Using foundation money to offset state cuts is bad idea
In arguing for the private Youngstown State University Foundation to subsidize day-to-day operations of the university, the president of the faculty union chose an apt metaphor. "[W]e have begun to burn the furniture to heat the house," said Dr. John Russo, labor studies professor.
In arguing against drawing down on foundation assets we would resort to our own metaphor: Don't eat the seed corn.
Fiscal challenge: YSU faces the certain loss of $3 million in state funds this year and, along with virtually every state university in Ohio, is going to be challenged to balance its budget.
In those circumstances the foundation, with assets of $132 million, might seem like a ready source of cash, but it isn't. The foundation was not created so that the status quo could be maintained in the event that state subsidies were cut.
State funds have indeed been cut, and most likely will be cut some more as the General Assembly seems determined to balance its budget through spending cuts and freezes, not tax increases.
If the YSU faculty has an argument with anyone, it is the state's lawmakers, but they aren't inclined to listen. If it's any consolation to the faculty, the legislators don't listen to the governor, they don't listen to editorialists, they don't listen to university presidents, and they're not even inclined to listen to a majority of the Ohio Supreme Court.
It is going to fall upon the university administration and the board of trustees to balance the budget and everyone on campus is going to have to bite the bullet, including students, who will be looking at tuition increases.
Helping hand: That's where the foundation can, should and will make its contribution. The scholarship money it provides can help brunt the effect of the tuition increases. By doing that, it can minimize the loss of students due to financial factors.
That will help keep enrollment stable and will help see the university through this crisis, without cutting into the foundation's ability to help more students for generations to come.
As to burning the furniture to heat the house, the university might have to turn down the thermostat a couple of degrees, but we doubt that the faculty will freeze. Or to mix metaphors: If YSU shaves its payroll costs, the faculty isn't likely to starve.
In any event, the foundation has every right to protect its principle assets and to pursue its priorities, which may not necessarily be the same as those of the faculty or the administration.