Armchair college presidents have it easy

(07-27-2009)

Opinion by Dr. David Svaldi

A college president never lacks for advice. Many genuinely concerned individuals in the community, on campus, and across the country are willing to share their opinion -- invariably accompanied by the inference that, in not grasping their simple truth, I must be less than bright. Within one recent 24-hour period, I received a complaint about watering our campus too much, as well as several questions from another individual wondering why we have so many dry spots. (If the State hadn't cut the $1 million final phase of our irrigation upgrade, neither situation would have occurred.)

A local newspaper columnist recently insisted I do away with sports in order to increase support for the liberal arts; she also declared ASC must "hate museums," due to inadequate support of the Luther Bean Museum.

The last time ASC did not have sports teams was immediately after WWII, when total campus enrollment was less than 500 students. Our revenue comes from state support and tuition. This math is easy to do: more students equals more money; money allows us to pay our faculty and staff and, in good years, provide raises. Without our athletic teams, our enrollment would drop by at least 600 students - more than 25 percent - and we would be faced with cutting our faculty and staff in half. Moreover, our student athletes stay and graduate at a significantly higher rate than non-athletes. These students also patronize Alamosa stores, restaurants, and other venues. Every dollar they spend generates another 70 cents in economic impact within the community. What's more, for every two jobs at the college, another is created in the community. Eliminating our athletic teams would cost the college and community dearly, as I could have explained had I been interviewed regarding these issues.

I do agree that support for our museum is inadequate, but the same is true for virtually every campus office and activity. ASC is grossly underfunded, as evidenced in the NCHEMS (National Center for Higher Education Management Systems) study and by the Department of Higher Education's analysis that ASC should receive a 40% increase in state funding. And that was before the recent round of budget cuts. We are even worse off now. Nevertheless, we have remained committed to our primary mission of educating students through classroom and laboratory instruction. We made ancillary budget cuts without directly laying off any employees; this is a testament to the hard work of many good people across the campus.

The Luther Bean Museum is a very important part of our campus, and in fact, ASC is supporting it at the highest level ever. If we eliminated classroom instruction, we could not continue to call ourselves a college. Valuable as it is, the museum is not as central to our mission.

A little careful research can clarify seemingly incongruous situations; grey areas aren't as evident from afar. A college president must balance competing interests while placing highest priority on benefits for the college and its students.

But what do I know. . .