A University of Kentucky faculty senate group on Monday urged members of the UK board of trustees not to loan the school's Athletics Association $3.1 million to help fund a $6.25 million project for new video scoreboards and a new sound system at Commonwealth Stadium.
The UK Senate Council — the executive arm of the faculty senate — passed the resolution by a vote of 7-0. The council "strongly opposes" the university lending money to the UK Athletics Association and asks the board to vote against the loan, according to the resolution.
The athletics association would repay the loan to UK over a period not to exceed five years at a variable interest rate that is now 1.64 percent; the remaining $3.15 million needed for the project would use private funds. The new video boards would be ready for the fall 2011 football season.
Hollie Swanson, professor of pharmacology and chairwoman of the faculty senate, said the financial arrangements surrounding the stadium project are difficult to understand.
"We need more clarity on that," she said.
Asked why the athletics department, which is self-supporting and has a budget of nearly $80 million, didn't pay for the project using its own endowment funds, UK spokesman Jay Blanton said last week that those funds "are invested on a long-term basis, and it makes more financial sense, in this instance, to purchase the new boards in this manner."
Bob Grossman, a chemistry professor and council member, said the idea of UK lending money to the athletics association is "an incredibly politically tone-deaf thing to do. ... If the board of trustees approves it, I will see it as another sign that the priorities of this institution are seriously misplaced."
He said faculty members are told by university administrators that they should be grateful that UK is one of the 14 athletics programs nationwide that does not receive state or federal funding.
"We're happy about that and, all of a sudden, they're coming to the university and asking us to subsidize them, even though it's a loan," Grossman said. "... We're a non-profit institution, we're not a bank."
John Thelin, a professor of higher-education history who also serves on the council, asked: "How strapped can the university be in its operating budget if it can find $3.1 million?"
He said the faculty has been supportive in riding out UK's lengthy budget woes. The amount of money proposed for the loan, he said, would go a long way toward funding a small raise for faculty and staff.
UK faculty and staff members have not had a raise in three years. UK President Lee T. Todd Jr. said last week that there would be money for an average three percent raise over the coming year, but it is unclear where some of the money will come from.
"The faculty have not been whiners," Thelin said. "They have been very, very supportive."
In addition to the resolution by the faculty senate group, Ernie Yanarella, a political science professor and former faculty trustee, is circulating a petition to faculty members opposing the loan.
Citing a university that is "pinching pennies" and that has doubled tuition over the last decade, the petition calls on the board to "begin restoring proper priorities to the university by rejecting this request."
That petition will be presented to the board at its meeting Tuesday, Yanarella said in an email message.
Blanton also said last week that UK found money for the loan in its "operating funds investment pool," the working capital for daily operations.
"While there is certainly a great deal of respect for the senate council and the voice it has, the administration continues to believe this proposal makes sense for the entire university," Blanton said Tuesday.
The athletics association's proposal for Commonwealth Stadium would install two large panels that use light-emitting diode technology, along with "ribbon boards" on the upper-deck sidelines and suite corners that would increase advertising revenue. Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said last week that the stadium's video boards "don't provide the kind of sophisticated viewing experience that fans have come to expect across the country."
The Council on Postsecondary Education is expected to vote on the proposal at its Thursday meeting. Assuming it is approved, UK's trustees would vote on it May 3. The project must also be approved by the legislature's Capital Projects and Bond Oversight Committee.