Cody Cousino / Photo editor
President E. Gordon Gee urged Ohio State faculty to remain open-minded on the subject of fundraising and parking privatization at his address this week, citing the need for the university to adapt to challenges such as shrinking federal funding for colleges and increasing tuition rates across the country.
“Without resources, the university cannot be a cultural, economic, social and global force,” Gee said. “Without a long-term investment pool, we will not achieve our goal of becoming a top 10 public university and graduate more students in the future.”
Gee’s semi-annual address to the faculty took place in the Wexner Center’s Film/Video Theater Wednesday. Between praising faculty and discussing the implications of President Barack Obama’s Saturday visit, Gee told the crowd that universities function in a political environment that could significantly cut their funding.
“Gone are the days when we can hold our palms outright and hope for the best,” he said. “At the federal level, we are facing the very real possibility of substantial, targeted reductions.”
Aside from decreased funding, Gee cited rising student-loan debt and even the advent of online colleges as threats to a traditional college education. He said in order to maintain the flexibility to adapt, OSU must find new ways of raising money, and said parking privatization is way to do that.
“These are merely tactics,” he said. “They are means to an end, so we can invest in our core academic mission.”
Gee sent an email April 23 to students, staff and faculty, detailing the administration’s plan and the issuing of a Request for Proposal from companies interested in leasing parking operations. May 30 is the deadline for bids, when the OSU Board of Trustees is expected to make a decision and a recommendation for final approval, Gee said in the email.
The email referenced the university’s RFP to potential vendors, asking for bids for control of parking assets. The minimum bid is supposed to be $375 million for a 50-year lease.
“My expectation is that the $375 (million) is a floor, my expectation is that if we’ve done the right things that we will get a substantially higher bid, so I’m just betting that we’re going to get the $400 million,” Gee told The Lantern.
Gee said he recognized many faculty members’ reluctance to consider parking privatization specifically, but he asked the faculty to at the very least be open to innovative ideas on how to raise money.
Reactions to Gee’s pleas for privatization were varied, though most agreed that some other source of revenue had to be raised.
“I think he was spot-on when he said we have unreliable partners at the federal and the state level, and I think that is our greatest vulnerability right now,” said Stephen Gavazzi, dean of Ohio State’s Mansfield campus.
Michael Caligiuri, CEO of OSU’s Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute, said that even if the method resorted to isn’t parking privatization, some means of guaranteeing money needs to be found.
“My personal opinion as a tenured faculty member and as the director of the cancer program here, who’s in need of sufficient funding to see to it that we have a cancer-free world, is that we need to think outside of the box and that everything should be on the table,” Caligiuri said.
History professor Robert McMahon, however, said parking privatization would ultimately end up hurting students more than it would help the university.
“If you lease parking to a private corporation, the goal of the private corporation would be to maximize profit,” McMahon said. “Universities are not in the business of seeking to maximize profit, so you’re bringing onto campus an entity that has a different set of objectives.”
Gavazzi, however, disagreed, and said parking fees might increase regardless.
“We’ve seen the fees escalate, and the continued escalation of fees will continue, no matter who’s in charge,” Gavazzi said. “The opportunity of the university to gain some forward momentum by having someone take over this and front the university some money to be used on faculty and research is a great one.”
Despite the challenges faced, Gee said he still has high hopes for the university in the future, and aims to make OSU a top 10 public university by 2020. Gee also said he plans to expand OSU’s faculty in the coming years, suggesting ideally an 8 to 10 percent increase in the number of faculty employed at the university.
“Adding faculty is almost unheard of in this day and age. They want to come here because of your excellence,” Gee said to faculty members.
In the end, Gee said he was optimistic that the university would find a way to prosper even with its challenges.
“I feel the change as acutely as anyone in the room,” Gee said. “I admit to being an optimist, but I am also a dead on pragmatist. It is not about surviving, it is about thriving.”