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Tyler Rosenbaum '11: Why spare athletics?

Well, we've finally reached the big five-oh — the magic threshold of $50,000 per year in tuition and fees, that is. The increasing cost of going to Brown is, of course, as generally unwelcome as it is inexorable.

For this reason, it would be a little too cliched and starry-eyed to criticize the tuition hike. Especially in these tough economic times, when everyone is expected to sacrifice somehow, it would seem callous not to support increasing the tuition.

After all, those who can afford to pay a little extra will pick up the slack of those who are presumably having a tougher time making ends meet. Having increased financial aid by 6.5 percent, more than the tuition and fees increase of 4.5 percent, the Corporation has demonstrated its continuing commitment to less well-off families.

But is everyone sacrificing equally? In a letter President Ruth Simmons sent to the campus two weeks ago, I was troubled to find buried deep in the text the announcement of another fee: the "recreational facilities usage fee," through which every student must now contribute $64 to athletics.

But, I can hear supporters of the fee protest, mightn't the fee also end up supporting the gyms that most students use? Vice President for Campus Life and Student Services Margaret Klawunn has suggested that this is the case.

If so, it certainly seems fishy, and sets a disconcerting precedent. Those of us who live on campus already will be paying approximately $6,500 per academic year for that privilege. During the seven-and-a-half months we actually spend at Brown, that works out to more than $860 per month, much higher than comparable off-campus housing (even taking the free utilities into account).

Presumably the upkeep of gyms and all other aspects of on-campus housing have been subsumed into the amount the University charges us to live here (not counting, of course, the $600 the University charges those who choose to live off-campus for that courtesy).
If this new fee is going to pay for gym upkeep, will a new fee crop up next year to pay for common area upkeep, or the myriad other things we thought were included in the room fee?

Of course I think it very unlikely we will see any such fees in the future, because the new fee is transparently not primarily for gym upkeep, but rather to support athletics.

Last month, before the Corporation met to finalize the budget, The Herald reported that the Organizational Review Committee, which President Simmons appointed to look for ways to cut $14 million from the University's budget, would be recommending the creation of a $65 fee which would go to the Department of Athletics ("ORC proposes new recreation fee," Feb. 15). Perhaps sensing that $65 was excessive, the Corporation cut the final version to $64.

But why would a committee charged with cutting the budget recommend the creation of a new fee? Evidently, of the 12 subcommittees that investigated various areas of the University to trim down in light of the recession, the athletics subcommittee was "the only one that did not meet its savings goal."

This strikes me as quite unfair. Apparently, every area of the University has to make its fair share of sacrifice — except the athletics department. This is despite the fact that a poll conducted by The Herald at the end of last semester found that half of students had not gone to a single sports game that semester, and in total nearly four-fifths had attended two or fewer such games.

Brown is not a "sports school" like Duke, or even Cornell for that matter. Most students here don't care about athletics — universities are for higher education, after all, not athletic endeavors. I might sing a different tune if sports here were financially self-sustaining, or brought in additional funding, as they do at other places.

But, as this new fee aptly demonstrates, athletics at Brown are a financial drain on the University's budget. The question, then, is why in these tough times the Corporation decided essentially to exempt the athletics department from the shared sacrifice in which every other facet of this University was expected to take part. I hope in its future meetings the Corporation reconsiders its priorities.

I laud the Corporation and the administration for making this subsidy to athletics readily visible as a separate fee and not hiding it in the general tuition increase. This should spur a campus-wide debate about the place of athletics at our institution.

Should a financially non-self-sustaining program that is completely extraneous to the purpose of a university, and about which the vast majority of Brown students are apathetic at best, be sheltered from the tough decisions the rest of us have to make? I should hope not.

Tyler Rosenbaum '11, a public policy concentrator, thinks the public policy concentration needs a fee to protect it from cuts.


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