December 6, 2019

Webster administration’s arbitrary financial decisions need greater accountability

By Joshua Ritchey 

The baiting of the chess team to come to St. Louis was one of speculation for me in the first place. Webster University gave all seven members full-ride scholarships to transfer to Webster in order to start a program, according to an April 2012 article from dailymail.co.uk. According to a 2012 article from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s website, stltoday.com, the university added two new faculty positions — one for the chess coach, Susan Polgar, and a marketing position for her husband. I don’t see this being a responsible allocation of money. I see it as a ploy to increase publicity for a university struggling with low enrollment.

In an article on Susan Polgar’s blog, Schuster said, “For the first time in the almost 100-year history of our university, we are the national champion.” Every Webster University club, athletic team or activity participant should feel insulted by this insinuation. Unlike the prodigal chess team, the majority of Webster University’s sports teams and clubs are underfunded, but still excel on a successful level despite discomfort.

In a time of financial trouble, Webster University decided to cut all travel expenses except for what is “necessary.” This past weekend, both President Elizabeth Stroble and Provost Julian Schuster accompanied the chess team to the NCAA tournament for support.

Firstly, all of the players — according to the boastful and constant barrage of biased media messages from Webster Today, its Facebook and Twitter accounts, as well as the president’s own accounts — have been playing on an international and highly competitive spotlight for years. Somehow, I’m sure they would have gotten along fine without the personal support. This bit of traveling and extra expense is spending this university should be trying to combat.

Webster is projected to have a $12.2 million shortfall. However, it is still adding to unnecessary expenses. If Webster is really that adamant about cutting expenses and efficiency, maybe it should review its administrative faculty as a whole. Most schools have one president, one chancellor or one provost. However, this university has one president, three provosts and a chancellor emeritus.

This is extravagantly unnecessary. It was bad enough that our tuition dollars went to a $935,000 home last year for the president. But this is a step too far. The travel was not “necessary.”

These administrative officials, as well as Webster University’s marketing program as a whole, has flagrantly christened the chess team as its most beloved pet. The Chess Final Four and championship games were both showed online, and updated play-by-play on many sites, including Webster University’s own Twitter account.

The funny thing is that I don’t remember President Stroble or Provost Schuster or any other officials in the crowd at any of my forensics and debate tournaments, even when Webster hosted a national centennial tournament with 89 schools on campus. I saw no mention of them travelling to Appleton, Wis., for the NCAA Division III Baseball World Series that Webster qualified for last spring. In fact, I wonder if they were even aware of the women’s volleyball or men’s and women’s soccer teams that qualified for the NCAA tournament and won SLIAC championships.

If they really cared about their student involvement and success, one would think that attendance within driving or walking distance might be agreeable to their dispositions, but apparently not. Only costly plane tickets and a few nights stay in Maryland can tickle their fancy.

Many students are dismayed and frightened at what the next fiscal year brings in terms of financial aid and scholarships. This shortfall will have to be allocated for somehow. Personally, I was told my hopes of procuring a graduate assistant position for my enrollment in Webster’s graduate school will be highly unlikely due to no funding. Due to this, I have very little hope of attending graduate school at Webster. I’ve listened as miscellaneous supervisors tell of having to use their own supplies to print documents, or inability of their departments to function due to lack of simple resources like copying paper or printer ink. Many others fear losing their jobs entirely.

This environment of fear and stress is not viable for success for teacher or pupil. We are already seeing the effects of low enrollment in terms of lackluster class offerings, causing many students to push back graduation even further because they can’t fulfill requirements when no classes are offered. Along with this, students could face higher tuition rates because of this wanton spending and lowered aid, not only because of this, but because of the recent sequester as well. However, the university seems to be doing nothing to protect students’ interests. This administrative support for the chess team is deceptive, unjustifiably founded, illogical and a waste of university financial resources.

Webster’s top administration officials advocate for development and growth of students. However, the university only sees these officials in attendance for high-level competitions. It would be nice to see them seated beside fans at a softball double header or maybe cheering alongside students at a normal season basketball game.

If our top administrative officials truly cared about the development and activities of students, one would think they would not just show up at the championships or nationally recognized events for aesthetic purposes. Sadly, the so-called support we receive from them is ill-perceived and spun to fit a utilitarian purpose.

The saddest part is even in the midst of writing this piece, I have a nagging fear of retribution in my final semester of my senior year. In fact, even if the funding appears for the multiple graduate assistantships I’ve applied for, I fear administrative intervention for this piece on accountability. But the question remains:

Why buy a new nationally competitive team when you already have dozens available for half the price?

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