Opinion: Despite challenges, Wefald deserving of residence hall honor

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There has been some scrutiny about whether K-State should be naming a residence hall after Jon Wefald, the university’s 12th president.

Wefald served as the President at K-State for 23 years, from July 1986 to June 2009. During his time as president, Wefald drastically changed the way K-State operated. Philanthropy increased from $6 million a year to $100 million; research funding climbed from $18 million annually to $134 million dollars; student enrollment also rose from 16,000 to more than 23,000.

“There was not one thing that wasn’t positively affected by Jon Wefald’s vision, passion and leadership during his presidency,” Pat Bosco, vice president of student life and dean of students, said in a June K-State news release. “It is incredibly significant that this living-learning environment be dedicated to his legacy.”

It is indisputable that K-State needs more living spaces for students, as enrollment and acceptance rates continue to rise. Many students have been consigned to overflow housing because there is no room for them in the current residence halls. Opening another residence hall will allow K-State to keep prospering and keeping students happy.

The hall being named in Wefald’s honor will be the first residence hall built since Haymaker Hall in 1967. It will open in August 2016 and host approximately 540 students. It will be the first residence hall to boast what the June press release called a “transformational” living center, meaning it will have rooms for both living and learning.

However, the argument is not about whether the residence hall should be built; it’s about whether the residence hall should be named after Wefald. Wefald was a great president who gave K-State his all. However, upon his retirement, the university did an mandatory audit which found 13 undocumented payments through the K-State Athletics Department, totaling an amount of $845,000.

There was also a secret agreement set forth by former athletic director Bob Krause to pay K-State’s former football coach, Ron Prince, $3.2 million as a “buyout” when he was fired.

Other findings showed misused discretionary funds and misplaced files for some of the discretionary funds usage. Auditors also discovered money being paid to people in the athletic Department, in addition to their normal salary, through private corporations and limited liability companies set up for the specific individuals rather than the university payment system.

Wefald denied any involvement or knowledge in the discrepancies and attributed them all to Krause. He asked Krause to resign, which he promptly did. Then, Prince filed a lawsuit seeking the money that he was promised in the “buyout,” which cost K-State a total of $1.65 million and a lot of time in court.

The audit and the lawsuit were big scandals that tainted Wefald’s retirement. The findings in the audit were significant and definitely enlightening, but they could not all be traced back to Wefald specifically. As longtime friend to Wefald, Krause had a lot of leeway. Though he was only the athletic director for less than a year, he seemed to be the mastermind behind all of the secret deals within the department. However, I believe the other findings in the audit (like the misused discretionary funds) was just a slight oversight.

In his 23 years as president, Wefald changed K-State for the better. Our university would not be where it is today without his persistence and leadership. He was just a man who put too much faith in his subordinates, which is not a punishable crime. A misjudge in character is a flaw many of us have and we should not let that negate all of Wefald’s major contributions.

Even the audit, prepared by Grant Thornton LLP, stated that “(the) university has benefitted greatly from the leadership of President Wefald and the efforts of Mr. Krause. Both men exhibit an obvious passion for KSU.”

In light of the audit, K-State also made some positive changes to the way it operates. The university now acts in total transparency, allowing everyone know about issues in full so there are no surprises. This lets donors to the school know exactly where their money is going and where it will be spent. An established system of checks and balances ensures no one person can have all the power to make major financial decisions.

“We are encouraged by the current administration’s approach to financial and decisional transparency,” Brian Spooner, professor of biology and interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said to the Board of Regents in 2009. “This is most apparent in athletics, where the new corporate structure encourages strong oversight by university administrators and the new athletics director has adopted a new code of transparency and fiscal accountability.”

Sometimes, some good comes out of the bad. Without the audit becoming such a big deal, K-State would have never implemented the new systems that help make the university one of the top in the country. This is why Wefald deserves a hall named after him; he has earned that right.

Erin Hildreth is a freshman in mass communications.

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