The Lombardo Trophy: Are students Memorial Stadium’s eventual saviors?

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Memorial Stadium’s renovation — a $321 million, multiyear endeavor that yielded a gleaming, earthquake-proof temple of football — has long been short on cash. In the beginning, campus officials contended that, recession and common sense be damned, donors would pay for almost the entire cost by purchasing expensive season tickets. As it stands now, the campus has collected less than 15 percent of the money to pay for the project.

This comes as a surprise to no one, except perhaps the campus’ braintrust that devised the scheme in the first place. Going forward, they still contend that, with some tweaks, ticket sales will pick up and pay for the majority of the project. But looking at the numbers — as of Dec. 31, the campus has received pledges for only $151.3 million worth of seats and collected just $43 million— it is hard to be as optimistic. And from a student’s perspective, it is a downright frightening position to be in when I consider how UC administrators have wriggled their way out of other holes they themselves have dug.

Take, for example, the $60 tuition surcharge the UC Board of Regents will likely renew on Thursday. That money does not go to student services or faculty salaries. It pays the damages stemming from a lawsuit brought after an epic UC screwup. Students are now paying out of pocket for mistakes made by university administrators a decade ago.

Or consider the proposed solutions to the university’s current Student Health Insurance Program quagmire. Over the past few years, the UC Office of the President coerced the university’s campuses to join the program, promising lower rates and increased stability for all parties. Instead, through some staggeringly bungled accounting and planning, the fund now has a $57 million deficit. Dramatically raising student payments into the plan is being considered as a possible fix.

Or just look at the years of consistent tuition increases, one of which was expressly committed to paying for employee pensions. This problem arose because UC administrators, in concert with state leaders, decided to stop paying into the UC’s pension plan in 1990. Two decades later, students are left to pick up the pieces.

On campus, the majority of another capital project is already funded by students. Of the $223 million required to reconstruct Lower Sproul Plaza, students must pony up $124 million. Apparently, students at public universities are now expected to pay for their facilities themselves.

This is all not to suggest that the Memorial Stadium situation mirrors these other instances outlined above. But parallels between them exist — namely, administrators’ overestimations, outright mistakes and stated plans have led to students funding more of a public university’s operations than they should. So when we consider the current Memorial Stadium mire, is it really that hard to imagine that 10 or 20 years down the road students will pick up the tab?

The campus will immediately come out and say this will never happen. And it likely will not for many years. But this administration’s own record allows for this possibility. Not only has it already shown a willingness to allow students to fund capital projects, but it has also already used student fees to fund athletic department expenditures.

So as the Endowment Seating Program sputters along over the next decade, continually missing its fundraising targets along the way, pay attention to where the administration is looking for money. It might have its eye on your wallet.

Contact Jordan Bach-Lombardo at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @jordan_bl.