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Kansas University's Student Senate voted today to eliminate entirely a nearly 35-year-old subsidy to the athletics department.
The vote, if upheld by KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little, means that future students would have to hold a referendum to reinstate the fee. The Senate passed it as part of their regular review of all student fees.
The $25-per-semester fee helps fund women's and nonrevenue sports at KU. It began in the late 1970s as a way to help KU comply with Title IX, a law protecting gender equity in education that requires universities to support women's sports.
Student leaders have said that the burgeoning revenues of Kansas Athletics Inc., the operating arm of the athletics department, are large enough to support women's sports without a subsidy paid by students. The athletics department has said the fees are necessary to support Title IX and nonrevenue sports.
The lion's share of athletics revenue comes from NCAA and conference distributions, television contracts, ticket sales and donations. In 2013 the student subsidy amounted to $1.1 million of the department's $93.7 million in total revenue.
Speaking against cutting the fee, student senator Patrick Jacquinot said he wanted to keep the relationship between the Senate and student athletes positive and show that students supported all athletes. Student body president Marcus Tetwiler called the move to cut "progressive" and said it would support students across the university by freeing up funds.
Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little will now have to decide whether to uphold the students' vote or veto their proposal.
Adding a hiccup to the process is a 2004 agreement signed by then-athletics director Lew Perkins and former student body president Andrew Knopp.
The agreement gave the athletics department Allen Fieldhouse seats designated as student seating in return for the department taking over bond payment on a student recreation center expansion. As part of the deal, the agreement set a $20 minimum for the student athletic fee until the bonds mature, which will be in 2027, according to the KU public affairs office.
KU has said through spokesman Jack Martin that administration considers the agreement binding. In an email sent to Gray-Little, Tetwiler and others, Knopp told the chancellor that he considered the agreement a letter of intent, not a fully negotiated legal contract.
He also also noted that he had expected the bond repayments for the rec center to be much higher based on the agreement, and so he thought the bond repayment period would be much shorter and with it the length of the agreement on student fees.
Gray-Little would not comment on whether she would consider vetoing the student vote or will leave the decision intact.
Before this year's student government, a 2009 Student Senate committee considered eliminating the fees but decided not to out of fear that then-Chancellor Robert Hemenway would veto a cut in the fee.