Thursday, June 29, 2017

A Teachable Moment

Whenever something bad happens in the world of academia, those involved always like to say that it is a "teachable moment".  Well, UW-Oshkosh students are going to be receiving a major lesson in why you don't go into debt to buy (or in this case, build) things that you cannot afford.

Off campus, the reaction to the Board of Regents' decision not to bail out the UWO Foundation with taxpayer money is being met with overwhelming approval.  When administrators intentionally circumvent the safety measures and procedures put into place to protect the system and the state from financial threat, it should not be our responsibility to clean up the mess.  When charities over-estimate their ability to raise funds from willing givers, those of us with no choice in the matter should not be treated as a "back up" source of money.  So by not allowing the state to bail out UWO we are seeing a rare example of those responsible for creating a bad situation actually being held accountable.

The Foundation has the money it needs to pay off the loans used to build two bio-digesters and the Alumni Welcome and Conference Center.  Unfortunately, that money funds scholarships for students of all walks of life.  Given that the reputation of the Foundation is about as low as Congress's approval rating, an emergency bailout from donors at this point is highly unlikely--about as unlikely as the Foundation actually getting the cash to fund such useless projects before the scandal broke--so what should have been going to help kids go to school will now go to pay for buildings that provide the college with minimal benefits.

And there is one lesson that the students can learn: "Know the difference between 'needs' and 'wants'"  UWO didn't "need" the small amount of electricity generated by the bio-digesters to power their campus--nor was a conference center with a nice fireplace and ample parking "needed" to keep the college running--but a couple of administrators and Foundation executives "wanted" buildings to stand as monuments to their legacies.  Now I hope the kids that have to shell out more money from their pockets to go to UWO pass those buildings and see them as monuments to greed and arrogance.

Another lesson to be learned here is that Dave Ramsey is 100% correct: "Debt is dumb".  As Dave also likes to say, if you can afford to pay cash for a brand new Mercedes-Benz automobile and it doesn't affect your ability to pay for any of the necessities of life--go ahead and pay cash for that car.  The UWO administrators and Foundation executives had ZERO cash for the projects that now face default.  And obviously, they had grossly over-estimated their ability to come up with the revenues to fund loan payments--well, other than illegally transferring money from the school itself to the Foundation. 

So if the decision by UWO officials years ago means some kids will be denied the opportunity to further their education in Oshkosh, at least those non-students will still be learning some valuable lessons that they probably wouldn't have had they actually stepped foot on campus.

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