On Friday, President Jonathan Holloway gave a speech regarding the budget specifically to the University Senate, but in reality, the entire Rutgers community. He made it clear that the old way of doing things was a thing of the past.
“Before Rutgers, I served at private institutions that didn’t have a tradition of opening their financial books, which I worked to change during my time at those universities,” Holloway said. “When I came to Rutgers, I assumed I wouldn’t have to do this job here since the institution’s records were open to the public. Eighteen months later, knowing the university better than I knew it when I arrived, I understand those who felt frustrated with a perceived administrative inability to be transparent about its finances. Let me be clear; I don’t think for a minute that the university was trying to hide anything. It was not. However, I believe that headquarters has missed opportunities to make things much less opaque.
Less than two years on the job, Holloway was given the difficult task of uplifting and unifying a university during a global pandemic. It has been criticized for student vaccination requirements, canceling in-person graduations due to Covid-19 concerns as well as capacity limitations for sporting events and indoor policies for events at Jersey Mike’s Arena this winter. . He has proven that his decisions are based on what he thinks is best given the circumstances, not what is most popular. It was Holloway’s approach again on Friday.
“Just as we will be creative in improving or generating new sources of revenue, there are many areas of the university that simply will never generate revenue and should not be,” Holloway said bluntly. “These areas, which in fact span nearly every undergraduate-focused discipline at Rutgers, are investments for the university. We used to use the language of “grant” and “deficit” to describe non-revenue generating units. This approach does a disservice to these units since it may suggest that we expect them to generate profits. Going forward, I have asked my administration to rethink its thinking on this issue, reconceptualizing non-autonomous units as institutional investments that are important elements for the work of the university.
This statement alone was radical from a historical point of view within the university in admitting that certain lines of business cannot be relied upon as generators of income. Holloway went a step further to name names.
“To give just a few examples where this new way of thinking applies: we’re investing in libraries, we’re investing in the humanities and, yes, we’re investing in athletics,” Holloway explained. “In their own way, each of these areas is an important articulation of the university’s health, mission and narrative. There are also important returns on these investments: educated citizens and better social and economic outcomes, life-changing research discoveries, stronger and more cohesive communities.
Rutgers spent $118.4 million to fund its athletics program in the 2020-2021 academic year, according to this recent report by Keith Sargeant of NJ Advance Media. A record budget shortfall of $73.3 million was settled through tuition, loans, and the university’s overall budget in addition to other sources. Clearly, Covid-19 has created problems like any other school year for athletics, including additional costs for testing and other related protocols, and the inability of fans to attend games with a loss. substantial income.
Holloway highlighted the big picture and the importance of dealing with budget issues early and proactively.
“On this, let me be clear: we’re not going to do anything smart with finances; we’re not going to cut corners that go against standard accounting practices,” Holloway confirmed. “And we don’t give anyone a free pass when it comes to prudent resource management. What I’m talking about is engaging in a semantic redirection so that we can have a deeper, more honest conversation about how the university uses its resources and why.
Holloway continued to voice his full support for the athletic department in busting the myth that the goal of being self-employed is unrealistic.
“For that reason, I intentionally mentioned athletics here,” Holloway said. “For too long, the entire Rutgers community has worked under the delusion that athletics will generate enough revenue to pay for itself and, over time, turn a profit. Let me disabuse you of that statement. Even while I would be delighted if athletics covered all of its expenses, it is highly unlikely that it will.”
A key ingredient missing from the arguments typically made by opponents of sports spending at Rutgers is context. You simply cannot judge or criticize the actions of a group or department without perspective. Holloway made it easy by stating two facts that show Rutgers isn’t unique in its financial handling of high-profile athletics.
“Only 2% of major college athletics programs run in the dark, and not much more than that break-even point,” Holloway said. He continued: “For those who remain dissatisfied and would prefer to see the athletics program dissolved in order to redirect funds elsewhere in the university, keep in mind that athletics represents 2% of the operating budget. In other words, dissolving athletics would not solve our budgetary problems.
It’s not just about providing context, but also about promoting the value of athletics. It’s something that Holloway got right to the heart of the matter in a way that should put a smile on any Rutgers sports fan’s face.
“The best way to think about athletics is that it represents a commitment from the university that helps tell a compelling story about this institution – a story that will inspire candidates, alumni and friends to learn more about we have to offer as a university in 2022,” Holloway said. “In this regard, the storytelling ability of athletics far exceeds anything else we do at Rutgers. Some of you may not like to hear it, but it’s just a talk. honest.Despite the brilliance of our faculty, the significance of our impressive research breakthroughs, and the many talents of our students outside of athletics, there is no other pursuit at the university that can rally tens of thousands of people in person to support Rutgers, not to mention the millions more who will follow us on TV or online.
If any quote could match the authority of a Cliff Omoruyi slam dunk, it’s this one.
Assessment of the value brought by Rutgers athletics includes national exposure for the university, expansion into other areas, an overall positive perception of Rutgers, and a sense of pride for its alumni. Athletics connects and engages fans to a school in a way that is not possible otherwise.
Another positive due to athleticism is that Rutgers is a member of the Big Ten. Research collaborations between all member institutions of the Big Ten Alliance is a major agreement with all 14 schools, but one of them is also a member of the AAU. I’ve always found it ironic that the Rutgers faculty as a whole hasn’t given an honest assessment of this benefit and never seems to mention it.
Holloway also added how important it is to him and to the university that student-athletes excel in the classroom. Not only is this true, but it is an effort to find common ground with naysayers who value academics so highly.
“What reinforces my support for athletics at Rutgers is that we have coaches who are strongly committed to integrity and seeing their players graduate,” Holloway said. “I’m very proud of the fact that we have one of the highest performing sports programs in the country in terms of academic achievement. I hope you share this pride.
Holloway understands why investing in the athletic department and supporting our beloved teams is so important. His message to the rest of the university was to get on board because of the department’s importance to Rutgers as a whole, not because it’s going to make money.
Being transparent about this and forcing others to consider the positives outside of the financial impact is necessary to achieve alignment across the university. It will take a long time for that to happen, if it ever does. But Holloway is clearly trying and while achieving it is unrealistic, giving the athletic department his full support is a huge win and the most important thing.
Major progress has been made on and off the pitch over the past few years, thanks in part to the leadership and vision of Sporting Director Pat Hobbs. Thanks to this recent new partnership with Holloway, the department is as well positioned for the future as it has ever been.
If you’re a fan of Rutgers athletics, you should be a fan of Rutgers President Jonathan Holloway.