August 28, 2015

U of L Foundation: We’re mad at the wrong people


By Jacob Abrahamson

The pressure has been on U of L President James Ramsey and the U of L Foundation this summer over payments to administrators, leading to the planned audit of the Foundation by the State Auditor’s office.

If funds intended for the betterment of the University are being mismanaged by Foundation leadership, students and the public have every right to be angry and should scrutinize its use.

But public anger has been focused on the wrong place.

According to the 2015-2016 budget scenarios found on the University’s website, only $141,236,300 of U of L’s $500 million budget comes from the General Assembly. That’s less than half of the $295,548,578 that comes from tuition and fees.

In order to operate as a “premier, metropolitan research university,” as it was mandated by the General Assembly, the University is forced to make up for what Frankfort refuses to give by raising tuition on students and through large capital campaigns that end up with the Foundation.

Most of the funds that are donated to the Foundation are earmarked for specific purposes, making it inconvenient for U of L officials to strategically spend it.

For instance, even though the University received $6 million from the Charles Koch Foundation and John Schnatter, it is contractually obligated to spend it on a center for free enterprise.

Donations placed into a discretionary fund are not the norm, so the money doesn’t always have the same impact as it would if it came from a public source.

The process leaves the public with the feeling that University money is in the hands of a semi-secretive group, despite the fact that the money used by the Foundation was never public until it was donated.

The public is right: money used for the University and its students should be handled more publicly. It only makes sense that a public university should be supported by public funds.

The budget situation prevents that from happening.

According to a study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Kentucky’s higher education funding shrunk 26.3 percent while tuition went up 22.4 percent from 2008 to 2013. As this trend continues, universities face more and more challenges in providing a quality education with limited funds.

Instead of being angry at the U of L Foundation, who have been trying (not always successfully) to do what’s best in the current budget situation, students should be angry that state money can no longer meet the needs of our University.

A public institution should be funded by public money, and the only way to solve the problems with the U of L Foundation is to do just that.

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