Despite what one student decried as "being forced to pay for a steak and champagne dinner and … getting, maybe, the after-dinner mints," the University of Hawaii Board of Regents overwhelmingly adopted a mandatory athletic fee yesterday as an investment in its financially challenged sports program.
After nearly 2 1/2 hours of often passionate public testimony, presentations and discussion, the Board of Regents voted 11-3 to approve a mandatory $50-per-semester fee for all full- and part-time Manoa students beginning the spring 2011 semester.
The fee is calculated to raise nearly $2 million, about $1.85 million of which will be kept by the athletic department to help fund scholarships and pay for equipment and materials. UH said the money will not be used for coaching or administrative salaries.
In return, students will receive free admission to athletic events, including up to 5,000 seats for home football games, transportation to Aloha Stadium and a say in the use of 5 percent to 8 percent of the fees to "enhance the student experience."
Graduate student Hannah Miyamoto said that amounted to being forced to pay for the "steak and champagne dinner."
But without the fee, athletic director Jim Donovan and other speakers held out the possibility that sports or scholarships could be cut if the department was required to balance its budget without assistance.
With the exception of the 2007 Sugar Bowl season, the athletic department has run at a deficit every year since 2002, most recently with $2 million shortfalls in consecutive years leading to a net accumulated deficit of more than $10 million.
With the student fee, Donovan told the regents, "Our early projections for fiscal year 2012 show a very good chance of being in the black and paying off some of that accumulated debt."
Regents Chairman Howard Karr said a solvent athletic department would allow it to "start paying back Manoa so that they can use that money for other things" and warned that regents would be reviewing the situation.
Donovan said the state of the economy and fortunes of the football team would be key factors in meeting the 2012 target.
The three regents who voted against the proposal—Artemio Baxa, Chuck Gee and John Holzman—all questioned the timing of the measure amid academic cuts and a tough economy.
"I am saying it is bad timing," Gee said, adding, "I think we need to find other options beyond the mandatory fee."
With the athletic fee, Manoa undergraduate students will have eight fees totaling more than $300 per semester in addition to tuition.
Gee also dismissed the notion that UH should add an athletics fee because the other eight members of the Western Athletic Conference have one.
"That may be the modus operandi of most WAC universities," he said. "It doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to follow suit."
But in a statement, Manoa Chancellor Virginia Hinshaw said, "The goal of this investment is for our students to benefit from a strong, visible sports program that magnifies UH-Manoa’s image along with encouraging greater student participation in athletic events—providing memorable experiences that connect them with UH-Manoa now and throughout their lives."
Rainbow Wahine volleyball coach Dave Shoji, the only UH coach to speak, said the fee and resulting admission-by-ID-card policy would encourage greater student turnout. "It will really increase our support from the student body."
Shoji said, "I can see people in the dorm with nothing to do on a Friday or Saturday night say, ‘Hey, it’s free. Let’s go down and watch a game.’"
Andrew K. Itsuno, president of the Associated Students of the University of Hawaii, said, "By passing (the fee) amid strong opposition from both ASUH and the Graduate Student Organization, the regents sent a clear message to the students of the university that it is acceptable to disregard process in making decisions."
Professor emeritus George Simson termed the fee "a bad piece of exploitation" on "those least able to pay" and said it was "totally foreign to the main aims of a first-class university."
But walk-on football player Jett Jasper from Kauai said the fee would allow UH athletes "to compete at the highest level" and on a "level playing field with other athletes (at rival schools)."
Jasper described the fee as the "most important athletic issue since (going) Division I" and said the athletic department is on "life support" financially.
Although athletics will not begin reaping the proceeds until 2011, Donovan said the department, "in a show of good faith," hopes to start providing students with free admission to athletic events as soon as the second home football game of this season, Sept. 25, against Charleston Southern.
"We want to work with the students to make this a win-win situation," Donovan pledged.