Just as the FBI unleashes multi-pronged investigations of the scamsters who profited from sub-prime lending, now the university leadership unveils its own sub-prime scheme to finance building a $100+ million football stadium expansion. Maybe, technically, it's not a sub-prime gambit, but it is Panglossian to the point of hallucination. If this weren’t New Jersey, everybody involved would have been jailed weeks ago. That is how funky the logic underlying this plan is.
This, incidentally, is the same Rutgers that suffered a $60+ million budget cut 18 months ago. That led to cancellation of hundreds of classes, firings of dozens of lecturers, and, across the university, routine maintenance on dorms, classrooms, and offices has been "deferred," which is administrator talk for forgotten about.
And it is the very same Rutgers that, Trenton political insiders whisper, will suffer another $60+ million budget cut later this spring as New Jersey struggles to balance its devastatingly bloated budget. That will trigger another round of canceled classes, lay-offs, and still more "deferred" maintenance.
How could that same decaying university find $100+ million to add seats to the football stadium? Enter the Piscataway version of sub-prime financing.
The financing scheme hinges on the promise that expansion will pay for itself. How? Decades of stadium sell-outs will be needed and that is a high risk assumption given that Rutgers only had one quality win in 2007 and the only real star of the program opted to take early flight and declare for the NFL draft. To call the program mediocre is to flatter it. Early pre-season prognostication sees the Scarlet Knights as Big East bottom feeders in 2008 and that will not draw in sell-out crowds to see games that might charitably be called boring.
Even more far-fetched, the financing depends on raising $30 million in private donations – and just about every expert on the planet raises questions about the probability of success with this venture in what is looking ever more like a deep recession.
A third prong of this cockamamie thinking is that corporations will fall over themselves to buy big-ticket luxury boxes. Sure, right, of course there will be a land rush to watch Coach Schiano's Stumblers; high-rollers love to pay big bucks to eyeball inept flailing between the white lines. Heavens!
What happens if any of these Lucy Ricardo-style budgetary gimmicks fails to deliver? Well, of course the students and staff and faculty will pay this piper, with higher tuition, job losses, and the continued steady degradation of the value of a Rutgers degree.
But we are assured by Old Queens that would not, could not ever come to pass. Right.
Pass what you are smoking, Rutgers President Dick McCormick, because we will all need a toke to get through the mess that looms ahead.
What should Rutgers be doing instead:
O Launch a search for a new president. The McCormick Presidency is a failure. Let’s terminate it before more damage is done to Rutgers.
O Clean house at the Board of Governors. This collection of flunkies, fools and political hangers-on cobbled together the stadium financing plan.
O Put Rutgers in 1AA football, playing teams like UMass, Univ of Rhode Island, and Stony Brook. These are natural rivals, not schools such as Louisville and the Univ of South Florida.
O Commit to a pledge that, by 2010, Rutgers will have 10 academic programs nationally ranked in the top 10…and 20 by 2020. Put academics first and mean it.
O Restore the terminated Olympic sports. The budgets are small, the payoff for the university is high.
O Restore funding for the state’s Outstanding Scholars program, which keeps New Jersey’s brightest high schoolers home.
Stop the Stadium Expansion and Return to Making Rutgers an Outstanding University Again.
Robert McGarvey is a 1970 graduate of Rutgers.