The week of boycotting by Grambling’s football team drew national attention and scrutiny after the Tigers’ protest resulted in a forfeit last week against Jackson State.
Yet President Frank G. Pogue told the University of Louisiana System Board of Supervisors on Tuesday the dispute between players and the Grambling administration also produced publicity to help underscore the institution’s financial plight.
“We are using creative tension to bring attention to something larger than athletics, larger than football,” Pogue said. “What we’re addressing today is something symptomatic that exists around our university campus.”
The impact of budget cuts has been felt across campus of roughly 5,000 students, but the football team’s grievances became a public face for the issue.
A week ago, players walked out of a meeting with administrators to start a weeklong protest over mold in their locker room and showers, long bus rides to road games in Kansas City and Indianapolis and the firing of coach Doug Williams.
Ultimately, players skipped two days of practice before refusing to board a charter bus to face Jackson State. After a Sunday night meeting with Baton Rouge businessman Jim Bernhard, the team agreed to return to practice ahead of facing Texas Southern in exchange for health concerns being addressed.
“We’re using this as a teachable moment, educational for out students and educational for me as president,” Pogue told the board. “We appreciate what our students were able to do in terms of bringing attention to our needs and prepare us to address those.”
On Tuesday, Pogue said the school is currently cleaning up the practice facility, while another $32,000 in upgrades — including the installation of $11,000 worth of new flooring in the weight room — should be done in the next three weeks.
But a ledger awash in red ink and a long list of to-do items still remain for Grambling, which isn’t alone among the state’s public colleges in enduring deep and repeated budget cuts since 2008.
Since fiscal 2009, state funding has been slashed by more than $1 billion to a projected $525 million in fiscal 2014, according to a July report by the Legislative Fiscal Office. System funding data, however, only highlights the bind Grambling has faced in recent years.
Across the board, the majority of the system’s nine campuses have seen their state dollars cut between 31.3 percent and 57.1 percent. Yet system President Sandra K. Woodley made it clear Grambling withered more in the face of fiscal pressures.
“Grambling has the worst financial situation,” she said.
The school’s projected revenue for the current fiscal year is $49.1 million, which is the lowest in the system, and the roughly $13.8 million in state money doled out to Grambling is 13.6 percent lower than its next-closest peer, Nicholls State.
This year, Grambling will foot 71.7 percent of the bill to operate, bolstering a conclusion in a recent report by its Office and Finance and Administration that the school has gone “from a state ‘funded’ institution to a state ‘assisted’ institution.”
The athletic department hasn’t been spared from cost-cutting, shedding $335,000 to reach an operational budget of $6.8 million. Grambling’s football program took a $75,000 hit to about $2 million.
It’s a status Pogue said is common for similar historically black colleges and universities.
“We were founded not to do more with less, but to do everything with nothing,” Pogue said. “We have never been equally funded in this country, and we are not equally funded today.”
The lean support has left the school on the brink of declaring financial exigency, Pogue said. The number of full-time employees has fallen by 28 percent to 503 over the past five years, system data shows, and Pogue added that current faculty members take on extra courses at the expense of conducting research or being available for office hours.
Grambling’s dire straits, highlighted by the football players’ protest, led Pogue to announce Tuesday the school will conduct “comprehensive review of Grambling’s academics, facilities, student services, athletics and financial needs” and the first such action since 2002.
Immediate remedies, however, don’t seem to be likely for banishing red ink from the ledger or putting more money in Grambling’s coffers.
“We didn’t start this week looking for options at Grambling,” Woodley said. “We’ve been working with officials on the state side and the federal side to identify funding opportunities, particularly on the facility side. But money is hard to come by, and there are many needs across the state.”
On top of that, Pogue said the school doesn’t have the same alumni base in terms of size and financial ability to offset the financial hit through external support with fundraising. It’s an assertion echoed by Woodley, who added that tuition increases to make up for lost public funding have hurt too.
But the story has also led to pledges of support from alumni, an effort Pogue has stressed over the past four years but Woodley said “has been a struggle.” In the aftermath of the protest, alumni have sought out ways to donate.
“If you want to be helpful to be Grambling, write a check,” Pogue said. “If you don’t want to mail it, call me and I will pick it up. That is how we do business.”