Every time University of Connecticut President Susan Herbst starts talking about a lack of funding, a looming deficit and the spending cuts that would result, I always wonder whether she thinks about all those things when the Huskies’ football team takes the field each fall. Despite a healthy boost in funding, Herbst says the state’s flagship university is running an $18.3 million deficit. Yet she has no problem paying coach Bob Diaco—whose record is a dismal 2 -10—a guaranteed $8.5 million over five years. What are the priorities?
UConn got a nearly $11 million increase in funding and says it will still come up short. It’s certainly not the first time Herbst has cried poor on behalf of the university. In 2014, Herbst told the state legislature’s budget-writing committee, “We are pretty much down to the bone…We’ve made about as many cuts on the non-academic side as we can. We are going to have to start in the academic side, and it’s very, very worrisome. It’s dangerous.” This plea for financial help came despite the $15 million infusion from the state the school was scheduled to receive for fiscal 2014-15 to fund the “Next Generation” initiative.
Diaco’s huge salary is not the only questionable use of taxpayers’ money the past few years. Last year, we found out that UConn spent nearly $1 million in licensing fees for software it didn’t even use. Further, state auditors criticized school officials for not establishing a maximum pay level for professors or have any salary range at all for some professional positions. That’s what happens when no one is watching the store.
Spending on would-be sports icons isn’t limited to Diaco. UConn paid former basketball coach Jim Calhoun $1.5 million in 2012-2013 when he wasn’t even coaching the team! Not to be outdone, a little more than a year ago current coach Kevin Ollie signed a new, five-year contract that with incentives could top out at $15 million.
Of course, there is always the University of Connecticut Foundation—UConn’s shadowy fundraising arm. No one is sure just how they spend their money because the legislature, many of whom are alumni, didn’t have the stomach to force the foundation to open its books.
We do know it paid now-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton $250,000 for a 30-minute speech. It also subsidized a $300,000 pay raise for Herbst who was also already making more than a half million dollars. Then there was the $660,000 for a house in Hartford’s west end for Herbst to entertain big shot donors.
UConn needs to get its priorities straight.