USF officials will present the Bulls’ plan to build a $340 million on-campus football stadium Tuesday, and Faculty Senate officers have questions. Lots of questions.
How else could USF use the $140 million in direct funding? How will the Bulls service $200 million in debt? What happens if they can’t make their payments? And how does constructing a 35,000-seat stadium north of the practice facilities help USF achieve its academic goals?
“It seems to me like the dangers outweigh the positives,” said Brian Connolly, the Department of History’s chairperson and Faculty Senate vice president.
Faculty concerns stem in part from the university’s recent financial issues. In 2020, USF announced $93 million in budget cuts and a plan to phase out undergraduate programs in the College of Education (though some of the decisions were reversed).
“I’ve been watching faculty afraid they’re going to lose their jobs because of budget problems for years now…” said Richard Manning, an associate professor of philosophy and the Faculty Senate secretary. “And then to be told we’re going to go $200 million in debt and spend another $140 million on a stadium to support our (1-11) football team?”
The scars are also fresh for Tim Boaz, who fought the cuts during his tenure as Faculty Senate president.
“Have we really made that much financial progress that we can afford to spend $340 million on a stadium?” said Boaz, an associate professor in the Department of Mental Health Law and Policy. “I come at this issue with a great deal of skepticism about financially whether we can manage this without difficulty.”
Boaz’s skepticism remains even after he and other Faculty Senate officials discussed the stadium budget with USF chief financial officer Richard Sobieray and USF Foundation CEO Jay Stroman last week. Projections, outlined in board of trustees documents include a net operating revenue of $20.5 million for a new stadium against $5.3 million in operating expenses. The annual debt service is $17.8 million.
Boaz said USF’s figures seem “like it’s possible this could be manageable.” But “even with the numbers they have in that presentation,” he said, “it left me wondering how much was left that we’d have to come up with.”
Manning wonders about other parts of the plan — specifically whether the money could be better used in other ways.
Of the $140 million USF expects to contribute, $59 million comes from the sale of broadband equipment and licenses. Manning doesn’t yet have an answer to what else that money could pay for and “what kinds of things we won’t be doing” if the funds go to the stadium.
Another $31 million comes from the capital improvement trust fund. That pool goes to projects, not things like hiring more faculty, but Manning and his colleagues suggested other uses. Manning said some buildings are in a “deplorable state” due to lack of maintenance and that adding classrooms would help alleviate a “regular nightmare.”
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Connolly said the building that houses his department is in “disrepair,” so he’d rather see capital funds go to to new academic buildings or a library that supports USF’s ambitious research goals.
“They’re not going to take a loan out to hire more faculty,” Connolly said. “They’re not going to take a loan out to … build or repair old academic buildings.
“I worry the emphasis on a football stadium will detract from those kind of things.”
Manning has an even bigger worry: that one of the biggest projects in university history is being done for the wrong reasons.
“Of course the suspicion is — look, this a vanity project for the board of trustees,” Manning said. “It’s not really going to further the central academic mission of the university. And, moreover, it smells like pork because somebody’s going to make a ton of money on this project, right? And the economic, let alone the academic, benefit to the university is completely speculative, at best.”
USF officials will have a chance to ease those concerns and answer unresolved questions Tuesday morning. That’s when the board of trustees’ finance committee will discuss and vote on the proposal at its virtual meeting. If approved, the plan will likely move to a full board vote on June 13.
“We’ll try to stay calm because this thing’s on a fast track, it feels like,” Boaz said. “I feel that they’re going to do this whether we like it or not. So I just hope they’ve got the plan nailed down well.”
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