Archive for Wednesday, April 15, 2009

KU retirees call elimination of free-ticket program a ‘breach of faith’ by university

A group of retired KU workers is fighting back against the university, calling the elimination of a free-ticket program a 'breach of faith' by the university.

April 15, 2009, 5:06 p.m. Updated April 15, 2009, 6:18 p.m.


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.”


Steve Jacob 9 years, 1 month ago

I see no reason why retiree's can't get free tickets for shows that don't sell out.

KansasVoter 9 years, 1 month ago

"“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."

If retirees can afford to donate $1.2 million, I'm pretty sure that they can afford to pay for their own tickets.

zzgoeb 9 years, 1 month ago

Wow, another cheap shot from "Snob Hill" by KU!!! An empty seat costs nothing for the admin. I'm sure the retirees have helped sell seats by spreading the work about performances, etc. Kudos to Niebaum for do his part!!! The lack of respect and dedication by university leaders is sad...hey KSU or WU would love to have these folks along with their service and financial support!

lucieisme 9 years, 1 month ago

Wasn't there an earlier article that said by ending the free tickets to retirees, 11 jobs on campus would be saved from elimination? Maybe it's me, but if I was a retiree, I'd pay for a ticket before I'd allow someone to lose their job.

irishlad34 9 years, 1 month ago

AD Lew Perkins gets a $750,000 bonus for not leaving for another college and KU is yanking tickets from retirees because they are in a "budget crisis" it just me or is something wrong with that logic... sounds like KU needs to spend their money a little wiser. Whether the funds be public or private...

dweezil222 9 years, 1 month ago

On the other hand, if the retirees are the ones providing free labor handing out programs and acting as ushers, maybe they've earned the right to a free ticket. KU's going to have to pay someone to do that job now, and I doubt that giving out a few tickets to retirees is going to cost any more than that would.

cowboy 9 years, 1 month ago

It continues to amaze me the bumbling of KU public relations. does anyone vet these decisions before they are rolled out. You already screwed all the old folks at Allen Fieldhouse , soon you will do the same at Memorial , now at the Lied Center. Perhaps you would have more revenue if you booked something someone wanted to see !

Don't mess with the old folks !

Kyle Reed 9 years, 1 month ago

Lol, irishlad34! I wondered when some bonehead would bring up KU athletics which has ZERO to do with this article. Congrats!

terrapin2 9 years, 1 month ago

I think they should have Lew pay the $65K they need to cover these expenses and be done with it!!!

I know of at least one bad decision that was made by the Lied Center management several years ago which cost them nearly all of the $65K that the Provost's office is claiming to save with this move. I know nearly everyone on campus is facing some sort of budget cuts but I can think of many other ways to pinch those pennies than this plan which sticks it to the retirees!

beatrice 9 years, 1 month ago

Lucie and hip, time for a reality check. The face value for the tickets, which would are for seat that would likely be empty and not sold in most cases, "costs" the Lied Center $63,233? I know Kansas wages are low, but do you really think the university can pay wages and benefits for 11 workers with $63,233?

By donating their time, and often their money, retirees do plenty to help KU. Treat them poorly, and the free workers and the donations that are likely far in excess of the $63k, could easily vanish. And what about the person who decides not to leave his millions to the university in his will because he felt slighted, or felt sorry for his former co-workers? Taking a promised benefit away from retiree is a bad idea. It is penny wise, but dollar foolish.

verity 9 years, 1 month ago

Something doesn't quite add up here. They're saving $63,233 by eliminating the free tickets, but "the center’s budget is taking a $30,000 hit." So this means they will have $33,233 extra by eliminating the program?

I believe the university has already taken some free parking privileges away from retirees. At least, I've heard some complaints about that. Whether justified or not, taking away privileges that people are used to always causes resentment---not usually worth the bad feelings caused.

Too often, the supposed bottom line does not take everything into account.

oohmgrover 9 years, 1 month ago

Not every retiree volunteers or donates anything at all, and not all of the Lied Center's ushers are retirees either. Ushers are allowed to come in and sit in an empty seat near the door to see any of the performances that they are working.

And the 11 jobs statistic comes from the university-wide cuts to employee discounts as well as the 63k for retiree tickets, which overwhelmingly were in premium seating.

Babaloo 9 years, 1 month ago

The worst thing is that the University didn't even attempt to come up with an alternative like giving unsold tickets to retirees. I agree, the Lied Center should not lose revenue by giving tickets away but if the show is not sold out, what harm does it do to the budget? They just came right out and said "no more free tickets!" I'm with the retirees. This bad will will cost the University a lot more than it will save. I hope the volunteers go on strike and stop being ushers and and whatever other volunteering they do. Let's see how badly hiring people to do that work will affect the school's budget. Nice foresight!

oohmgrover 9 years, 1 month ago

Oh, and I like the shows that the Lied Center puts on (for the most part) - have you even gone to any? Because I have, and I'm almost always impressed by the center and the performance.

davidsmom 9 years, 1 month ago

A small cost-savings here and a small cost-savings there, and pretty soon you may have enough to save some jobs. I don't know why I'm having trouble relating to the compelling feeling of deserving free tickets, and I'm close to retirement myself. Free seats that are unsold on the day of performance sounds like enough of a discount to me.

kugrad 9 years, 1 month ago

Instead of giving them prime seats, give them average seats or balcony seats that are less likely to be sold. There is no need to go to the most extreme measure, ending the program, as the first response.

Sharon Aikins 9 years, 1 month ago

Sometimes you spend a little money to make more. The cost of these free tickets was more than made up for in the donated time by the retirees, their donations and most likely their efforts as Friends to raise money. Does the University still expect the perks they have gotten from these people? To me, spending $63 thousand plus for a return of $1.2 million and donated time doesn't seem like a bad investment. These people are giving back to the University some of the money paid them over the years and they don't have to. I say, let the Lied pay for ticket takers and ushers, people to help them raise money, and see if this was a wise choice. KU has become like the dog that bites the hand that feeds it. The Athletic Corp. can get by with this because the good ole boys will still give their big bucks for a good showing by our teams and bragging rights. The Lied, well, I'm not so sure. And paying someone $750,000 for not leaving!!!??? You know, in a few years old Lew might just alienate enough donators that even the Athletic Corp. will be in the same shape as the University. But then, Lew was smart enough to put that monkey (discounted seats) on the backs of the KU administration while he headed to the bank.

deskboy04 9 years, 1 month ago

Does anyone really go to those shows at the Lied Center?

lucieisme 9 years, 1 month ago

The retirees act like they gave up so much of themselves for KU. Well, you did get a paycheck for your contributions and got to work in a pretty nice environment. You could have spent 30+ years working in a factory or in a field and received nothing but a swift kick out the door when you retired.

jniebaum 9 years, 1 month ago

Many KU faculty/staff helped fund the building of the Lied Center. Some of us are now retirees. Complimentary Lied tickets were part of the benefits package given to us at retirement for decades of dedicated service to the university (in my case for 23 years). Contributors to the building fund for the Lied were given priority seating as a benefit offered in the solicitation. That's why some retirees have prime seating (indluding me).

MyName 9 years, 1 month ago

From what I understand, they aren't planning on making those cuts permanent anymore than they are planning on making the faculty/staff discounts to sporting events permanent.

The people who made the decision not to fund the program are not the same people who run the Lied center. If retirees want to figure out a way to get them a discount, or free tickets to unsold events, I'm sure the Lied center people would be willing to listen to their most loyal supporters.

It's not a good situation, but neither is cutting 2-3 more full time jobs so that people who are no longer working could see shows for free. And that seems to be the "opportunity cost" there.

hildirid 9 years, 1 month ago

Doesn't a Lied Center with more warm bodies in it cost less to heat in the winter?

Greg Smith 9 years, 1 month ago

I used to be involved at the Lied Center, and I can say with some authority that filling empty seats does sometimes cost them money. Many shows have to pay royalties and other fees that are figured by how many people see the show. This means that even giving away free tickets costs them money.

I also want to recognize the Ushers. They do volunteer. Many of them are retired. Not all of them are KU Retirees. All of them get to sit and watch the show if a free seat is available. They are always appreciated and the service of all of the Lied Centers Volunteers should not be overlooked.

It simply comes down to this. There is a huge cost associated to the free tickets. Perhaps even allowing them free seats in the upper balcony might be an option to some shows, but those complaining need to understand that the contracts and many other things need to be considered.

I don't think that any solution that allows for normal operations at the Lied will make the KU Retirees happy though. I wish that there would be some understanding in the next few years as the Lied Center attempts to maintain a high level of service to the community while staying solvent.

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