A Closer Look: The ‘Recreation Facilities Analysis’

Safeguard Old State is making publicly available the report commissioned by the Penn State administration in 2005 called the “Recreation Facilities Analysis.” Of course, this “Recreation Facilities Analysis” might as well have been called the “Student Facilities Fee Report,” as it seems that President Spanier and the administration purchased this report to serve as justification — however meager — for a massive student fee increase that we expect to hit by the May Board of Trustees meeting.

This report was made available to us by the University Park Undergraduate Association (UPUA), and they’ve also made it available on their website for public consumption. We at Safeguard Old State believe in transparency and accountability, and if President Graham Spanier decides to unilaterally approve this $200 increase to our student fees later this month, we at least deserve to know what information they’re working with over in Old Main.

Here are just a few of the highlights from the report which I’ve found particularly interesting, given the administration’s use of this document to justify more fees on the basis of supposed student demand.

Page 80 — This page contains a chart that measures the responses of 676 students to the following question: “How satisfied are you with the following aspects of the existing recreational sports and fitness facilities and programs on campus?”Students identifying themselves as either “very satisfied” or “somewhat satisfied” accounted for 74.22% of those surveyed, or 501 students. Students identifying themselves as either “neutral” on the issue or “not familiar” enough to respond accounted for 20.14%, or 136 students. Students identifying themselves as “somewhat dissatisfied” accounted for 4.74%, or 32 students. Finally, those “very dissatisfied” with recreational facilities made up 0.89% of the survey, or 6 students.

These numbers speak for themselves, and this piece of evidence alone should shame administrators like Stan Latta who so brazenly influenced this report and are today frantically pushing for the new student fee. The administration manages to keep a straight face, talking about the “demand” and “necessity” for more space to meet the needs of students who are displeased with facilities, all while only six — yes, only six — students of the nearly 700 were “very dissatisfied.” Even counting, those “somewhat dissatisfied,” that accounts for a total of less than 6 percent who are displeased with facilities. Stunning.

For further evidence that students surveyed in 2005 were overwhelmingly satisfied with the state of facilities (and keep in mind that this was even before the renovated Rec Hall facility opened in 2006), check out page 81 of the report.

Page 11 — A series of focus group interviews were conducted on the PSU campus during a two-day period in September [2005], relative to current recreational usage, perception of existing facilities, and potential improvements. The Director of Unions and Student Activities [then Stan Latta] recruited a diverse cross-section of the campus population and arranged for relaxed, roundtable discussions.

Let’s take a closer look at just how “diverse” a cross-section of the campus population that Dr. Stan Latta personally selected for this prestigious closed door roundtable. The chart above says it all.

Out of the 42 people chosen, Latta made sure that about a quarter of them weren’t even students (Faculty/Staff), and that another 15 of the 42 were explicitly involved in “Intramurals/Club Sports,” meaning that they carry with them an inherent bias for facilities that directly benefit their special interest at the expense of the student body at large stuck with paying the new fee.

Another seven students are categorized as merely “student leaders” (whatever that means) with another nine being labeled as “juniors and seniors.” When we told you back in March that the sample size was of “questionable significance” and the numbers themselves are “not of a particularly convincing nature,” we weren’t joking.

(Keep in mind that this part of the survey is only related to the roundtable discussions, and not the survey of roughly 700 students. That survey already empirically proved that students were overwhelmingly satisfied with the state of recreational facilities.)

Page 7 — In discussions with administrators, a strategic objective of the University is to “create a physical and programmatic relationship between student affairs and recreation. This type of cooperation is needed to foster stronger participation and synergies between the two departments.” Expanding the White Building achieves this strategic objective and addresses student demand for additional weight and fitness space. Students were not only enthusiastic about this concept, but an overwhelming majority supported the idea of a dedicated student fee to fund these initiatives.

Page 17 — Student comment from Dr. Latta’s survey group: “Good idea to connect the White Building to the HUB.”

I wonder where the student came up with the idea to connect the HUB and the White Building? Certainly not from the administration’s “strategic vision” being mentioned during the “relaxed” roundtable sessions. Gotta love the power of suggestion, baby.

Should I even bother going near the ridiculous assertion on the part of the administration that “a physical and programmatic relationship between student affairs and recreation” should exist? Our administrators seem to have way too much time on their hands, and should get back to helping student leaders succeed rather than burdening all students with fees to satisfy their own dreams.

Page 18 — Another student from Stan Latta’s cadre: “Raising the fee $200 is not a big deal.”

Whoa! Who said anything about raising the fee by $200? Surely not the unbiased administration, who merely wanted to engage in conversation in a “relaxed, roundtable discussion.” No, of course an administrators like Latta wouldn’t have been the one to conceive of a new $200 per year fee to pay for facilities (that we’ve already established that less than 1 percent of students desired).

Remember, this report and the student’s comment about a fee costing specifically $200 came in September of 2005 in a roundtable discussion with Stan Latta. Yet, students in general, their elected representatives in the UPUA and the public didn’t hear anything about a new fee until January 2008…from Stan Latta and Gail Hurley. Can you guess how much Latta said the fee would cost? You guessed it. $200.

Such simple “discussions” with so certain and specific an outcome only occur more frequently in the North Korean parliament.

Page 13 — There was overall consensus that Penn State not only met expectations, but exceeded them. Students were quite satisfied with the academic and social components of the University and the only negative comment focused on the lines encountered at the recreation facilities.

Come now. “The only negative comment” about Penn State University focused on lines at the White Building? Maybe I’m hopelessly uninformed, but I would have thought that students would have somewhere along the line mentioned, say, the fact that Penn State is the most expensive public university in America.

Oh, wait. If we take into account the open responses from the 700 or so students surveyed in the general sample (as opposed to Stan Latta’s selected sample of 30 students) we find that (shockingly) there are more complaints about the University administration than just the lines at the White Building:

Page 124 – Student Survey Feedback (Excerpts)

  • “We pay enough in tuition/activity fees to not have to pay fees to use facilities!!!”
  • “As I stated, I think that the University has other priorities. A new facility would be nice, but it is not really needed considering all the other issues the University is facing.”
  • “My definition of improving quality: Bring everything back to the basics, many guys just want old school free weights in some dirty basement somewhere.”
  • “You didn’t ask too many questions about fees. That’s an issue.”
  • “Crowding is a huge problem, but I could stand it if the price of the White Building didn’t raise significantly over the years. It’s ridiculous. Some of us college students are paying everything ourselves, why make it unaffordable to be healthy and fit??”
  • “Rec Hall is fine how it is. Please keep Rec Hall free once the new wing opens up! While I will be graduating before it opens, I have lifted at Rec Hall my entire stay here at PSU and the feeling of being in a building that is of a vintage Penn State era makes the work out experience very enjoyable and Free! Do not change that please.”
  • “The number one issue for students in the graduate program is the cost. Why pay 50 dollars to find out that there is no room in the weight room?? We’re paying over 15k a year, it is embarrassing that the University is making us pay to use our own facilities.”

Finally, I think it’s prudent to point out that this survey and report was conducted prior to the Rec Hall Fitness Center renovations and before students even saw the massive new gym on the west side of campus. As you can see for yourself now that this report is publicly available, things are not as clear cut as the administration would like to make you believe.

In fact, statistically speaking, if this were a democracy, the student vote would have overwhelmingly defeated the idea of a new fee based on student satisfaction with current facilities (74.22% to 5.63%).

Of course, Penn State isn’t a democracy, and the student government in the University Park Undergraduate Association (UPUA) — despite voting 19-1 to oppose this fee — has no binding authority even in matters directly impacting student life.

We can do better and we must do better than to raid the piggy bank to pay for the pet projects of a few. Penn State Student Body President Gavin Keirans and his student government in the UPUA have condemned the fee. The Daily Collegian has both questioned the motive behind the fee and condemned the fee outright, specifically for lack of student control.

All of us at Safeguard Old State have spoken out against this new $200 per year “facilities fee” since the moment we heard about it less than two months ago. As Safeguard Old State Executive Director, I have appeared weekly on radio at The LION 90.7fm on Radio Free Penn State to discuss the merits of a fee increase. I also appeared on PSN-TV on April 10th for an extended interview on the facilities fee.

In all likelihood, President Spanier will have the Penn State Trustees rubber-stamp this new fee and it will be imposed by the Fall 2008 semester. Nonetheless, we feel compelled to stand against this fee. If the empirical evidence that students are already fine with the current campus isn’t enough of a reason, then we’ll just say we’re sick and tired of endless tuition increases and fee changes.