$35,000 privately-funded Willie the Wildcat sculpture frustrates some K-State students

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A statue of Willie the Wildcat was unveiled in the K-State Student Union on March 29, 2017. The statue sits on a bench in the bottom floor of the Union. (George Walker | The Collegian)

The $35,000 price tag for the sculpture of Willie the Wildcat in the Kansas State Student Union has stirred frustrations in many students, despite the fact it was paid for by outside donations to the Union Excellence Fund.

After the surprise reveal of the sculpture on March 29, students turned to Twitter where they expressed disappointment in the price, execution and quality of the statue.

Sam Edwards, senior in mass communications, was one of many who wrote 140-character tweets in response to the sculpture.

“My first literal thought was, ‘Burn it. Burn it with fire,'” Edwards said. “It was very off-putting and isn’t the real thing. It puts me on edge and is just cringe-worthy. My initial reaction was, ‘I absolutely hate this.'”

A week later, Edwards said his initial feelings have not changed.

“Every time I think about it I still get upset,” Edwards said. “That’s $35,000; that is a huge-fricken price tag for something like that. In my opinion, that isn’t worth it. The biggest thing for me is it doesn’t even look like it’s worth $35,000.”

Edwards said there are three reasons other than price that frustrate him when thinking about the sculpture: the execution, the medium and the skin color.

“I get that a lot of our Willie the Wildcats are white, but I think if he were bronze it could have been any ethnicity,” Edwards said. “Keeping it a white Willie is kind of outdated and cliché.”

Willie the Wildcat was just not meant to be sculpted the way the Union executed it, Edwards said. He said he would have rather seen them pay a higher price to have a respectable, bronze statue than the one currently in the Union.

“I don’t know who the artist is, but I don’t think it’s their fault,” Edwards said. “I just do not think Willie fits that style. Willie was just not meant to be sculpted in that style.”

Unlike Edwards, Bethany Schifferdecker, senior in political science, was not initially frustrated with the statue.

“When the Union revealed the Willie statue, I did not initially have a strong reaction,” Schifferdecker said in an email interview. “I was not surprised by it as we have seen so many changes in the Union this year as it’s undergone renovations. It wasn’t until I heard the price of the statue that I was really shocked. Don’t get me wrong, I love Willie the Wildcat, I just can’t understand how it is worth that much.”

Schifferdecker said she understands the renovations are much-needed and it is important for K-State to continually improve.

“But we have to remember that with every spending decision, we choose not to spend that money on something else,” Schifferdecker said. “It doesn’t matter that the funds came from a donor. There is only a limited amount of donor funds available to the university and so the decision to use those funds on a plastic statue is still the decision not to use them on students. When I see close friends struggling to pay for tuition at the same time the university and its donors are dropping $35,000 on a statue, it feels like we have our priorities all wrong.”

Kaitlin Flores, senior in psychology and a member of Union Governing Board, said the union was presented with the idea that a private donor wanted to sponsor a Willie statue photo-op.

“Honestly, from only MY viewpoint, there was not a specific concern for the $35,000 price tag because it was privately funded from an outside donor who chose to spend their money in this way,” Flores said in a direct message. “The money did NOT come out of university funds and was NO HARM to students at K-State. It was simply a good deed done by a private donor and the way I see it they can spend their money however they would like.”

Edwards said he understands the money came from a donor, but he is still frustrated.

“It still hurts me because there are a lot of other programs on campus right now that are fighting right now for every penny they can save,” Edwards said. “So for a giant structure like the Union to go over budget, then to waste money on frivolous stuff, is just, ‘Why?'”

As previously reported by the Collegian, the Union renovations were estimated to cost $25 million, but will now cost about $31 million. Most expenses are funded by a $20 per semester student privilege fee increase for students attending the Manhattan campus.

“I wish students understood that the $35,000 for the Willie statue did NOT IN ANY WAY come come out of their pockets,” Flores said in the direct message. “It was privately funded. I want everyone to just be grateful that we are fortunate enough to have received this kind gift and maybe we should think about how it would make the donor feel to have the student body literally mad at them because they tried to give a nice gift to the university and our very own K-State Student Union.”

Schifferdecker said she is never opposed to improving K-State, but she has seen costs go up for students with very few additional benefits.

“When we are deciding how to (improve), the first question needs to be, ‘How will this benefit students?'” Schifferdecker said. “If there is not a very clear answer to that, more thought needs to be put into the decision. We need to remember that the entire purpose of the university is to better students. If that is not the heartbeat of everything K-State does, it has lost its purpose. In my opinion, that is the case with the new Willie statue.”

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Hi, I'm Kaitlyn Alanis, former news editor for the Collegian and a May 2017 graduate in agricultural communications and journalism. I have never tried a hamburger and I hate the taste of coffee, but I love writing stories and sharing what I learn with our readers. By writing for the Collegian, I can now not only sing along when the K-State Band plays "The Band is Hot," but I also know that most agriculture students did not grow up on a farm, how to use an AED to save someone's life and why there is a bust of MLK Jr. outside of Ahearn Field House. Thanks for reading!