Is Daytona Embry-Riddle’s Better Half?

Pandemic seems to have widened gap between two campuses

By Vee Glessner, Chief Copy Editor

Embry-Riddle’s Prescott campus has always been “second:” it wasn’t purchased until 1978, some 13 years after the current site for the primary campus in Daytona Beach. But some feel, over 4 decades later, that Prescott still hasn’t caught up, and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic seem to have widened the gap.

On Saturday, April 17th, Daytona Beach’s Touch-N-Go (the Board of Campus Activities counterpart) hosted an event they called EaglePalooza, which the university marketing team advertised in a campus-wide email as a “Big Campus Party.” Chairperson of Touch-N-Go (TNG) Jordan Zoock says the event was a great success: “Everyone loved it,” he says. “We’ve received a lot of praise and a lot of appreciation from students.”

No doubt the festival was a great morale boost for Daytona students. However, Prescott isn’t exactly feeling the love. The major undertaking of EaglePalooza raised a grave question at the other residential campus: Why?

A university announcement dated April 16th says that “continued vigilance remains a critical priority.” And as of April 9th, cases at the Florida campus were called an “alarming trend” in a university announcement beginning “Please Help Us Slow the Spread of Covid-19.” On April 23rd, the university asked us to “steer clear of large gatherings, please.”

EaglePalooza comes as 2021 brings the Daytona Beach campus peak COVID cases, 22 as of April 23rd, higher than Prescott as they have mostly been for the past year. In addition, like the three latest commencement ceremonies, the Spring 2021 graduation at both campuses will be largely virtual. 

That comparison to commencement activities resonated even beyond the Prescott community: TNG had originally planned an 800+ attendee on-campus concert (with appropriate masks and social distancing) for that Saturday, but it had to pivot to virtual on short notice due to a perceived inconsistency among the administration between the concert and the hybrid plans for a graduation ceremony. 

In just three weeks, the TNG team reallocated some of the funding for their upended concert to put on EaglePalooza and pulled out all the stops: over 1,000 students came out in a 5-hour period to enjoy inflatable obstacle courses, zip lines, a ton of free food, take-home goodies, and three live performers before the evening ended with the virtual concert.

The EaglePalooza and its corresponding safety plans were fully approved in accordance with university guidelines. “Touch-N-Go has done really well with keeping everything safe with COVID protocols,” says Zoock. Everything was done by the book. But some say that something like this would never fly at Prescott.

“I’m just questioning where and how all these things were approved.”

Prescott Board of Campus Activities Director Moe Angulo

Campus events have struggled this year, up against strict safety regulations and lower attendance due to the pandemic. The EaglePalooza was unprecedented in terms of size and types of activities offered during the pandemic, and even holds its own against Daytona’s largest events in a normal year. “It’s just unfortunate that they decided this was okay,” says Dr. Bradley Wall, engineering faculty, reacting to campus advertising for the event he received because he’s enrolled in an online Daytona course. 

Although COVID necessitated the 2020 OctoberWest be nothing like what it had been in the past, BCA Assistant Director Alli McIntyre says she hopes the Daytona festival sets a positive precedent for future events: “It kind of makes me hopeful for OctoberWest this coming year. Hopefully, when we try to get things approved, we get the same reception.”

Meanwhile in Prescott, the annual ROTC Dining Out ball scheduled for April 16th, one day before EaglePalooza, was cancelled on two days’ notice after receiving the green light weeks prior to hold an event with more than 50 people. It was planned to be outdoors, social distancing and masks were required in accordance with policy, and Detachment 028 had reasoned that Dining Out posed less risk than other university-sanctioned activities such as their frequent Physical Training (PT).

The organizing team even prepared a 19-page safety plan to ensure all their bases were covered.

Just days before the event, they were notified by the university that Dining Out could not proceed as planned despite the previous approvals. Event organizer and Cadet Ashton Serratos says that, “In the best interest of our Detachment’s $12k investment, we opted to postpone the event entirely.”

In light of other events going on, the difficult past year, and the organizers’ tireless planning, “it’s hard not to harbor personal feelings toward this decision,” Serratos says, who noted that her comments represent her opinions and not necessarily those of Detachment 028. “That said, it is in the best interest of our Detachment to abide by the regulations put in place by ERAU.” Unfortunately, the regulations don’t seem to apply to both campuses equally.

SGA at Prescott had tried to put on events and similar activities to those of EaglePalooza, noting that they’d specifically been denied a request to have inflatables like the ones Daytona students enjoyed on the 17th. The student government still prides itself on the morale boost they brought with Spirit Week: “We need to acknowledge what we were able to do,” says former SGA Treasurer and recently-sworn-in President Hunter Langemo. “But it’s not the same.”

And even if the rules were applied evenly, there’s an argument to be made that the difference in COVID cases across the campuses should warrant different regulations.

“I think that the administration… they compare the campuses and they treat them identical, or at least they promise to treat them identical. I don’t think that’s the right thing to do.” 

Daytona Beach SGA President Jim Myers

Likewise, Prescott Space Physics senior Ashley Elliott says, “Having the policies be determined by a campus across the country with more COVID cases doesn’t make sense to me.” Throughout the pandemic, Prescott’s case numbers have remained generally lower, and for most of 2021 its vaccinations outpaced Daytona’s not only proportionally, but in number. A university communications announcement from April 16th is titled, “Prescott Campus Vaccinations Outpace Daytona Beach, Where Covid-19 Cases Remain Higher.” Langemo says this message could be seen as “divisive,” saying that “I don’t think this type of headline will lead students to seek unity.”

The centralized university structure doesn’t just affect students; it can be a challenge for the faculty too. “The grounds for a problem, a problem which I think exists, is that the administration in Daytona Beach, they don’t know much [about] and I don’t think they care much about Prescott,” says computer science faculty Dr. Matthew Jaffe, who has been with the campus for 25 years.

Although Dr. Jaffe feels other aspects of inter-campus relations seem to have made great strides during his tenure, he says he’s not the only one who thinks the administration is “not sufficiently interested” in faculty opinions at Prescott, noting that they’d not been consulted when mandatory trainings were added to their plate and little explanation was provided. “Shared governance, from a faculty standpoint,” Dr. Jaffe says, “is very important.”

On top of that, some faculty claim compensation is a point of inequity. However, according to Prescott campus Chief Business Officer David Hall, faculty and staff salaries are fairly calculated based on a variety of factors including scope of work, participation in research, experience, and cost of living in the area. “You have to look at the differences,” Hall says. “On the surface it might seem like they’re the same position, but there may be differences.”

But there is a more research-focused culture at Daytona, which harbors the vast majority of the university’s graduate students, and some faculty have recently raised concerns over what they see as an unfairly low cost of living assessment for Prescott, both of which could contribute to the perception of effectively higher pay at Daytona.

Faculty and staff compensation is just one part of the larger financial picture of the university. Budgets are created and managed at an entity-level, working collaboratively with the University Administration (UA) Office of Financial Planning & Analysis to produce one cohesive proposal for the Board of Trustees, which ultimately makes the decision on most financial matters. The Board of Trustees is a 17-person panel based in Daytona Beach and, judging by their public biographies published by Embry-Riddle, the vast majority are primarily affiliated to the Daytona Beach campus.

The Prescott campus’ total operating expenses last year accounted for $69.5M, about 18 percent of the university’s overall $386.6M. As of Fall 2020, Prescott had 3,004 students, roughly 30 percent of the university’s residential (DB and PC) students and just 9 percent of the university enrollment overall when Worldwide is considered. 

Hall acknowledges that Daytona does have more funding, in part because they are a larger residential campus with more expense, but also because much of the Worldwide and administrative sectors are centered there. “The process is fair and equitable, even though sometimes it might not look that way,” Hall says. 

In simple terms, each campus is expected to balance its books. The revenue (largely tuition, although housing and some fees are also included) minus costs (upkeep, salaries) equals the campus’ margin. Margin from all campuses is rolled into one university pool, which is used across the enterprise as needed. “There’s the notion that a lot of our money goes to Daytona,” says Langemo, “but all of the money from the campuses goes to a centralized fund and it gets spent from there.”

And Langemo says the data shows that over the years, Prescott’s margin has been proportionately invested back to Prescott in the forms of facilities and other purchases. In the 4 years or less most of the current students have been here, there has been more investment in Daytona, but the pendulum is starting to swing back.

“That transformational change is headed for Prescott.”

Chief Business Officer David Hall

Prescott has struggled to overcome its history as a secondary campus, road blocked by old infrastructure left from Prescott College and a seemingly unfavorable perception from the main campus. As recently as 2010, there were even plans among higher administration to shut down the Arizona campus, which were narrowly sidelined.

In terms of facilities, one of the largest complaints of students is that Daytona gets preferential treatment for new construction.

“There have been a number of incidents from buildings to program support that, at the very least, appeared to be imbalanced, even on a per-capita basis.”

Dr. Mark Sensmeier, Chair of the Aerospace Engineering department. 
Image: The Mori Hosseini student union at Daytona Beach in the evening. The observatory is visible above the Arts and Sciences building on the left.

A number of years ago, a $3.5M observatory was built on top of the Arts and Sciences building in Daytona, apparently overlooking the poor visibility in Florida and the decades-old facility here ripe for an upgrade to view the crystal clear night skies of Prescott. Prescott’s observatory is the 8th best college observatory in the nation, according to a ranking by CollegeRank.net, while Daytona’s doesn’t grace the 35-item list.

However, “You can’t say they haven’t done anything for us,” says Dr. Sensmeier, noting the volume of facilities that have been built or overhauled during his tenure, including Hazy Library, AC-1, STEM, AXFAB, the Visitor’s Center, new residence halls, Haas Chapel, RASC2, and athletic facilities. “Over the years they have definitely supported us. [It’s] not quite to the level of the buildings and facilities [being built] at Daytona, but they’re bigger, so that’s expected to some degree.”

But yes, much of the student body still feels Prescott doesn’t get the attention or support it deserves. Junior Archer Bazaure-Dilts feels “the Daytona campus has more up-to-date and modern buildings and facilities to meet with degree program standards and student expectations.” 

Elliott, who is also the Chairperson of the Student Campus Enhancement Fund, says “It seems like the main campus benefits more from my tuition and fees than the Prescott campus.” And Dr. Wall agrees that it “sure feels that way.” Senior Gabriel Pulido says he believes that the university “has more than enough money to support the Prescott campus to continue developments in each program,” but that they aren’t doing enough to help. 

Some of this is optics. Daytona Beach continually puts on larger and more glamorous events for students, like the EaglePalooza and the annual concerts they’ve made an expensive tradition. But these are paid for by the students: the SGA fee at Daytona Beach is $150 per student, twice as high as Prescott’s has been for the last 2 years. “Our students at Prescott campus have not been afforded the same opportunities as Daytona Beach,” admits David Hall. “But why is that? It’s self-imposed.”

The student body at Prescott has not favored increasing the SGA fee, placing a mostly-invisible barrier on the SGA and service organizations to perform at the same volume as their counterparts. The concerts, festivals, and most high-profile events that Daytona holds could be done at Prescott, but they’d require students to pay more. Just this year, the SGA narrowly decided to increase the fee to $100 starting in the Fall, invoking the Vice-President’s vote as a tie-breaker for the first time in four years.

“We could do those things if we wanted to, but our fee would have to go up,” says Langemo. And with more than twice as many students to charge, Daytona already has an advantage in sheer numbers. Their SGA fee was worth over $2M this year, compared to about $435k at Prescott.

The sentiment remains that the highest levels of the university essentially revolve around Daytona Beach, with Prescott viewed as a satellite campus, despite a variety of exceptionally strong programs. During the pandemic, one site has called the shots: “Don’t promise that we’re treated as equals when University Communications emails are written from Daytona…” says Daytona Beach SGA President Jim Myers. “That’s not right to you guys.”

Even contending with the challenges of COVID, a university structure centered across the country, and arguably inequitable treatment, the Prescott campus has an immense amount of pride in its community and education. Dr. Sensmeier says,

“I truly believe the experience for faculty and for students on the Prescott campus, from an academic perspective, is unmatched, even on our sibling campus.”

Dr. Mark Sensmeier
Image courtesy of ERAU. Modified by Vee Glessner.

If you have questions or would like to discuss this article, contact Chief Copy Editor Vee Glessner [glessnev@my.erau.edu].

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