Revolt at U of the Pacific

Budget controversies prompt complaints of censorship of protest boulders, demands for more financial information, questions about athletic deficits and demands for president's resignation.

October 25, 2018
 
A protest boulder against U of Pacific president

Tensions are boiling over at the University of the Pacific after the university announced a tuition hike and budget cuts for the third year in a row. Students protested outside the Board of Regents meeting last Thursday and called for Pamela Eibeck, university president, to resign. In September, the Academic Council (the university's faculty senate) passed a resolution of no confidence in Eibeck with 95 percent in favor of removing her as president. The resolution will be put to a full faculty vote in November.

“The president’s policies put the university in an unsustainable financial position. The faculty have lost confidence in leadership, and are worried about the future of the university,” the resolution read.

This year, tuition and fees total $48,264. Next year the university will increase tuition by 3 percent, following a 3.7 percent increase in 2018 and a 3.9 percent increase in 2016 and 2017. According to Deidra Powell, senior director of communications, next year’s tuition hike will be the lowest increase in 10 years.

"University of the Pacific is facing many of the same long-term trends confronting most institutions of higher education," Powell wrote in an email, noting national concerns about attracting students and maintaining balanced budgets.

The tuition increases might not have spurred protest had they not been accompanied by budget cuts and secrecy about some financial information at the private California university. The university plans to cut its budget by 10 percent; according to Powell, 60 percent of the cuts will be in administration and 40 percent in academic units. Despite the cuts, Powell said that university is "financially strong."

"We have a strong endowment, modest debt and a strong rating from Moody’s on our investment strategies. Pacific is also in the process of a successful fund-raising campaign," she said. So far, the university has raised $200 million of its $300 million goal.

Even if the faculty pass a no-confidence vote, Kevin Huber, the board chairman, doesn't think the board would support it. "We're very confident in the president," he said. He hopes the university will be able to implement the cuts and move forward quickly. "The board is hopeful that we can move beyond this issue quickly and get back to the hard work of implementing the changes that ensure the financial sustainability of the university," he said.

Faculty members are unsure where the university is “bleeding” funds, as the cuts would suggest are the case, said Cindy Ostberg, a professor of political science. She serves on the 20-member Institutional Priorities Committee, an advisory group made up of faculty, staff and students that reviews and approves the university’s budget. Despite its consultative role, the committee is privy only to high-level university budget information and not department or unit-specific account details. A comprehensive chart of accounts is in the works and scheduled to be available at the start of the next fiscal year in July, but Ostberg is frustrated that the university is moving forward with a 10 percent budget cut without the committee having the full information.

“We have lots of concerns, but I think the biggest concern is the overarching fiscal mismanagement and the lack of transparency by both the upper administration as well as the regents,” Ostberg said. “We are a very committed faculty and staff, we want this to be a university that thrives and we’re very interested in trying to help rectify the financial mismanagement.”

The number of committed new freshmen at the university has hovered around 950 for the past few years, save 2016, when it fell to 747. According to federal data, the university admits 65 percent of applicants, and only 11 percent of those admitted enroll.

Faculty concerns have been growing. According to a 2015 Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education faculty climate survey, the University of the Pacific ranks in the bottom 30 percent of institutions in regards to trust of senior leadership. Powell said that since the survey was taken, there has been "increased communication and transparency with faculty to address their concerns among senior leadership," but Ostberg disagrees.

"There’s no transparency, there’s no interaction between the faculty and the regents," she said. "They say there’s shared governance, but there is none."

Athletics was stuck with a fair share of the blame for the university’s deficit. During an academic council meeting last fall, Eibeck revealed that in fiscal year 2017, the department went $4.2 million over budget, and in FY 2016 it went $2.2 million over budget. While the university is taking steps to address the issue, Eibeck estimates that it will take several years to remedy the situation and that the athletics budget will not be balanced until FY 2020. The Pacific Tigers compete in the Division I West Coast Conference.

“[After FY 2016] things were supposed to change, and then this year it was particularly shocking,” she told the council.

Eibeck and Ken Mullen, vice president for business and finance, gave a number of reasons for the deficit: a two-year investigation into misconduct within the men’s basketball and baseball teams derailed forward progress on the budget, coaches weren’t told how much they could spend month to month, the department uses an antiquated budget tracking system, expected donor money was spent before it was received, and the department has too many “episodic” accounts that are not consistently monitored.

Lee Neves, a graduate of the University of the Pacific and former member of the Pacific Athletics Foundation (the university’s booster club), is frustrated that athletics is shouldering the blame for the university’s financial woes.

When the university joined the West Coast Conference in 2013, Neves compared the upgrade to moving from a Stockton apartment to a home on the Carmel coast. Expecting the athletics department to be able to compete in the West Coast Conference with the same budget it had before was “just not realistic.”

“When you move to a different conference, your expenses are going to increase,” he said.

Neves resigned from the foundation in March because Eibeck “put athletics in a position to fail,” he said.

“It finally got to the point where I’m banging my head against the wall and asking myself ‘What am I doing here?’” he said. “We were looked at as human ATM machines, and I finally said that I’ve had enough.” Neves regularly donated to the athletics program. In 2017, he contributed $15,000.

The university has taken several steps to stop overspending in athletics. Eibeck and Mullen review athletics' operational spending each month, and the university hired a new athletics director.

Discontent among the faculty has reached students. Over homecoming weekend, students spray-painted the boulders in the middle of campus -- dubbed “spirit rocks” -- with the phrase “Eibeck = $580,000,” a reference to the president's half-a-million-dollar salary, and other messages of concern over the looming budget cuts.

The messages were painted over and repainted three times throughout the weekend until a student taped the university’s free speech policy to the top of one of the rocks. Censoring the messages only fueled students' anger, according to Grant Kirkpatrick, president of the Associated Student of the University of the Pacific.

“I understand that it was homecoming weekend, but it’s at times like homecoming weekend that free speech is most important to protect,” he said.

Students created the Twitter page “No Ma’am Pam” (@UoPindecline) to share their frustrations and protested the cuts and censorship during the Board of Regents meeting last Thursday.

“Students are definitely feeling the impact of the [low] morale on campus. Faculty are obviously very upset, staff are nervous, they don’t know who is going to get let go, who is going to get cut, and students see their faculty everyday,” Kirkpatrick said.

During the protest, students called for Eibeck’s resignation. Neves bought pizza for the students.

At the board meeting, Eibeck proposed a 3.2 percent tuition increase for the 2019-20 school year. Huber had met with a small group of students the day prior and referenced their concerns during the board meeting.

"Students suggested that because the [Institutional Priorities Committee] had recommended a 3 percent increase, that’s the increase we should go with. We deliberated about that for quite a while in our board meeting and asked the president and her cabinet whether or not they could make other adjustments to reach the margin we needed to reach, and they said they could," Huber said. "I believe that [students] felt that their voice had been heard."

Students considered the 0.2 percent change a victory.

"Although small, this change signifies that the board is questioning the leadership of the president and that our voices were heard. We will continue to fight,” the No Ma’am Pam account tweeted.

Kirkpatrick sits in on the board meetings. During the five meetings he’s attended, he’d never seen the board members disagree with the president like they did last Thursday.

“I’ve never seen the board take such a firm stance with the administration,” he said. “I think they were really asking for answers more than they usually do.”

Neves, Kirkpatrick and Ostberg mentioned Eibeck’s salary. The president's office will shoulder a 12 percent cut, and many are wondering if Eibeck’s pay will decrease. According to the university’s Form 990 for FY 2016, Eibeck’s base salary was $567,030 and she earned an additional $105,030 in compensation from the university and “related organizations.”

“She makes more than the president of the entire UC system. That’s insane,” Ostberg said. Janet Napolitano, the University of California system president, earned $578,916 in gross pay in 2016.

Neves and Ostberg both said they’d like to see Eibeck take a pay cut.

“The smart PR move here is to say, ‘Look, you guys are getting cut, so I’m going to cut X amount of my pay and put it towards student aid’ or whatever,” Neves said. “But she isn’t doing that.”

The university did not make Eibeck available for comment, but Powell wrote in an email that "the board has not asked any member of our community, including the president, to take a reduction in pay."

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