Having eliminated some teaching positions and still facing a projected budget deficit, a community college in Michigan's Upper Peninsula plans to launch an athletics program. The move is stirring criticism from faculty members who question the administration’s priorities.

Bay de Noc Community College in Escanaba will add men’s and women’s cross-country in the fall of 2017, and then men’s and women’s basketball in the winter. The college president said athletics will be added — on a shoestring basis — as a way to attract students and offset a declining enrollment.

“We need to do something,” said Bay College President Laura Coleman.

Bill Milligan, a faculty member in the English department, criticized the timing of adding athletics when teachers are being laid off.

“We've essentially laid off one of the brightest instructors ever employed by Bay and hired an athletic director instead,” Milligan said in an email. “Enough said about the priorities at Bay right now.”

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Enrollment at the college has fallen after a surge of individuals going back to school during the Great Recession. After peaking at 3,215 in 2010-11 enrollment has dropped every year since, falling to 2,074 in 2014-15, a decrease of 35 percent.

Coleman said the college eliminated 11 positions, two of which were faculty.

Bay de Noc also converted a recruiting position into the job of athletic director. The teams' coaches would be part-time employees and the college would play its basketball games at the local YMCA rather than on campus.

Coleman estimated the total cost of adding athletics (including travel) would be $100,000 a year, not including the position of athletic director.

The four sports teams would add as many as 50 students — but only if all the positions were filled by individuals who are not members of the current student body.

“We aren’t going out there and doing football or hockey,” Coleman said. “We want to run a program that will be successful. We didn’t want to do it on the cheap-cheap-cheap nor do we want to be a Big Ten school.”

Milligan was skeptical of claims athletics wouldn’t end up costing the college more money in the end. He expressed concerns about expenses, citing as one example the building where the basketball games would be played, saying the bleachers need to be fixed.

“What concerns me and others is the timing of adding cost into the budget via the sports program at a time the college is laying off full-time faculty and staff — and projecting a budget shortfall of over $1 million,” Milligan said. “The timing simply can't be justified. Period.”

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