I was glad to get another perspective on the "Nat Up" campaign to renovate the UW Natatorium, that beautiful vestige of another era of fitness, in which men did calisthenics with cigars hanging out of their mouths and women exercised in the sewing room. I've actually never been to the place (I go to the other gym), but I think the above description embodies the horror stories I've heard.
If I ever want to authoritatively write on the issue, I guess I'll have to pay the Nat a visit, but until then, I'm skeptical of plans to charge students $54 a semester in segregated fees for a massive new sports complex. I understand the investment in plush locker rooms and sports cars for football players there is an expectation from them and a return on the investment for us. But a state-of-the-arts gym plays a small role in attracting students to a Big 10 university.
Sitting down with Peter Rickman, president of the UW Teaching Assistant Association, only fueled my skepticism. Like many on campus, Rickman is very concerned by the trend of increasing segregated fees. Unlike tuition increases, which must be approved by the legislature, seg fees can be approved by student referenda. Nevertheless, Rickman sees seg fees as a backdoor way of increasing tuition, especially in light of the very low voter turnout on the referenda.
"Why do we have all these non-student entities taking advantage of what is supposed to be a student political process," asked Rickman, who also pointed to the seg fees imposed for the new Union South. The non-student entities he's talking about are the university division of recreational sports as well as the groups of donors and alumni who pressure the university to put up large buildings, often with their names on them.
Peter isn't the only guy worried that UW is spending too much on capital development at the expense of its workforce and academic standing. My former Herald colleague Sam Clegg, who is anything but a unionist, recently wondered aloud why students stand by and allow multi-million dollar renovations take place while professors are fleeing in droves, motivated by salaries often 15 to 20 percent higher on average at peer institutions.