Monday, September 20, 2004

Renovation draws fire

UK faculty point to budget squeeze

The Associated Press

LEXINGTON - University of Kentucky President Lee Todd says that spending $4.4 million to renovate the faculty club will pay off through better fund-raising.

But the refurbishment at the Hilary Boone faculty club, overseen by Todd's wife, Patsy, is drawing complaints from faculty, staff and even trustees. They question the timing of such improvements while the campus is squeezed by budget problems.

"Maybe a plush new faculty club is a factor in getting to Top 20 status, but I think UK has to prioritize our focus in these tight budget times," said board chairman Steve Reed. "I don't know if we're setting a good example if we're complaining about the budget and internally we spend our money dolling up a faculty lounge to the tune of $4 million."

Todd said UK spends about $1.4 million each year on entertainment and conferences at area hotels. The renovation of the faculty club will bring some of that business back to campus and allow for much more frequent fund-raising events on campus, he said. However, no projections for additional revenues from the project have been presented.

He said that spending one-time money will help raise more of the recurring funds used for salary raises and new programs.

"You can't call a timeout and wait for the world to get perfect before you do everything," Todd said. "I can certainly see why I would get questions on spending any money right now, but I hope people will see this will move us forward."

Todd's funding plan for the project is to get half the money from private donations raised directly for the project. The other half will be taken from donations already in hand, called "unrestricted donations," which can be used for anything on campus, said Terry Mobley, UK's development director.

The state legislative committee that oversees university projects asks that schools have promises for all the money to build privately funded projects. In July, the Boone Center project was approved with one dissenting vote from Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville, who said he opposed the project's funding and intent.

Construction is supposed to start next month. Todd announced the renovation to the faculty senate recently, and is supposed to present it to the Board of Trustees on Tuesday.

But word of the project already is circulating on campus.

"I'm concerned about the fact that there appears to have been little or no faculty input into this project," said Ted Fiedler, chair of the modern and classical languages department. "Secondly, I am concerned about the use of unrestricted funds for a renovation whose long-term financial return is anything but clear."

Joan Callahan, chair of women's studies, said she's opposed to the fact that the project is already under way.

"It's terrible and there's no turning back," she said. "It strikes me as absolutely disgraceful that we would pursue this project at this cost under these conditions when academic departments are being asked to give money back from their operating budgets."

UK has lost about $73 million in the past three years from state budget cuts. Tuition went up 14 percent last year. For the past two years, raises for faculty and staff haven't exceeded 2 percent annually.

For example, UK's largest college, Arts and Sciences, has lost $1.54 million in recurring funds and $840,000 in one-time cuts since 2002, said Dean Steven Hoch. That's resulted in 15 fewer teaching assistants and 16 fewer tenured or tenure-track professors.

Todd says that is why UK needs better fund-raising on campus for scholarships and other funding.

"We don't attract people to our campus," he said. "I think this campus deserves a place where we can entertain."

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