KU retirees usher patrons to seats in the Lied Center and give money to help Lied Center programs — heck, they even contributed to the formation of what is now Friends of the Lied Center, an organization that helped establish the performing arts venue itself.
And now that a longtime benefit for KU retirees — free tickets to selected Lied Center performances — is being eliminated, leaders of an influential retiree group plan to fight back.
Jerry Niebaum, a retired vice provost, is marshaling troops in the 400-member retirees organization, citing a “breach of faith” by KU in cutting a program that “does not represent a significant, compelling expense” to the university.
“We will be suggesting to our Endacott (Society) members that they consider adding restrictions to their contributions to Friends of the Lied to be used only on reinstatement of a retiree ticket program,” said Niebaum, president of the society, in a letter to Provost Richard Lariviere. “(And) we will be soliciting retirees to consider adding restrictions to other contributions to the university.”
The program for providing free tickets to retirees and discounted tickets to other retirees ended up as an $63,233 expense this past Lied Center season, when considering the face value of tickets. But the value is “significantly less,” Niebaum said, given that most shows don’t sell out.
“The bad will that has been created in retirees will be long lasting,” said Niebaum, noting that retirees contributed $1.2 million to KU during the past year. “Its greatest impact will be felt long after you have left the university.”
Lariviere was unavailable for comment Wednesday afternoon, but Jack Martin, a KU spokesman, said the university was grateful for the generous support of retirees of both the university and the Lied Center in the past.
“In a difficult budget situation, we would hope they would continue that support,” Martin said.
Martin said that while the Lied Center benefit to retirees did not have a direct payment involved like a similar program with athletic tickets, the benefit still had a real cost.
Martin also noted that the tickets involved were in prime locations, and, in all likelihood, would be sold at full value.
“I don’t think it’s the case that if these tickets weren’t provided, then the seats would be empty,” he said.
Tim Van Leer, executive director of the Lied Center, acknowledges that retirees volunteer and donate, and otherwise assist the center and its programs. But he emphasizes that KU’s budget cuts are real — the center’s budget is taking a $30,000 hit — and there’s no changing that.
He’s working to come up with a program that might help preserve some form of assistance, without affecting the budget.
“The big issue for them is they’re losing free tickets and I cannot provide them with free tickets any longer,” Van Leer said. “Can we give them leftover tickets on the day of a performance? Can we provide them a discount? There are a variety of configurations that we are considering.”