Saturday, June 4, 2016

A Question For NE Ohio Journalists

Years ago, college students going to state universities paid low tuition thanks to the fact the state provided the majority of the cost for a student to go to school.   A college student, I was one of them, could make enough with a summer job to pay for school.  No more.  The state still provides significant support, but it's been cut substantially.   Now, the largest percentage of a university's revenue comes from what the students pay.   Lose students and a university loses big money.   That's what's happening at the University of Akron.  

As the Akron Beacon Journal reports, "Administrators at the University of Akron expect declining enrollment to reduce annual revenue next year by $20 million."

Will reporters in Northeast Ohio ask an obvious question about an item that can be cut from the university budget that will save millions that won't hurt academics one bit?   Will reporters ask about an item that if cut will reduce the university's risk of litigation?   Will reporters ask about an incredibly expensive item that causes brain damage for some students?   Will reporters ask if the university will cut football?

Probably not.   

When it comes to college athletics, local newsrooms typically play cheerleader.  After all, it took a move starring Will Smith to inform the public about the risk of football concussions.  For the most part, newsrooms just waved their pom poms.  There's nothing to cheer about when a university has a $20 million dollar budget hole to fill.  

Only a handful of university athletic programs make money; most lose millions.  So how does a university that loses millions every year with its athletic program pay for that program?   The university charges fees to every academic student.  Students at universities like Akron, Kent State, Bowling Green and Ohio U  don't know the highest fee they pay each year goes to fund the athletic department because universities don't provide line-item detail on the bill.

That's another worthwhile education budget question for higher-education reporters to ask: WHY DOESN'T THE UNIVERSITY PROVIDE LINE-ITEM DETAIL ON THE STUDENT BILL?   This student project showing how much academic students have to pay in fees every semester to the athletic department is a few years old, but the problem of hidden fees charged to fund athletics hasn't changed.  Neither has the problem of news reporters failing to question the cost of a sport that medical science has shown causes brain damage, a sport that would save a university millions if cut.   Take a look at the University of Akron's athletic budget.   Just for football scholarships it spends $2,952.084.  

Why don't reporters ask the university president why the football team gets more full scholarships than any academic department?   In examining any university budget, it's time reporters put down their pom poms and pick up their pens and ask hard questions of the university president.   
The current presidential campaign shows what happens when reporters fail to do their job.  Only now are they starting to ask Donald Trump the questions that should have been asked months ago.   Trump doesn't like being held accountable; neither do university presidents.  But that's the job of the journalist, to ask the questions that need to be asked and to hold people and institutions accountable.   As Dan Rather recently posted, "Good journalism--the kind that matters--requires reporters who won't back up, back down, back away or turn around when faced with efforts to intimidate them. It also requires owners and other bosses with guts, who stand by and for their reporters when the heat is on."

When journalism fails, bad things happen. 


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