New scoreboards and a sound system for the University of Kentucky's Commonwealth Stadium will be financed by private funds and will not use a low-interest loan from the university, UK officials said Thursday.
The university dropped a plan to give the UK Athletics Association a $3.1 million loan to help it install the $6.25 million project after intense criticism from UK faculty and staff members. The project will now be financed entirely by private funds, including a withdrawal of up to $4.6 million from an athletics department endowment fund.
On Monday, the Faculty Council, the executive arm of the Faculty Senate, voted unanimously to ask the UK trustees to oppose the project. Political science professor Ernie Yanarella circulated a petition asking faculty members to object to the university financing, noting that UK "is pinching pennies" and has doubled tuition over the last decade.
"After much consideration, we have decided to change the financing arrangement of the new video boards," said Frank Butler, UK's executive vice president for finance and administration. "While we continue to believe the proposal makes financial sense for the entire university, athletics will seek to fund this project entirely with private funds."
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The trustees will be asked to authorize the use of $4.6 million from a UK Athletics "quasi-endowment" fund. The additional $1.65 million also will come from Athletics Association funds raised from private donors.
UK spokesman Jay Blanton described a quasi-endowment as a fund to which athletics donors contribute for a non-specific purposes. A regular endowment is used for specific purposes such as an endowed chair in a particular subject.
The athletics quasi-endowment fund has a balance of a little more than $14 million, Blanton said.
UK's funding of the project was criticized by faculty trustee Joe Peek, a professor of finance, in a Thursday email in which he asked faculty members to sign Yanarella's petition.
In that email, he reworded a statement from UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart, who has said that the current video boards "don't provide the kind of sophisticated viewing experience that students have come to expect across the country."
Peek's email said: "The university's current classrooms don't provide the kind of sophisticated educational experience that students have come to expect across the country."
If UK has enough to spend on improving technology for the football stadium, "wouldn't it be better for our students to spend that money on improving classroom technology?" he wrote.
Yanarella said that he has more than 200 signatures on his petition, copies of which are still circulating on campus. During UK's budget crunch, there has been "no significant effort on the part of the athletics program to come to the aid of the university and its higher missions," he said.
Still, UK's athletics department appeared stung by the hubbub over the loan for the proposed scoreboard system.
A blog on UK's official athletics site posted a defense of the athletics department's contributions to UK. The post said UK Athletics had given $19.4 million in scholarships and royalties to the University of Kentucky since Barnhart's first fiscal year with the university in 2002-03.
The Herald-Leader reported on March 20 that UK Athletics donated 2 percent of its $79.4 million budget for 2010-11 to the university's academic scholarship fund, amounting to $1.7 million. UK's athletics site multiplied the academic-scholarship contribution and royalties over time.
UK often points out that it has one of only 14 athletics programs in the country that are self-supporting and do not receive state or federal funding.
The May 3 trustees meeting at which the board will vote on the scoreboard-system funding is likely to be a notable event. Also at that meeting, the final candidate for the UK presidency is expected to be offered a contract by the trustees.