McLeland looks to strike down WU funds

Matthew Kelly / Washburn Review

Washburn Board of Regents members, Kansas senators, university president and vice presidents alike are all baffled by the recent proposal to cut Washburn University’s state funding by 50 percent.

The Kansas House of Representatives passed a budget involving a $5.5 million cut to Washburn funding last Thursday. However, last week the budget passed by the Kansas senate maintained Washburn funding from the state. The house and senate both working on the same budget, typically start at the governor’s recommended budget. Gov. Sam Brownback recommended Washburn maintain the $11 million in funding it was granted by the state last year. Needless to say, the 50 percent decrease in state funding proposed by the house has been a surprising deviation, to some, from the governor’s recommendation.

If the cut in Washburn’s funding is approved by the senate, the changes would take effect May of next year. This would be devastating to Washburn, and would inevitably force the university to not only decrease quality of service, but to increase tuition as well.

 “It would be a seven percent cut in one year if that $5.5 million is eliminated,” said Rick Anderson, vice president of administration and treasury. “That would be difficult to adapt to when you have to implement a budget July 1, and you get your reduction in May sometime. That’s a two month turn around, so the likelihood of us being able to say we’re going to cover it all from revenue, or all from expenses: probably not. It’s probably going to be a combination of revenue enhancement, i.e. primarily tuition, together with figuring out where we’re going to reduce our cost structure, and those are both painful exercises.”

Anderson assured students that Jerry Farley, Washburn president, has spent most of last week advocating for students at the capitol building, trying to reverse any misconceptions of Washburn being a private university, and therefore not deserving of state dollars.

“The president has been at the capital most of this week, visiting with various legislators both on the house side and the senate side, and I think the governor’s office, promoting that we’re not a private university, we are a public university,” said Anderson.

Anderson also stressed how surprising it is that Washburn has been targeted for such extreme cuts in state funding considering that Washburn is one of the best investments of state dollars when compared to other universities in Kansas higher education. Washburn is the last remaining municipally funded university in the country, and requires a relatively small amount of state funding partially for this reason.

“The state invests a lot less into Washburn than they have to into say Emporia State, or Fort Hays, or Pitt State, as far as the regional schools, the primary reason for that is that we have a local funding base,” said Anderson.  

Bob Storey, member of the Washburn University Board of Regents agrees that Washburn is a good use of state dollars, and good for Kansas in general. The expense for the state per student is relatively small, and since most Washburn students remain in Kansas after college, in a way the state is investing in itself.

“The amount the state gives us; they’re getting a good deal,” said Storey. They’re getting people coming into the state of Kansas, and their getting people educated from the state of Kansas at Washburn University at a very small cost.”

Storey said the repercussions would be “complete chaos” if the bill is passed. Washburn would be forced to consider laying employees off, furloughing employees, and raising tuition to make up the $5.5 million denied by the state

It was Rep. Joe McLeland, R-94th district who initially proposed the cut to Washburn’s state funding. Storey, like many others, believes that McLeland did so as retaliation to a bill which cut funding to Wichita airports, and has targeted Washburn because it receives state funding without being governed by the Kansas Board of Regents. This means that McLeland can propose cuts to Washburn without effecting Wichita State University.

“It’s happened before, particularly from Wichita legislators,” said Storey. “The Wichita legislator that did this had their airport funding cut. That’s kind of a personal matter. Now that Wichita State is in the Board of Regents system, they don’t anymore have the concern about state aid that Washburn does. This individual had done this before. He tried to cut funds out of Washburn before because Wichita had lost some money.”

Storey has fought attempts to raise Washburn’s tuition in the past. Although last year he did give in to a vote for a Washburn tuition increase, he has always tried to “hold tuition down.”

Storey said that in losing half of its state funding, Washburn would have few reasonable solutions that would allow it to maintain its reputation as a relatively affordable school with a highly competitive class structure.

“If you raise tuition to a certain point, then we aren’t as good a deal as we are now. Right now we’re a great deal as far as money for tuition, but if we had to lay people off, double classes up, and cut some of our classes, then the integrity of the university is lost, and the students do not get what they pay for.”

The senate will not approve this bill according to Storey. He assured the students that the he has spoken with Kansas senators, and is confident that they will support Washburn on this matter. Storey is certain in the end Washburn’s state funding will be restored.

“They understand what the problem is, and they understand how this happened, and I’m convinced in my own mind that that would be inputting into the complete budgetary and final budgetary process and that money would be reinstated to Washburn,” said Storey.

Storey feels that the senate will be much more objective in determining Washburn’s fate.

“I think cooler heads and smarter minds will prevail in the end,” said Storey.

Kansas senator, Garrett Love agrees that the senate will not allow the cut to Washburn’s funding, and is confident that the senate will support Washburn and restore Washburn’s funding to where it was last year.

 “The house’s budget has the Washburn cut in there, but the senate has Washburn funded at the level it was funded at this past year. At this point I feel cautiously confident that the funding will remain where it previously was,” said Love.

Love has an interest in this bill not only as a Kansas senator, but also as a Washburn graduate and former president of the Washburn Student Government Association.

Love believes with Washburn University, the state receives a relatively high return per dollar spent when comparing the number of student graduates alongside the amount spent by the state on the university, and that Washburn has been a good investment for the state in general. He does not personally support the proposal to cut Washburn’s funding, and feels that making such a drastic cut to one university would not be a wise decision.

“I am not a supporter of that decision, and don’t find it to be good policy,” said Love. “With the fiscal situation we are in, if we decided to cut higher education across the board as for a much smaller percentage, that would make more sense, but the way it would be, Washburn would lose 50 percent of it’s funding with the rest of higher education held harmless, and that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.”

Love said that none of the representatives that support the cut have given any sort of explanation as to why the cuts would be good for the state of Kansas, and that has been part of the frustration involved in his opposition to the bill.

Love encouraged students to advocate for Washburn through the upcoming challenges, and in the future.

“Stay connected and involved,” said Love. “A lot of decisions being made are affecting a lot of folks in a lot of ways, and for young people, myself included, it’s going to be affecting us for the rest of our lives. This goes far beyond definitively involving Washburn, but what’s going on matters, and for college students, it’s important to be involved.”