Texas Faculty Tries to Take One Small Step Toward Fiscal Sanity

An article published on CBSSports.com discussed the recent vote by faculty at the University of Texas at Austin (UT) in favor of a resolution which criticized the $5 million annual compensation awarded to its head football coach, Mack Brown. According to faculty senate chair, David Hills, “This out-of-control spending on football is crippling universities across the country. Even if UT is not hurt by this problem of out-of-control spending [which I do not accept], it is clearly hurting most universities, and UT should lead the way to a solution, rather than be a cause of the problem.”

According to the article, UT’s president and athletic department defended Mack’s salary, stating: (1) football revenues have more than quadrupled in Brown’s tenure as head coach, going from $21.3 million in 1997 to $87.5 million in 2008; (2) the athletic department has contributed a total of $6.6 million to the academic side of the university since 2005-06, and; (3) football money allows the athletic department to be one of the few in the country that is completely self-sustaining, relying on no state funds.

Faculty noted that 52 percent of grant revenue awarded to professors for research is automatically diverted to the institution. Hillis stated concerns that the athletic department owns the licensing rights to the Texas logo, limiting the academic side’s opportunity to profit from the university’s identity. In addition, the biggest point of contention is the effect of athletic departments on alumni donations. Sports advocates believe that attachments to teams — football, in particular — keep alumni engaged and encourage donations to the entire university. However, some faculty stated concerns that the athletic department primarily promotes itself and might siphon off donations that would otherwise go to the school

“To get the right to purchase season tickets or get access to bowl games, our alumni are required to donate more than $1,500 per year to the Longhorn Foundation, which only supports athletics,” Hillis said. “When those same alumni are asked to support athletics programs, they say [and think] that they have already donated to UT.”

Both the chair and past-chair of the faculty council’s executive committee, which prompted the resolution, consider themselves avid football fans. They say they respect Brown as a coach and as a representative of the university. However, they stated the coach’s salary was disproportionate compared to other institutional commitments and needs. “Mack Brown is a great coach, but he would still be a great coach without a $2 million raise, and there is no indication that this raise was necessary to retain him,” past-chair David Hillis said by e-mail. He is a professor of biology and 1999 recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, often called the “genius award.”

“UT football would be just as exciting without this raise,” Hillis said.