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UA finance committee recommends slashing athletics, Arnold confirmed interim CFO

Amid the University of Arizona's financial crisis, a finance committee report suggested cutting athletics administration as ABOR approved leadership changes


UA President Robert C. Robbins alongside members of the Arizona Board of Regents at the Memorial Union on the Tempe campus on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024.

A University of Arizona faculty-led finance committee recommended reining in the university's "massive overspending" by cutting athletic administration allocations by 20%, according to a newly released report.

The General Faculty Financial Recalibration Committee's plan includes reducing scholarships, freezing coaches' salaries and laying off senior-level administration. The report came as the Arizona Board of Regents approved UA President Robert Robbins' 10% pay cut and confirmed John Arnold as the UA interim chief financial officer on Thursday.

"GFFRC calls for reining in the excessive, ongoing, nationwide worst overspending of the Athletics Department," the report said. The GFFRC's report is "a faculty-led analysis and not a university action plan," according to an email from a UA spokesperson. 

The committee pointed out that UA received a larger athletics subsidy in 2023 than any other Power Five conference school. It's one of six schools to "run deficits at a level" that it needs to get funds from the main campus, according to the report. 

Athletic subsidies are one of three spending categories the committee identified as draining UA's cash reserves, including tuition discounting and investing in strategic initiatives. This shortfall downgraded UA's credit rating from "credit positive" to "negative" by Moody's Investors Services, a leading credit rating agency whose evaluations are considered by investors globally. 

READ MORE: Students, faculty and officials voice concerns on University of Arizona's financial problems

The GFFRC broadly criticized Arnold's financial strategy for failing to prioritize the "academic core" of the university and punishing all UA units with broad cuts instead of ones targeting the sources of overspending. 

Arnold did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Jeremy Bernick, the president of the UA Graduate and Professional Student Council, said that the GFFRC report "speaks to the value" of having multiple university perspectives on UA's future.

"We have sort of shut our doors to all the experts in various fields here at the university and relied on very highly compensated consultants and administrative bureaucrats to determine where to go next," Bernick said. 

Bernick also pointed to ABOR's selection of Arnold as UA's CFO — formerly ABOR's executive director — as a "lack of ear on the ground."

"John Arnold has not been at the university for more than, I think, three months now, whereas many members of (GFFRC) have spent their life and work dedicated to making and generating knowledge here at the university, and (who) I think have a better idea of the interests of this place going forward," Bernick said. 

According to Bernick, UA's financial priorities should be protecting student workers as they are "the integral people" that make UA work. 

"President Robbins, even with his 10% cut, makes (significantly) more than the average graduate employee here. He's merely a decision maker and a figurehead," Bernick said. "But graduate students are the ones that are working in the research labs, that are teaching classes, that are doing things that are actually producing credit hours that do generate revenue back into the university's balance." 

Edited by Grey Gartin, Sadie Buggle and Grace Copperthite.

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