Kozachik: Are regents on board with UA's handling of budget shortfall?

I penned an op-ed that the Arizona Daily Star ran last week. It speaks to just some of the ways University of Arizona President Robert Robbins and Athletics Director Dave Heeke have worked together to create this financial waterfall. Spending close to $2 million on renovations to Robbins’ skybox suite, $2 million on upgrades to the football coaches’ offices/meeting rooms/barber shop, nearly $3 million at Hi Corbett, $13 million buy-outs for failed football coaches. There’s more.

Since writing that guest piece, I’ve heard from numerous others who validate the concerns over bloated intercollegiate athletics budgets and excessive spending authorized by AD’s and university presidents. One guy who had worked for over 17 years at another collegiate institution went through 5 presidents, 7 provosts and 6 deans, each of whom spent their way to more lucrative jobs. With respect to claims that there would be “no impact on academic units”, the writer simply said “that was all bullshit.” The deficits were “taken out of our hides in the form of loss of positions, cuts in travel, reductions in supply bugets, etc.” We’re starting to hear the same claims from the UA.

If the Arizona Board of Regents wanted to do a deep dive into athletics spending authorized by the president and AD they’d find much more than what I shared in the op-ed. Within the Athletics Department itself, while staff employees are working out of “offices” carved out from under the arena seating so the “ceiling” of the office is sloped such that you can only walk on the “top” side of the room, Heeke chose to knock down walls and double the size of his own suite located inside of McKale.

Each of the “dungeons” (as they are affectionately called by McKale staff) being used to house staffers lack sprinklers for fire suppression, which is a clear fire code violation when used as an occupied space that has been ignored by campus risk management. The conference room he demolished in order to expand his office had worked well in support of Cedric Dempsey, Jim Livengood and Greg Byrne. That remodel was conducted at the same time donors were being solicited to fund capital projects listed above, and to pay buy-outs for football coaches.

That remodel was also paid for at the same time Heeke and Robbins were aware that the stadium had nearly 200 unfinished structural issues that needed attention.

A structural analysis had been paid for that identified things such as (pardon the structural engineer-speak) “Section 19, Row 69, Seats 4 and 9: Threaded rods have been inserted and connected to the vertical leg of the step seating to support the seating brackets. Rod only provides alignment and protrudes approximately 6″ beyond the bracket. Could be a hazard. See Photo #70;” “South Upper level ramp: Re: Supporting cantilevered beam adjacent to the Mirror Casting Facility; cast not level, thus grout packed for full bearing. Grout now coming loose and falling debris potential may be present;” “Middle Tier: Typically noted as observed from the ramp; where two sections of precast seating intersect with vertical leg of upper section bearing on horizontal leg of lower section, it appears that vertical anchors are causing blow-outs of the concrete due to installation of anchors or horizontal reinforcing steel cast too close to the concrete surface;” ” At some locations the concrete has spalled leaving the vertical anchors exposed, and some are spalled conditions with concrete ready to fall;” and “General note regarding north ramp: Three days after a rainfall, water was still standing on the upper most north exterior ramp. Bat droppings were extensive, apparently coming from the top of the stadium (Row 40 to the precast concrete slab). The joint appears to be a nesting spot for bats. Water standing on the ramp at the northeast corner of the ramp walls has no means to dissipate and may be a health issue with the standing water and bat droppings combined. The odor was extreme..

There was no bat dropping odor in Heeke’s newly remodeled office.

Just ahead of the 2019 softball season the UA completed an $8 million upgrade to Hillenbrand Softball Stadium. The process for doing capital projects on the UA campus requires ABOR approval of the project budget. That’s their oversight. In the case of the softball upgrades the project scope included new sun shading, loge and standing areas, restrooms and concessions, the press box was renovated, the dugouts were upgraded, and the backstop netting system was replaced. You can find the scope on the Planning, Design and Construction website. What’s missing? No upgrades to the seating area? In fact that wasn’t allowed for under the ABOR approved budget, so a side-project was approved to do the work at a level below the amount that needed ABOR approval. Same contractor. Same architect. Same time as the other upgrades and same stadium. Some might be inclined to call that pyramiding – whatever it’s called, the regents never saw the added scope because it happened under a different project number. On the positive side, the seating is nice and comfortable.

While I was working for Athletics, Heeke’s number two guy and his HR person called me in one day and announced that I had what he called a “conflict of loyalty” between city work and the UA. His “solution” was that he’d draw up a list of things I’d be allowed to speak about in public and those I was not allowed to address.

I suggested there might be some issues with the Constitution, but waited to see what he produced. The document never arrived. What did happen was the week after I wrote an op-ed in the Star supporting the notion that the UA require COVID testing of all students attending, Robbins/Heeke “eliminated” my position. I reminded the UA general counsel of the comment made by Heeke’s number two guy. When confronted with that he didn’t deny having said it. His excuse was that they were :afraid that when someone heard me speaking on camera wearing a UA shirt they’d confuse my position with that of the UA.” If that had ever even remotely been suggested the solution would have been simple – I don’t go on camera with a UA logo on my shirt.

The claim was a lie – and when I called the HR person on it the reply was, and to this day has been, crickets.

Since I wrote the budget op-ed I’ve heard a lot from others on campus; things such as people losing a job because they refused to draw down reserves, Robbins/Heeke taking private jet trips to out of state athletics events, other faculty and staff being told to keep their mouths shut or risk losing their job, that advice about financial issues is ignored. If ABOR is on board with this, then their response to the current mismanagement is predictable. If they aren’t we’ll see change.

One of the regents rhetorically asked “have we gone far enough in the accountability area?” He said “when things fall short there should be accountability.” We’ll see if he meant it. Robbins said he had “dug in and I don’t like what I’ve discovered.” No kidding? He’s just discovering that they’re spending more than they’re taking in. Scroll back up to the projects they’ve allowed solely within athletics – while at the same time Robbins was gifting that department $87 million.

ABOR chair Fred Duval said “the problem didn’t develop overnight and won’t be fixed overnight.” Agreed. But if accountability is really something they’re committed to, that can be demonstrated as easily as “eliminating a position” was handled.