Views expressed in opinion columns are the author's own.

Athletics are the dominant force at the University of Maryland. Donors, the university and the state of Maryland devoted $155 million to renovate Cole Field House as an indoor football facility. The five highest paid university positions are president, men's basketball coach, football coach, women's basketball coach and athletic director. Each of these jobs has a salary of more than $494,000 a year. All this is prioritized over student life and academic success.

At the beginning of the semester, students in the marching band reported getting food poisoning after eating at the South Campus Dining Hall. Students who live in the campus dorms must purchase an expensive dining plan that affords them all you can eat access, seven days a week. If students have to pay for such an expensive dining plan, they should not have to fear that their food could make them sick.

Furthermore, students who purchase dining dollars — which allow them to eat at certain vendors on the campus — have complained they only have access to unhealthy food options. The Green Tidings truck, which is run by Dining Services, does not accept these dining dollars. Neither do Saladworks or Moby Dick in Stamp Student Union. This forces students who use dining dollars to spend them on less-healthy options, such as Taco Bell or Sbarro.

The reality that this university pays more than $2 million a year to the top four athletic positions is an affront to our academic mission. This university builds pristine facilities and provides generous compensation to coaches, while academic life often suffers.

Many students need a separate space to study for exams, and libraries are the obvious choice. But when midterms and finals approach, McKeldin Library becomes overwhelmed, and it can be incredibly challenging to find a work space.

Although the university has many other libraries, none of them stay open late into the night like McKeldin. This leaves many students without a place to work as the sun sets and McKeldin becomes crowded. If academics were truly our priority, more of our resources would be allocated to expand study spaces, hire more workers to increase library staffs and allow study spaces to increase their hours of operation.

The trend to prioritize athletics over academics extends far beyond this university. Billions of taxpayer dollars go toward creating and renovating NFL stadiums. Incredibly wealthy people own and operate these stadiums, so they could pay for it themselves. Yet these individuals know they can bully governments into footing the bill or threaten to relocate their team to a city that is willing to pay.

Meanwhile, teachers in the U.S. are severely underpaid compared to other countries, which hampers student success. The economic principle at play is straightforward: If teachers' salaries increase, more competitive and qualified individuals will pursue a teaching career instead of another, more lucrative one.

In addition to improving dining conditions and expanding study spaces, this university should renovate academic buildings and dorms to make them more conducive to learning and living, hire more faculty to lower class sizes and increase professor salaries to attract a more talented corps of educators. Although athletics may provide some benefits to the student body, this university's focus should be improving living conditions and facilitating the academic success of the majority of its students.

Mitchell Rock is a senior government and politics and physiology and neurobiology major. He can be reached at mrock13@umd.edu.