Conflict of interest disclosure: The Cougar is in large part funded by Student Service Fees. To view our 2025 budget requests and SFAC presentation, go to UH.edu/sfac/unit-requests/fy25/ and look under “The Cougar.”
For the first time in a long time, the students representing us on the Student Fee Advisory Committee have rightfully decided to tighten the purse strings by recommending a modest reduction to Athletics’ massive budget.
Largely made up of students appointed by the Student Government Association, SFAC is tasked with advising President Renu Khator on how to spend a combined $20 million generated annually. Those funds are accumulated through the Student Service Fee — a $260 charge applied to every full-time students’ tuition, every semester.
The committee’s opinion was that Athletics, which for the past 20 years has taken the most of any organization or department from the student fee fund, failed the basic task of showing where their piece of the pie was going or what it was being used for.
While the department’s share of the student fee fund is immense, compared to their total budget, it’s just a drop in the bucket. According to the Sports Business Journal, the department posted a staggering $73.8 million in operating expenses during the 2021-2022 fiscal year.
Granted, that investment generated a $4.2 million surplus — there’s no denying the success there. But after a lackluster Big 12 debut that culminated in the long-awaited dismissal of the football team’s head coach — not to mention ongoing issues with infrastructure and support services — I think it’s high time someone started asking how things are run around here.
I know there are a lot out there who probably believe Athletics deserves all the funding it can get. We did just join the Big 12, after all. Maybe the reason we didn’t do so well this year is because we didn’t give Athletics’ enough money (a narrative I’m sure they’d appreciate.)
But the money generated through the Student Service Fee is different, it’s sacred. Eloquently enshrined under the Texas Education Code as Educ. Code Section 54.5062, the allocation of these funds was always intended to be done under the guidance of the student body.
But since at least 2004, the available evidence paints a picture of past committees who have consistently failed to demand anything substantial from their fund’s most demanding unit.
Unsurprisingly, sticking a 20-year-old on an advisory committee alongside long-tenured professors and telling them to make sweeping recommendations on behalf of 40,000 students typically ends how you’d expect. They may ask a question or two, but rarely do they have the confidence to really grill someone two decades their elder.
Hard to blame them either. Counseling and Psychological Services receives funding from SFAC — can you imagine really trying to evaluate the efficacy of a program so crucial? Could you imagine anyone under the age of 30 really being qualified to do so?
Still, this money should not be a given. It should not be something departments simply receive each year in exchange for a dismissive presentation and a couple of checked boxes. In a rare gift from the state of Texas, the student body at UH has been granted this responsibility, and as adults it is not something we should shy away from.
Sure, as a student I might not be the best person to ask when it comes to solving the evolving mental health crises of the modern world. But it doesn’t take a genius to tell when something just isn’t working. I don’t have to be Einstein to know that paying almost $15 million for the privilege to fire Dana Holgorsen is not some 4-D business move, it’s an L.
The members of this year’s SFAC are providing the consequences for that L. The proposed deduction of $700,000 is really just a slap on the wrist considering the department’s usual serving of close to $4.5 million. Were it up to me, Athletics would get nothing until they worked off Holgorsen’s tab — would only take about three years.
Jokes aside, therein lies the function I believe SFAC was intended to perform. No, we are not financial experts, but we are a part of this community and deserve a say in how its run. At the very least, we deserve transparent and honest accounting of what our money is going to.
SFAC chair Yusuf Kadi, a mechanical engineering sophomore, and Vice chair Anahi Ortega, a technology and leadership innovation senior, alongside the rest of 2023-2024 committee, have displayed remarkable resilience in the face of institutional pressure. Their work, if nothing else, will serve as a reminder that students’ concerns are not to be dismissed outright.
True to its name, however, SFAC is only an advisory committee. In all likelihood, the president will present an alternate budget to the Board of Regents. The committee will have the opportunity to defend their version, but it’s a slim shot at victory when you’re facing off against a university president who is also the system chancellor.
The outcome isn’t what’s important here, though. What matters is that students exercised their rights and applied a critical eye to a department that deserved it.