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Comparing academic library expenditures to sports subsidies


Last week, I read this post in the Chronicle of Higher Education comparing the ratios of sports subsides to library expenditures at ARL institutions.  Not being terribly familiar with academic micro-economics, I found this paragraph educational (emphasis added):

Sports expenses are funded from earned revenue (tickets, television, sales, gifts and similar revenue generated by the athletic activity itself), and from institutional revenue available for any purpose (student fees and university funds). The institutional revenue is a subsidy for an enterprise that in the best of all possible worlds should earn its own way in much the same fashion as other university nonacademic.

All but a few universities, however, subsidize athletics from student fees and general university revenue. We should ask how significant that subsidy is within the general framework of the university’s academic activities. With some sense of the relationship between subsidy and academics, we can assess when sports consume too much of our academic resources.

The author, John V. Lombardi, attempted to get this sense by comparing the ratios of sports subsidies to library expenditures of the ARL institutions.  These ratios ranged from a low of 0 (those whose athletic programs do not need subsidizing) to a high of 1.52.  From what I could tell, those institutions with high ratios either have (economically) weak sports programs but an institutional desire to promote them (UC Riverside, SUNY Stony Brook) or are placing a higher emphasis on promoting their sports programs over the library (Houston, Ohio).  Almost all institutions with low ratios have very strong sports programs (A&M, Oklahoma, UT) that don’t need support, although I’m not very up on the college sports rankings.  I found a ranking of the football teams and a few of these institutions were in the “middlin'” range (Tennesse: 57th; Purdue: 65th; UCLA: 66th), so maybe an argument could be made that some with low ratios place lower emphasis on sports.  But that’s a correlation that would need more data.

Lombardi suggests that institutions limit these subsidies to less than one-third of the library expenditures.  This appears to be based merely on a subjective view of the data, but it can be supported objectively.  While the average ratio was 0.44, the median (another valid measure of central tendency) was 0.325, very close to one-third.  Out of curiosity, I wanted to see how the University of North Texas performed in this measure.  Over the last several years, there has been a push to increase the visibility of the university in both the academic and sports arenas.  The institution has been pushing to hire research-oriented faculty and increase grants.  In addition, a new football stadium was built and the university has just committed to joining a more rigorous athletic league.  It was not surprising then that the ratio of library expenditures (for the same year used by Lombardi) to sports subsidy was 0.35, just a tad north of the one-third median.

Now, comparing our ratio with that of our peers is also interesting.  Because Lombardi only examined ARL institutions, this is very limited.  We are matched, however, with University of Alabama.  Kent State, meanwhile, has a very high ratio of 1.33 (in the 90th percentile).  It appears that, in the battle between promoting sports and promoting academics, UNT has chosen the middle road.

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This entry was posted on June 4, 2012 by in Academic Libraries and tagged .
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