Engineering dean asks president to ‘ignore’ students, increase fees

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A college dean wants “to convince President Myers to ignore” the vote of a student committee against increasing his college’s student fees.

Darren Dawson, dean of the College of Engineering, sent an email to nearly 300 engineering faculty and advisory council members asking for their support of a memo requesting President Richard Myers “ignore” the votes of the students on the Tuition and Fees Strategies Committee.

The committee is comprised mostly of students, but top university administrators serve as non-voting members. It makes recommendations to the president on tuition increases and fee proposals. At the April 11 meeting, the 10 committee members voted unanimously to not recommend a $26-38 fee increase.

“Since this is a recommendation, we might be able to convince President Myers to ignore this student committee recommendation and take the engineering surcharge increase to the Kansas Board of Regents for approval later this spring,” Dawson said in the email.

A copy of the email was provided to the Collegian by Trenton Kennedy, sophomore in entrepreneurship and former student body vice president, who takes the minutes of the committee meetings.

“His blatant ‘We want to ignore the student recommendation,’ I think that’s a good glimpse into his philosophy as an administrator,” Kennedy said. “And to me that’s the most concerning part, especially at a university like K-State where our hallmark is student input and student voice and shared governance.”

Dawson said he did not intend to “parse the word.”

“You could say ‘disregard,’ but I mean you could parse the word all you want, but what words would you use if the president decides to take the recommendation (to the Board of Regents)?” Dawson said. “He’ll be disregarding (the student committee’s) recommendation, isn’t that true? You could maybe use ‘disregard,’ but I didn’t parse the words when I wrote this email, thinking it was going to be in the newspaper, but I don’t care if it is.”

Jack Ayres, junior in chemical engineering and student body president, voted against the fee increase as the co-chair of the committee. He said Dawson’s word choice matters.

“It doesn’t mean the same thing,” Ayres said. “It might mean the same thing in terms of what he wants President Myers to do, but the way that he goes about it, it’s a different story … if you explain it as opposed to just saying ‘ignore the student recommendation.'”

“And ‘ignore the student recommendation,’ those four words just show, I just don’t think that’s OK,” Ayres continued.

Ayres also cited the shared governance at K-State.

“It’s so frustrating because as members of the K-State community, we all agree to and respect the conditions of shared governance,” Ayres said. “I think that’s one of the things that makes K-State, K-State: it is the value that we place on student input.”

“So we have a dean come in and say the words, ‘We’re going to ignore the student representative’s vote recommendation,’ what he’s virtually saying is, ‘I don’t respect the shared governance,'” Ayres continued.

Dawson said he wants Myers to go against the vote of the student committee and approve the fee increase.

“I want to have President Myers disregard that recommendation, go to the Board of Regents and get the fee approved,” Dawson said.

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Darren Dawson
Fee background

Dawson provided the Collegian with the documents, presentations and other information he used to explain the fee proposal at the Tuition and Fees Strategies Committee meeting.

The fee proposal is the third phase of a five-year plan for increasing fees to hire more faculty. After five years, fees would have increased by $75 per credit hour, bringing in $3.75 million in revenue per year, funding 35 new faculty.

Originally, the plan called for a $15 per-credit-hour fee increase each year, but last year’s proposal added an additional $15 to backfill a budget cut.

The budget cut was the combined result of a cut in state funding by Gov. Sam Brownback and an internal cut due to declining enrollment.

The $15 fee for the hiring plan funded seven new positions for tenure-track faculty and instructors. The $750,000 of revenue from the fee to fund the seven positions comes to a cost of a little over $107,000 per position.

The additional $15 fee raised $750,000 to cover budget cuts. The budget cut was $920,000.

This year, the proposal included the $15 for the five-year plan, but increased to $26-38 to cover the range of anticipated budget cuts.

The 2016-17 College of Engineering per-credit-hour fee is $84, which is the largest of all the colleges.

In-state tuition is $300.40 per credit hour. With the current $84 fee and the low increase of $26, one three-credit-hour class in the College of Engineering next semester would cost $1,231.20, not including the potential tuition increase.

Faculty voice

The email asked faculty and college and departmental advisory council members to vote on whether or not to ask Myers to approve the fee increase.

“Don’t you think at least President Myers should hear a voice from these people, the advisory board, who basically spend their talent, time and treasure and invest in the university and are K-State grads, and these faculty, who have been here, some of them, 30, 50 years?” Dawson said.

The majority of faculty and members of advisor councils supported asking Myers to increase the fee in spite of the student committee’s recommendation against it.

Of 132 faculty, 108 voted yes, 10 no and 14 abstained or did not respond. Of 155 members of advisory boards, 139 voted yes, one no and 15 abstained or did not respond.

“We had 10 undergraduates say on that committee what they think, and now we’re going to have 300 people say,” Dawson said. “Faculty with Ph.D.s who have written papers and got grant money. People, CEOs and captains of industry, they’ll have their say now. Three hundred.”

Dawson said the letter that will be sent to the president is the best way for faculty to voice their opinion.

“I’m sure we could do a phone call drive or something like that, we could have them all try to call the president, but we thought this would minimize the president’s time to hear the unified voice of 300 people in one letter,” Dawson said.

Budget cuts

There are two major sources of funding for a public university and its colleges: money from students through tuition and fees and money from the state government.

“Now if one of those goes down — the amount from the state — doesn’t it stand to reason that the other one has to go up?” Dawson said, citing state budget cuts to K-State as a reason to increase fees. “Or, you have to drastically reduce something.”

K-State has made internal budget cuts due to declining enrollment. Dawson explained how lower enrollment affects the university financially.

“Just roughly now, every student you add, just think about every in-state student you add, you added $10,000, right,” Dawson said. “Just roughly, rough numbers. So if you add 100 students, you do 100 times $10,000, right … So, I’m saying the more you grow, the more revenue you add to the university.”

“I know this is kind of raw, to think of students just as dollars, but I’m just giving you the financials, OK,” Dawson continued. “If you lose 1,000 students, you lost $10 million at least.”

K-State has lost close to 1,000 students over the past two years.

Since fall 2014, engineering is the only college at K-State with increased enrollment, growing by 371 students, or 9 percent. As a whole, the university lost 975 students, or 4 percent.

“You tell me how to do it, how can I cut when I’m growing?” Dawson said. “How can I add hundreds of students each year, OK, and cut?”

KU Comparison

Comparing the degree program costs at K-State, Kansas and 10 peer institutions from K-State 2025, an engineering degree at K-State is the fifth-cheapest. At $49,206, K-State costs more than KU’s $48,921, but both are below the average of $55,340.

However, the most important numbers in the fee discussion, Dawson said, are the funding-per-student comparisons at K-State and KU. At $22 million for 3,876 undergraduate students, K-State’s College of Engineering receives $5,675 per student. At $21 million for 2,448 undergraduate students, KU’s School of Engineering receives $8,578 per student.

Dawson said he does not know why KU receives more funding per student.

“I’m not the one who dispenses the money, so I can’t answer that question,” Dawson said. “I’ve brought it up many times (to administration) and I brought it up in the fees committee and I showed them that.”

“I’ve heard things all over the map,” Dawson continued. “I’ve heard things like, ‘KU’s got more money than we do.’ Is that really an answer? ‘They’re richer.’ I’ve heard that, OK. But that’s quite an imbalance if you think about it. So the conclusion of that is our College of Engineering is significantly underfunded compared to KU.”

KU has a plan to hire 30 new faculty, compared to K-State’s plan for 35 new hires.

Effects of no fee increase

Without a fee increase, the hiring plan cannot continue, which should not be a decision made based solely on only the committee’s recommendation, Dawson said.

“Nobody wants to raise tuition … but my dean’s advisory council that is composed of engineering students has voted on this for the past three years … has almost unanimously supported this the last three years,” Dawson said. “The engineering students, who have to pay it.”

“Now, what the students are saying is we don’t want to fund — now let me just say, not the engineering students, this committee — this committee is saying we don’t want to fund the faculty,” Dawson continued. “This committee is saying stop the hiring plan.”

Dawson said he would “absolutely” compromise to have a $15 fee increase to continue the hiring plan, but not include the additional money to cover the budget cuts.

“We need about a $550,000 infusion of money, in recurring money … and we could stay with the $15,” Dawson said. “But you know, the committee didn’t say stay with the $15. The committee just said zero.”

With zero funding, zero new faculty will be hired, even as enrollment increases, Dawson said.

“If you have no money, you can’t keep hiring faculty, right,” Dawson said. “You have to have money to hire people … you don’t need to be an engineer to understand that, you can take somebody that’s been working at Burger King all their life and understand that, because I did that, I worked in a fast-food restaurant … No money, no hire.”

Limited accessibility

Kennedy said the university’s priority should be student accessibility and a lower cost of attendance.

“On a philosophical (level) and from that standpoint of our land-grant mission, accessibility being our No. 1 priority — or at least personally my No. 1 priority — I think that there has to be a fine line, or at least a line in the sand, to where we quit putting so much (financial) responsibility on the backs of students,” Kennedy said.

Because of state budget cuts and enrollment declines causing tuition increases, the Tuition and Fees Strategies Committee is unlikely to approve fees when there is not a dire need, Kennedy said.

While students on the dean’s student advisory council supported the fee proposal, the purpose of the committee is to consider a fee’s affects on all students, Kennedy said.

“A lot of the folks I talk to that support the College of Engineering fee, they may be Putnam Scholars or they may be getting a large portion of their education taken care of, and so we’re charged to think about those students who are working 30 hours a week and taking 15 hours a semester who this fee really would have priced them out of an education, or it could have moved them closer to being priced out of an education,” Kennedy said.

The college spends about $2.5 million per year paying for Putnam Scholarships alone. The 378 recipients in engineering account for 46 percent of the total Putnam Scholarships at K-State, but the college’s enrollment is 20 percent of all undergraduates.

The higher costs have not affected enrollment of students from underrepresented communities, Dawson said.

In fall 2016, 678 students (or 17.5 percent of the college) were women, and 453 students (or 11.7 percent) were minority students. Both of these percentages are an all-time high.

Out-of-state enrollment has also grown, from 488 in fall 2015 to 547 in fall 2016, or an increase of 12 percent.

“I don’t think we’re becoming unaffordable — yet, OK,” Dawson said. “But (the students on the committee) believe we are.”

Costs versus quality

Kennedy said Dawson prioritized excellence over accessibility when he met with the committee.

“He told us that excellence mattered more to him than affordability and accessibility in our land-grant mission, and I just think that’s a fundamental disagreement that students and deans, especially dean Dawson, have,” Kennedy said.

Dawson said excellence is worth paying for.

“I can go to mediocrity, right, in fact I proposed that to the committee,” Dawson said. “I said, ‘Would we rather have affordable mediocrity or pay for excellence?’ Some people on the committee, the student committee, said they would choose affordable mediocrity.”

Dawson said the students on the committee voted for mediocrity by not recommending the fee increase.

“The students are saying stop the hiring plan,” Dawson said. “They don’t want to hire any more faculty. They want a higher student (to teacher) ratio, and they want mediocrity. That’s what they want. Because if you don’t pay, that’s what you get.”

Dawson said he is willing to listen to ideas on how to solve his budget problems.

“Some students on this committee are going to be mad at me for writing that email and everything, but if someone can tell me what to do down here, come up with another solution to my problem down here, OK, I’m more than willing to implement it,” Dawson said.

“Nobody has told me how to add students and not add faculty and keep the same quality,” Dawson continued. “I don’t understand that equation. It would be like having a business and the business was growing, and you can’t add employees. How does that work? That’s stupid. Basically, the quality goes to crap … Nobody has ever been able to answer this question, nobody, and I’ve asked everybody here.”

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Jason Tidd
Jason Tidd graduated from Kansas State University's Miller School of Journalism and Mass Communication in May 2017. He was the spring 2017 editor-in-chief, fall 2016 news editor and spring 2016 assistant news editor. While at K-State, Jason played baritone in the Pride of Wildcat Land marching band.