FIU Angers Faculty, Spends More than Half a Million Dollars on Miss Universe Pageant

Florida International University has raised more than a few eyebrows and the ire of its faculty over its agreement with the Miss Universe pageant. The university announced in October that it would serve as the site for the Donald Trump-owned beauty pageant, a decision made ostensibly to raise the school's international profile. It's a move that has proven both expensive and controversial.

According to documents obtained by the Miami Herald, the school has spent an estimated $544,073 on the deal. That amount is well over FIU's initial cost projections. Most of the overages resulted from remodeling the school's outdated arena - the site of the event - an amount that the university initially estimated at $70,000. But the necessary roof upgrades have cost FIU $400,000. Those costs were, in large part, the result of strengthening the arena's roof to hold the weight of TV lights and cameras.

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Administrators insist, however, that the costs will offset. "We're going to get our money back and then some," Pete Garcia, FIU's athletics and entertainment director, told the Herald. If the university hopes to recoup expenses, then it's not going to be in hard cash from the pageant itself. "The pageant will contribute $75,000 in scholarships," the Herald reports, "with an expected state match raising that to $150,000." FIU will also receive a handful of 10 second mentions throughout the television broadcast.

But if FIU's partnership has cost the university unexpected sums, then many in the academic community believe that it also endangers the school's reputation. The decision angered many faculty members who believe that the partnership undermines the goals of an academically-focused institution.

According to the Herald:

"FIU professor Susanne Zwingel, an expert in women's rights and gender-equality issues, penned a four-page letter to Rosenberg expressing her disappointment.

Mr. President, female objectification is a dangerous part of American mainstream society," she wrote, arguing that FIU had a duty to stand up to the status quo, but was instead perpetuating it.

A university has a responsibility toward young men as well," Zwingel wrote. "It should help them unlearn the messages sent about women by society as a whole -- that they are to be judged by their looks and that it is fine to treat them as objects for men's fantasies."

In response to faculty concerns, FIU President Mark Rosenberg agreed to distance the university from Miss Universe. The FIU logo was removed from the pageant's website and the school has chosen not to call itself a "sponsor." Rosenberg also noted that, "global exposure such as this is hard to get." He added that the pageant was an excellent international recruitment tool.

Faculty concerns are, however, unlikely to be assuaged. The Herald's investigation revealed that in order to offset "the unexpected expense of hosting 88 international beauty queens, athletics administrators quietly proposed dipping into funds intended for another group of women -- FIU's female student athletes."

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Stassa Edwards
Contact: Stassa Edwards