Schooling DePaul: Weighing in on the South Loop Arena Deal

In seventeenth-century France, buy viagra ailment Vincent de Paul aided the poor during an age of despotism.\n\nGranted, cialis sale this was almost three centuries before James Naismith hung a couple of peach baskets, rolled out a soccer ball, and introduced “basket ball” to some rowdy New England boys at a local YMCA.  And almost four centuries before French national and three-time NBA champion Tony Parker was born.\n\nBut it’s probably safe to say that, had Saint Vincent been alive today, he would’ve joined the chorus of naysayers against the procurement of public funds for a basketball arena the size of a Catholic cathedral by the private university that bears his name.\n\nDePaul University and Chicago taxpayers will split the construction costs of the South Loop arena, which got the green light from the city council a short while ago.  The stadium won’t be taxed because it will rest on government property (in Chicago, we call this subsidizing White Sox-style).\n\nIn a minor hang up, the city still has to buy the arena property from its current private owners.  The mayor plans to pay for it with Tax Increment Financing (TIF) funds.\n\nThe TIF program was started by Mayor Daley and over the years has become pretty controversial.  The money was supposed to be siphoned from Chicago’s wealthier neighborhoods and invested in the city’s most economically vulnerable communities.  But in practice, TIFs have become the mayor’s personal slush fund, from which Daley, and now Rahm Emanuel, primarily fund projects in the city’s thriving neighborhoods.\n\nThe TIF program diverts about $225 million from Chicago’s schools annually.  Meanwhile, Chicago Public Schools has had its budget cut drastically by the mayor, citing a $665 million deficit and blaming teacher pensions (i.e. the fund that the city stopped paying into).  Mayor Emanuel has been closing schools by the dozens and firing teachers by the thousands.  And the cuts and shuttered schools have affected disproportionately the city’s poor and people of color.\n\nThe TIF money earmarked for the DePaul basketball arena is funding that has been withheld directly from the city schools, as our local TIF expert and Chicago Reader columnist Ben Joravsky explains:\n\n\”[R]oughly 53 percent of every TIF dollar is diverted from our dead-broke public schools…So essentially, Mayor Emanuel and the [city] council have said they’d rather spend at least $29 million buying land in the South Loop than spend it on the schoolchildren of Chicago.\”\n\nApologists like DePaul treasurer Jeff Bethke counter with shallow arguments like this one (during a Student Town Hall meeting):\n\n“It’s very easy to say, ‘well, we’re just closing schools to make this happen,’ but the reality is it’s not a zero-sum game…The city is interested in economic development and this is one strategy they’re doing to economically revitalize one area of the city.”\n\nDespite these claims by school officials, DePaul is not on ethical terra firma or even morally ambiguous ground here.  The simple truth is (as Joravsky has been tirelessly repeating) some of the money is coming directly from the schools, and the rest could be going to the schools if the city were to prioritize quality public education over new basketball arenas.\n\nAnd the “economic revitalization” argument?  The DePaul arena is being constructed in a part of the city where “revitalization” is already spreading or has spread (in Chicago, we call this revitalization Chicago Bulls-style).\n\nCheck out the map of the area below, where I’ve marked the location of the new DePaul arena.  The lush greenness moving south from the Loop to the arena represents a high-income area while the red areas to the south and west are low-income zones (keep in mind that this is survey data from 2007-2011; the \”revitalized\” area could be larger by now).\n\n\n\nIf the mayor and DePaul really wanted to revitalize communities, they’d be investing hundreds of millions in areas like this one a few miles south:\n\n\n\nAdding insult to propaganda, the Chicago Tribune recently reported that the current owners of the land upon which the DePaul arena will be built—or the rich guys about to get richer—have strong ties to DePaul University, city hall, and local politicians.\n\nAmong them is Victor J. Cacciatore, CEO of Lakeside Bank, which owns one of these parcels.  Cacciatore earned his undergraduate and law degrees from DePaul, is a member of the DePaul Athletic Hall of Fame, and served as a member of the DePaul Board of Trustees for decades.\n\nAs a board member, Cacciatore must have missed the “Conflict of Interest” article in the DePaul by-laws: “All Trustees shall avoid any conflict, or appearance of conflict, between his/her personal interests and the interests of the University in dealing with any organization or individual.”\n\nAnd I doubt if Cacciatore served on the DePaul trustees’ “Mission Committee,” organized to “review and assess the university’s fidelity to its mission and values as well as its Catholic, Vincentian, and urban identity.”\n\nWhat are DePaul University values?  Well, DePaul is “dedicated to teaching, research, and public service” and “places highest priority on programs of instruction and learning” according to the first two sentences of the school’s mission statement.\n\nI’m not sure how spending big money on a 12,000-seat basketball arena—DePaul will finance a reported $70 million of the arena project—prioritizes instruction and learning, unless the school is planning on offering lots of courses in scoreboard animations or t-shirt cannon operation.\n\nAnd I’m not sure how paying men’s basketball coach Oliver Purnell million of dollars a year prioritizes learning either.  DePaul compensated Purnell to the tune of $2,182,550 in 2010.  That same year, DePaul’s provost made $498,888 while the average DePaul university employee made about thirty-three thousand dollars.\n\nI know this from looking at DePaul’s Form 990, a tax document required by the IRS for all universities that file as tax-exempt, non-profit organizations.  The most recent available from is DePaul’s 2011 filing (for the 2010 fiscal year).\n\nDePaul is not among the Chicago area’s richest private universities like Northwestern or University of Chicago, but it seems to be doing okay.  In 2010, DePaul earned $668 million in revenue.  In 2009, the school took in $642 million.  In those years, revenue less expenses was $45 million in 2010 and $59 million in 2009.\n\nWhen considering the financial viability of a non-profit, analysts like to look at an organization’s “unrestricted net assets,” which indicates financial health and the level of resources available to support activities in the near future.  DePaul had an increase, or surplus, in unrestricted net assets of $89 million going into the 2011 fiscal year (for a detailed explanation of net assets read this).\n\nSo basically, our city is moving funds from a public school system with a deficit of over $665 million, where the city’s kids want for basic needs, to a private university running an annual surplus, where school administrators want for a new basketball arena.\n\nI’ve grown so skeptical of Mayor Emanuel and sports team owners in Chicago that the lengths to which they’ll go to hoard public money and deny public services to those who depend on them no longer shocks me.\n\nBut a religious institution of higher-learning?  One that claims to endorse “critical moral thinking and…principles which embody religious values and the highest ideals of our society”?\n\nThat’s just deflating.\n\nOf course, claims about “moral principles” and “religious values” can be found in the same DePaul mission document that goes on about prioritizing education, so maybe we’re not supposed to take it all that seriously in the first place.\n\nTo be fair, DePaul does some good things.  The school provided more than $127 million in scholarships to more than eleven-thousand students in 2010.  It gives generously to local organizations such as Little Sisters of the Poor, Chicago Defender Charities, International Latino Cultural Center, American Heart Association, and Chicago History Museum.  Surely, DePaul is responsible for many other acts of kindness and civic responsibility.\n\nBut if the university is truly concerned about the public good and its own “urban identity,” DePaul leadership can’t pick and choose when to adhere to the tenets of the school’s mission and when to ignore them.  And it can’t pretend to be oblivious to the university’s complicity in diverting funds from our schools and communities in need or the social consequences of doing so.\n\nThe fallout of such policies has been studied and profiled.  A system of under resourced public schools makes it even more difficult for people to climb out of poverty.  And for poorer Chicagoans (mostly African Americans and Latinos), investment in tourism and entertainment projects in wealthy areas of the city only means more low-wage, part-time service or retail industry jobs, if they’re fortunate enough to get them.  It’s part of a cycle that has led to alarming levels of poverty on the south and west sides in post-industrial Chicago.\n\nHistory looks favorably upon people like Vincent de Paul, those who help the many jeopardized by the blind will of the few in power—people like this get statues erected in their likeness and universities named after them.  By contrast, history harshly judges those who act unapologetically in their own limited interest, those who ignore the pleas of people powerless to stop them—institutions like this become the foil in academic studies and Robert Greenwald documentaries.\n\nSo welcome to big-time college basketball, DePaul University—and the wrong side of history.\n\n 

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