Kansas University students no longer will pay a $25-per-semester athletics fee, after the chancellor agreed to uphold a Student Senate vote eliminating it.
However, beginning this fall, two different fees will be instated in its place — $12 to pay off debt on the Student Recreation Fitness Center and $7 to support university athletics programs, for a total of $19 per semester.
Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little outlined her actions in a letter delivered today to the Student Senate, which voted March 12 to eliminate the fee.
Gray-Little said she valued shared governance and the senate’s role as elected representatives of KU students. Therefore, she said, she did not want to veto the legislation.
However, Gray-Little said, the senate’s vote effectively abrogates an April 2004 fee agreement that Kansas Athletics relied on to pay for the student-sought rec center expansion. She said adding the $12 a semester to the Student Recreation and Fitness Center Fee is needed to cover the terms of those bonds, requiring annual payments of $470,000 until 2027.
As for the $7 Kansas Athletics Fee, Gray-Little said it would decrease Kansas Athletics revenue from student fees by $340,000. “This change eliminates almost half of the net fee that went to Kansas Athletics, while ensuring students will continue to provide a measure of support to athletics programs in recognition of the role intercollegiate sports play in the lives of students.”
In 2013, the student subsidy accounted for $1.1 million of the athletics department’s $93.7 million in total revenue.
The $25-per-semester fee voted out by the senate began in the late 1970s as a way to help KU comply with Title IX, a law requiring universities to support women’s sports.
Student leaders have said that revenues of Kansas Athletics Inc., the operating arm of the athletics department, are big enough to support women’s sports without the student subsidy. The athletics department has said the student fees are needed for Title IX and non-revenue sports.
Student body president Marcus Tetwiler and student body vice president Emma Halling said they were heartened by the chancellor’s respect for the “will and autonomy” of students.
“Clearly, the chancellor’s decision represents a compromise in which neither Kansas Athletics nor Student Senate received what we initially desired,” the senate leaders said in a written response to Gray-Little’s action. “However, we are pleased with the strengthened lines of communication we have cultivated with the chancellor and university administration throughout this process.”
With the chancellor’s decision, required campus fees will be $453.54 per semester beginning in the fall, according to Student Senate.
The 2004 rec center agreement has proven problematic to the current discussion about the athletic fees.
That agreement was signed by then-athletics director Lew Perkins and former student body president Andrew Knopp. The Journal-World reported it gave the athletics department Allen Fieldhouse seats designated as student seating in return for the department taking over bond payment on a student rec center expansion. The deal set a $20 minimum for the student athletic fee until the bonds mature.
Gray-Little ended her letter by questioning the advisability of the university entering into future multiyear agreements with the Student Senate or its representatives. She said she believed an amendment to the senate’s rules and regulations — “ensuring that long-term obligations will be met and setting out explicitly whether the Student Body President is authorized to sign agreements such as the 2004 agreement” — was needed before KU entered any more multiyear contracts with the student government.
Tetwiler and Halling said their organization was committed to transparency.
“We are taking action to ensure that similar misunderstandings do not occur in the future,” they said in their response. “Improved best practices for student fee management will benefit current students and generations of Jayhawks to come.”
Speaking for KU’s athletic department, Associate Athletic Director Jim Marchiony said: “We respect the chancellor’s decision, and we will move forward based on her decision.”
He said it had not yet been decided how the athletic department would make up for lost revenue. Higher ticket prices for students is one possibility.
“The student government leaders told us more than once that they wanted the students who buy tickets to bear the brunt of this cost, but we haven’t decided yet what we’ll do going forward,” Marchiony said. “The student government has decided to disown the agreement signed with Kansas Athletics 10 years ago, and so every method of recovering this lost revenue is on the table.”
— Gary Bedore contributed to this story.
— Enterprise reporter Sara Shepherd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 832-7187.