BOISE STATE UNIVERSITY — After a series of controversial decisions, President Charles Ruch faces diminished support on campus. But it may not matter.
Ruch’s support among outside groups, which control the university’s purse strings, appears high.Although students and faculty voted overwhelmingly against a $150,000 retirement bonus for Ruch, the BSU Foundation and the State Board of Education approved the bonus. Students and faculty are increasingly questioning the nature of BSU – for whom does it exist?
Not just students, according to Ruch.
Ruch has said that because student fees amount to roughly 35 percent of the university’s revenue, other voices must be heard.
But that’s wrong, said Nate Peterson, president of the Associated Students of Boise State University, the university’s student government.
“Ruch is elitist and self-entitled, forgetting that he’s a public employee,” Peterson said. “Most students are from Idaho; we pay taxes, our parents pay taxes, so we pay our full tuition.”
Boise State doesn’t exist for faculty, either, according to professors’ upset about a change in faculty admission prices to football games and other decreased benefits.
“I feel betrayed by BSU,” said Larry Waldorf, a senior instructor of applied technology who has been at BSU for nearly 32 years. “I’ll never go to a BSU sports event again. Somehow they have become a money-generating organization.”
Other faculty feel cheated.
“People feel hurt by the system that they have given so much to,” biology professor Russell Centanni said. “This has become Corporate U.”
But there are no simple solutions.
“It’s a very unusual day when someone doesn’t want to skewer me for something,” Ruch said.Here’s a lineup of issues that weakened on-campus support for Ruch, his responses and why many campus outsiders stand behind Ruch’s performance.
In a fit of disgust with administration, Peterson severed bureaucratic ties with Ruch and other administrators in January. Peterson claimed that student satisfaction was at its lowest, and several months later had a poll to back him up.
In a March ASBSU poll, most students and faculty graded administrative performance with a “C,” showing little confidence in the administration’s ability to allocate resources and manage money.Increased student fees, lack of parking, inconvenient student services, such as financial aid, and a lack of communication were cited as major problems.
But students and faculty were most adamant against Ruch’s retirement bonus.
“The biggest reason the bonus was passed was because it was proposed by the BSU Foundation, and I would expect the foundation to go with their proposal,” Peterson said. “I don’t believe the foundation is as knowledgeable of the campus as I would like, and I do believe there are people on the foundation who aren’t happy.”
The BSU Foundation is a non-profit organization responsible for raising money for academic programs and managing all private donations.
Ruch declined to comment about the bonus, saying that it was a foundation matter.
Ruch is the last of Idaho university presidents to have his salary augmented by private money. Ruch’s retirement bonus is about one-third of University of Idaho President Bob Hoover’s bonus, and half of Idaho State University President Richard Bowen’s .
But Peterson said Ruch was less deserving than Hoover or Bowen.
“U of I and ISU presidents also got bonuses – but they were involved in huge fund-raising campaigns – BSU hasn’t had one in 10 years and has missed out on one the state’s biggest economic expansions,” he said. “We’re not even trying to compete in fund-raising.”
Peterson said key fund-raising positions have been left unfilled or without a permanent person, such as the vice-president of institutional advancement and alumni director.
Dawn Kramer Hall is serving as interim executive director of the BSU Alumni Association, and Richard Smith of Wichita State in Kansas was slated to start his new job as vice president for institutional advancement earlier this month.
Ruch also has intentions of improving fund-raising performance. In his spring address, Ruch announced plans for a large-scale fund-raising campaign similar to University of Idaho’s $100 million Campaign for Idaho.
But others still believe Ruch’s performance didn’t warrant a bonus.
“Ruch’s bonus was a travesty of justice,” Waldorf said. “If it was based on performance, the performance wasn’t there. Besides raising student fees, increasing parking fees and increasing ticket prices, I don’t know what else (Ruch) has done. He is the increasing president.”
Faculty, on average, got a raise of about $2,000 to $3,000, one of the biggest increases in recent years.
Ruch said that the poll results come with the territory.
“I haven’t found simple solutions to complex problems,” he said. “I can’t make parking free, accessible and available for everybody, I just can’t do it. I can lower student fees, but I have to take away student services. One thing we might do is not have a student newspaper, or counseling services, or an art gallery. I can’t stop inflation; our power costs are going to go up 63 percent.”I invite students through student government to get involved, to learn about the finances of the institution, to learn about what it costs to go to other institutions, and see if we aren’t one of the best values going,” Ruch said.
Students who blame Ruch for increased fees are misplacing their blame, Rep. Ken Robison (D-Boise) said.
“The increase in student fees is primarily due to the legislature. Because education budgets have been pretty lean, it has forced the university to increase fees. The majority of legislators prefer a tax cut rather than holding down student fees,” Robison said.
But due to support among the legislature, Ruch was able to get solid funding this year, Sen. John Andreason (R-Boise) said.
“Ruch got financing for new buildings from the legislature, and if he wasn’t doing his job he wouldn’t have gotten that money,” he said. “His performance from the very beginning has been very good, and continues to get better.”
Robison also praised Ruch.
“Ruch has basically been an effective leader. He got the engineering program going, expanded it, got legislative support for classroom building, and is expanding into Canyon County.”
Fielding athletic teams is expensive, and the costs keep rising. In order to keep up, the Bronco Athletic Association dropped a benefit enjoyed by long-time faculty and fans – discounted prices to basketball and football games in priority areas. The change takes effect this fall.
The BAA is a non-profit organization responsible for raising money for athletic scholarships by selling memberships ranging from $100 to $1,500. Members can then buy seats in priority seating areas.
“We knew it wouldn’t be popular, but we had to balance the budget,” BAA Executive Director Bob Madden Jr. said. “Just about every other school across the country does this. We talked to other schools and they said that we shouldn’t make any exceptions for ticket prices.”
Faculty and fans that began purchasing tickets before 1980, when there were less priority areas, until now were allowed to continue buying tickets without a membership.
Up to 1,000 accounts were affected, including 80 orders from faculty for 163 seats, Madden said. The change could generate an additional $300,000 over three years, a significant amount, he said.”The potential is there for much more, but we are pretty confident we can generate that much,” he said.
BAA staff have talked to about 300 people affected by the change, but Madden said he didn’t know how many affected people bought memberships.
“We hate to lose anyone, but there are a lot of options for people to move their seats,” he said.Faculty still gets a 50 percent reduction on season ticket prices, Madden said.
But the change could come back to haunt the university, Centanni said. Some veteran professors resent the change, saying that it is endemic of the way veteran faculty is treated.
“The faculty is getting screwed again, the old guard is a captive audience, and if you pee on them they’re not going anywhere,” Centanni said.
As a result, retiring faculty might be less willing to donate their time or money to the university, Centanni said.
Centanni said that now instead of paying $100 for a season ticket, he would have to pay $625 – $525 for BAA membership and $100 for the season ticket.
“In the last five years, faculty have had to pay to swim, use the tennis courts and other facilities,” Centanni said. “These were supposedly fringe benefits for poor salaries, but we’re still getting poor salaries and no fringe benefits.”
“I feel like the university has used me all these years, and now that I’m older they can throw me in the rubbish heap,” Waldorf said.
The BAA membership fees go primarily to athletic scholarships, but Centanni said athletes already get scholarships worth as much as $10,000, which pay for tuition, housing and living expenses.
Madden said as student fees increase, athletic scholarships must also increase.
Ruch said that overall, the change has worked well.
“Some people have said, ‘yeah, I’ll pay even more to get better seats,’ some have gotten mad and said ‘keep your tickets, I’ll do something else,’ but overall it’s going very well,” he said.
Centanni said he has tutored athletes, talked with football recruits, and even consoled the parents of football players.
“I was a loyal supporter for 28 years; now I’m gone,” he said.
Several high-profile university enterprises, such as the Pavilion and Athletic Department, have been losing money. Critics say Ruch isn’t in control.
In July 2000, when red ink was spilling, radio commentator Barrett Rainey wrote on his website that, “I am compelled to ask ‘Who’s in charge?’ The Bookstore piled up a loss of a third-of-a-million-dollars in 1998 before making a buck. Select-a-Seat is nearly 400-thousand upside down right now. The Pavilion is more than 300 thousand in the red. And the athletic department ended the fiscal year in June 332-thousand over budget.
“University officials have a lot of explaining for all this. But the plain fact is it shows a lack of competence at the managerial level and lack of leadership at the top,” Rainey wrote.
Ruch said there were problems, but that the university has recovered and all accounts are now in the black.
“We will end this year’s athletic budget in the black – and the Pavilion will be very close, or should break even,” he said.
The Pavilion suffered from new competition, such as the Idaho Center.
“(The Pavilion) still has a debt from previous years, but we have a new director and we’re re-positioning it,” Ruch said. “I think it is going to be tougher to operate as it carries its own deficit for awhile and learns how to compete in a much more competitive world.”
Peterson said there should have been better supervision of the Pavilion, so its deficit didn’t come as a surprise.
Other departments had surprises of their own. Revenue the Athletic Department was expecting never materialized, while expenses stayed the same.
But Ruch said the Athletic Department’s budget problems were over-hyped.
“We were $30,000 in debt in athletics, and it looked like the world was coming to an end. We will end this year’s budget in the black, and we did a five-year plan that’s on schedule,” he said.Empire Building
Ruch’s expansion into Canyon County, with construction underway on Boise State West, a satellite campus to be built north of the Idaho Center, raises some difficult issues.
“Is it possible to expand services and improve quality?” Peterson asked. “Most businesses that try it fail.”
Boise State West is needed because of population growth in the western Treasure Valley. Canyon County and west Ada County have both grown about 37 percent in the last decade, according to a BSU information brochure.
Peterson said the satellite campus should reduce congestion and free up parking spaces on the main campus, but wonders if too many resources are being drained from the main campus.Ruch said the satellite campus will be great for the university, and will help meet the needs of Canyon County, which is being driven by technology.
The Treasure Valley now includes more than 300 high-tech firms, many of them based along Interstate 84 near Boise State West, according to the brochure.
The campus’ basic infrastructure, including roads, buried utilities and a pedestrian bridge, should be finished this year. Plans for the first building should be finished by fall, and construction could start in 2002. Classes could be held fall 2003, Ruch said.
The legislature appropriated a total of $5 million to build the infrastructure, and $500,000 to design the first building. The building, which will be the centerpiece of the campus, is estimated to cost $9.8 million, according to the brochure.
Is a Mansion Necessary?
A home at 929 Warm Springs Ave. was donated to the university to become Ruch’s new residence, and now nearly $500,000 is being used to remodel it.
On the ASBSU survey, students had the option of making comments. One student wrote, “I feel that it is unfortunate that students might not receive scholarships – because we’re going to compensate someone who’s making $146,000 a year – moving into a mansion on Warm Springs worth half a million dollars – and who hasn’t proven his leadership to anyone besides committee members who are definitely not involved in the well being of the university.”
Of the nearly $500,000 being used to remodel the home, $400,000 was donated and $90,000 may come from the state, according to Larry Blake, director of facilities planning in an earlier report.”It’s not my house, it’s the university’s house,” Ruch said. “Do I want to leave the house I own to go live in this house that isn’t mine? Is that a neat deal or not a neat deal? I think it’s a great deal for the university. It is a place where the university can entertain, where it can celebrate, and it is a wonderful asset.”
The remodeling work hasn’t gone to bid yet, but Ruch said he expects to move in at the first of the year.
“I haven’t started packing yet,” he said.
The Arbiter will continue an examination of administrative performance in the fall.