Building conditions may explain sudden sunset

Samantha Eron

Letter to the editor

On July 22nd, Ashland University announced its intention to build an athletic center whose estimated cost is $9.98 million. Three days later, the same institution announced the sunsetting of 20 academic programs, gutting the foreign language and theatre departments. My question is: When will Ashland University and its donors begin to invest as much in its academics as it does in its athletics? Or will the administration and the Board of Trustees continue to sell off pieces of the school’s identity as an institution of higher learning?  

I am not the only alum or student who is disheartened by the ways in which Ashland is prioritizing their funding. But when we bring up these issues we are met with backlash from donors and athletes. On Facebook, when confronted with these issues, donor Cheryl Chaffin Given asked, “Will you have your name on anything on campus? If not then stop complaining about their money issues!” while former track athlete Myles Pringle retorted to the criticisms on Twitter with “if you have not trained in the field house or have not been on a collegiate team for Ashland, opinion is yours [sic] but still doesn’t matter.” Somewhere along the line, Ashland has lost sight of its mission and values and has shifted to putting the accent on the administration and athletics, instead of the individuals that make up their student body. We are told that by the phenomena of “trickle-down economics” that these “state-of-the-art” complexes will attract students and money as well as revenue from renting them out to athletic tournaments and community events. Meanwhile, Ashland has garnered a reputation for cutting tenured professors and gifted young instructors who form the backbone of Ashland’s identity as an institution where students are known by their names and not by ID numbers. It is time for students and alumni to speak up and ensure that future students receive the best of what a university should offer – a quality education.

Ashland University claims that excellence in teaching is one of their core values. Their website states that they emphasize “teaching supported by research and scholarship as the University’s central responsibility.” In practice, Ashland is prioritizing athletics over academics despite claiming that it is their “central responsibility.” In the past month, they announced a nearly $1 million “strategic acquisition” of property and a $9.98 million athletic building while simultaneously slashing their offered programs by nearly half.

According to their mission, Ashland aims to “provide a transformative learning experience, shaping graduates who work, serve and lead with integrity in their local, national and global communities.” When this is their mission, it does not make sense to cut foreign language majors and minors which would help prepare students to serve their diverse communities in the US or globally. They cannot expect to produce students who will make an impact when the professors that help shape them have been unceremoniously cut without justification. 

I was fortunate to truly feel the “accent on the individual” during my time at Ashland University. There were countless professors and staff members who truly exemplified that value, but none more so than Dr. Stefan Swanson. He impacted my life so much that I nominated him for the Academic Mentor Award, which he was awarded in January of 2020. But not long after, he was fired by the university with the reason that his position was no longer “prudent to university operations.” It was incredibly disheartening to know that someone who embodied so much of Ashland’s mission and values was being fired because an impactful faculty member is worth less to the university than buying new land for the sake of strategic property acquisition.

As new athletic buildings are being built, several academic buildings are crumbling. The Center for the Arts (CFA) and Bixler have not been updated in decades, reflecting the institution’s lack of fidelity to the “arts” part of “liberal arts.” The buildings are in such a state of disrepair that tour guides are asked to not to take students to them unless specifically requested. Both are buildings that every student, including student athletes, will use during their time at Ashland for their core courses. Other campus buildings are outdated and inaccessible to students with disabilities. All residence halls but one lack air conditioning and only a few have elevators. So rather than prioritizing athletic programs and yet another “state-of-the-art” athletic complex, the administration should seek donations to fix things that all students can use, benefit from, and have been asking for for years. 

It is time for students, alumni, faculty and staff to join together and demand that Ashland stay true to their mission and core values and prioritize teaching and education in their projects and spending. As Board of Trustee member Deborah Karl said to me when trying to justify building new athletic buildings “This is what it is all about! How can we give to our future generation, and make it better than what it is today?” So what can you do to help? E-mail President Campo ([email protected]) to share your thoughts about the university’s priorities.