Students approve university-wide fee for Business building, renovations

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A student committee approved a university-wide per-credit-hour fee — the first in Kansas State history — to pay for the Business building and maintenance and renovations on other academic buildings.

The $4 per-credit-hour fee proposal includes $1 million per year for maintenance and renovation of academic buildings and $900,000 for the College of Business Administration building. If approved by President Richard Myers and the Kansas Board of Regents, all on-campus students will pay the fee starting in fall 2017.

The Tuition and Fees Strategies Committee, which makes recommendations to the president on tuition and fee proposals, approved the fee on a 6-4 vote. The same proposal failed 15 minutes earlier on a 5-5 vote, and a proposal to only approve a $2 fee for the Business building failed 3-7.

Students voting yes were: Will Moreland, sophomore in agricultural technology management; Cat Gutman, sophomore in architecture; Victor Valdez, sophomore in economics; Anna Jackson, junior in elementary education; Jake McIntire, junior in kinesiology; and Jessica Van Ranken, senior in political science.

Students voting no were: Drew Bormann, junior in economics and finance; Jordan Martin, senior in computer science; Trent McGee, graduate student in counseling and student development; and Jack Ayres, junior in chemical engineering.

Valdez, a Student Governing Association senator, said he wanted people to know “we passed this because we were forced to.”

“I don’t want this fee, right, but we all understand that we need to pay this fee because we promised (the money for the Business building),” Valdez said.

The fee funds an obligation made by former K-State President Kirk Schulz, who committed $15 million to the Business building construction project for equipment, furnishings and technology.

“This is kind of an unprecedented circumstance that we’re dealing with right now with the Business college and the fact that the state is not giving us dollars to renovate buildings,” said April Mason, provost and senior vice president and non-voting member of the committee.

Most of the $13.5 million expenses have been paid already using cash balances accumulated in the restricted fees fund. The money from the fee would pay back the restricted fund over 15 years.

The $900,000 portion of the fee for the Business building was introduced a year ago as a $2.10 fee, but was voted down by the committee. The same proposal was approved in 2015, but a Kansas Legislature and Board of Regents cap on tuition and fees increases prevented implementation.

Jonathan Peuchen, junior in mechanical engineering, a non-voting member of the committee and SGA senate speaker, said the SGA constitution forbids the use of fees for renovating buildings — or constructing them — without a student referendum.

The constitution states the SGA senate may:

“Pass enabling legislation for the establishment or increase of any fee for which the purpose is to finance the construction of or renovation of a building or facility at Kansas State University only after the fee has been ratified by a binding student referendum as provided for in Article XI.”

Van Ranken, committee co-chair and former student body president, said since the university — not SGA — will establish the fee, the SGA constitution likely does not apply.

“If we’re going to be doing big projects like this, we ought to have a referendum of students, to me it would seem,” Peuchen said.

In a February 2016 meeting, Cindy Bontrager, vice president for administration and finance, told the committee that a student referendum was not necessary because the Business building was not built using bonding authority, or debt.

Ayres, committee co-chair and student body president, originally proposed failing the fee and suggesting a 0.5 percent tuition increase to raise $950,000 to pay for the Business building — excluding the renovation and maintenance portion — with a guarantee that students could write a memo on their position to the Board of Regents.

Van Ranken explained the reasoning behind a tuition increase instead of a fee increase.

“With this, (we are) saying, ‘We don’t think it should be a fee. If it has to exist, we think it should exist in tuition, understanding that it’s going to exist in some form or another,'” Van Ranken said.

Martin, an SGA senator, said he did not think students should have to pay the fee, but he preferred a fee over a tuition increase because of greater transparency.

“That’s simply because seeing tuition, seeing all of my classes get raised by $3, I don’t know where that $3 is going,” Martin said. “If there is a spot on my tuition bill that says College of Business Building Fee, I know that, for whatever reason, somebody decided that my money should be going to the College of Business building.”

Martin also said he thought the fee should be renamed the “College of Business Building Fee” instead of the “University Academic Infrastructure Support” fee.

“I think that’s what it should be called, because … the majority of that money is going to be going to the College of Business building,” Martin said.

“You see that, and you’re like, ‘What the heck is going on? Why did this happen?'” Martin said. “Then you look into it … I want people to be pissed about it.”

Moreland said students would support paying for renovating buildings.

“How many students who have ever been in a building at K-State would argue that we need to put money towards renovating them?” Moreland said. “I mean, there’s a lot of buildings that obviously do need help, and a lot of students would be on board for that.”

Trent McGee said he appreciated the proactive nature of the renovation and maintenance portion of the fee but thought it should be funded through tuition. He said the Business building portion was a “mistake” because of the precedent it sets.

“This is a very historical thing that has real dollars and real money that students are addressing, and basically what we’re doing is opening a door for someone to come in and go, ‘Well, that committee said it was OK,'” McGee said.

“There are plenty of entities on this campus that want access to a university-wide fee,” McGee continued, mentioning K-State Libraries, the Office of Student Life and academic advising. “We would be the committee putting it on record that that’s OK.”

Trenton Kennedy, sophomore in entrepreneurship, a non-voting member of the committee and former student body vice president, said if students cannot stop students from paying for the Business building, they should allow it to be a fee because it gives greater control to students.

“All of us in here know that someway or another, students are going to be assessed a fee to pay back the university’s obligation to the College of Business,” Kennedy said. “I think we all agree that regardless of how administration does it, it’s going to happen. So why not do it — although it sets precedent — why not do it as a fee and put our utmost control over the fee, review it every three years and have our SGA structure that requires a lot of transparency on behalf of administration?”

Engineering dean’s ‘ignore’ email

April Mason addressed an email by Darren Dawson, dean of the College of Engineering, which was reported in the Collegian on Tuesday.

After the committee unanimously voted against a $26-38 fee increase for engineering, Dawson asked faculty and members of advisory councils for their own votes “to convince President Myers to ignore” the recommendation of the committee.

“I want to say personally I respect the tuition and fees committee, (the university administration) respect the tuition and fees committee,” Mason said. “We respect the discussion, the candor, the organization … the demonstration of shared governance is incredibly important to me.”

Mason said she would not have used the same method as Dawson but did not specifically condemn Dawson’s actions.

“I think what happened with a letter that went to a college and advisory boards, I could only say that’s not the way I would have done it myself,” Mason said.

Mason said she and Bontrager will include student input when discussing fee proposals with Myers.

“We will be discussing the implications of all of the suggestions and recommendations that are made by the committee with the president, putting them into context, attempting to represent the voices of all of you who have worked so hard over the last many months,” Mason said. “… We respect what’s done in this room and value your opinions, your voice and I just wanted you to hear that from us.”

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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.