For nearly 20 years, students have paid a varying amount of money toward Kansas Athletics through the student fee allocation process, but come Wednesday, March 20, students might stop paying that fee entirely.
The cut of a student fee comes at a time when the financial relationship between the University of Kansas and its athletic association has been called into question by members of the University community. Faculty have questioned if Kansas Athletics is contributing an appropriate sum to the University as the University undergoes its $20 million budget cut.
Data from the Office of the Provost shows Kansas Athletics contributes $50,000 to the University, while the University provides $1.5 million to Athletics annually. During a budget conversation in October, Interim Provost Carl Lejuez said Athletics contributes about $30 million in indirect funds to the University through things such as faculty support, parking services purchased and improvements to University assets.
“Students have wanted this fee eliminated for a while now,” Senate Chief of Staff Zach Thomason said. “This is one of these things that we have a mission to serve all students. This is really the only fee that doesn’t have a component you can arguably say is to all students at its root.”
Historically, this fee went toward funding student positions within Kansas Athletics, predominantly being students who worked at the ticketing office, videographers and more, according to Thomason.
“Those student wages aren’t something that just magically go away if this fee gets eliminated,” Thomason said. “This isn’t Student Senate cutting student jobs.”
The athletics fee compensated for an estimated $305,000 of KU Athletic's budget, which is just below $100 million, per data from Interim Provost Carl Lejuez during a December budget conversation.
“That $300,000 is relatively immaterial to the cost of impact we were able to provide other entities on this campus, where $300,000 can be the difference between them operating or not operating in a single year,” Thomason said. “We just didn’t see that same necessity in Athletics.”
Associate Athletic Director Jim Marchiony was not available for comment by time of press.
As a component of the fee review process, Senate requests its units fill out documents with the unit’s accounting information and for a presentation. Athletics didn’t do those things, Thomason said.
“It just sent the message to us that maybe this $300,000 — this $7 fee — is not one of their top priorities right now. That’s just the message that was sent to us,” Thomason said. “If that’s not what they wanted to send, then I think that my response is that there were meetings we asked them to come to, spreadsheets that we asked them to fill out. Those things are important because it helps us make our decisions. We weren’t able to make those decisions because none of that information was provided to us.”
This isn’t the first time Student Senate has proposed cutting the Athletics fee.
Nearly four years ago, Student Senate voted in favor of cutting the Athletics fee from $25 per semester to $0. Shortly after, then-Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little announced in a letter to student senators in March 2014 a revised cut to $7 per semester, and an end to an agreement between Student Senate and the Athletics Association to pay for the Ambler Student Recreation Fitness Center expansion.
As a result, Athletics removed 120 seats from the student section to give to donors instead, and increased the all-sports ticket package by $25.
“The KU student government decided to campaign to reduce the student fee that goes to athletics,” Marchiony said in a 2014 interview with the Kansan. “That subsequent reduction of the student fee resulted in a loss of revenue to the athletic department. So the department found itself in a position to make up that revenue and that precipitated this change in section U.”
Fee review is a nearly six-month-long process. In January, Student Senate begins by talking to its individual units, which part of the student fees are allocated to, to see whether those units may need an increase. But the discussion for fee review kicks in around November every academic year.
Fee review subcommittee members are individually selected from each committee on Student Senate through a nomination process and include, in part, members of the executive staff — some with voting rights, and others without it. Those on fee review listen to an estimated 300 hours of testimonies from different student service units across the Lawrence campus.
Full Senate is expected to vote Wednesday, March 20 on whether or not to officially cut the current athletics fee from $7 to $0 for the 2019 fiscal year. Should they continue, it would potentially lead to a total $17 increase in fees for the upcoming semester.
Student Body President Noah Ries said he’ll provide more information during his official report in full Senate of potential outcomes.
“I think it’s really going to depend on whether the fee package passes tomorrow in full Senate, and from there that’s going to dictate how the conversation moves forward,” Ries said. “We want to make it clear we want to keep an open line of communication, and we want to come to the best possible solution.”
He said that throughout the process of fee review, Senate executives have been regularly communicating with Kansas Athletics, Chancellor Douglas Girod and Interim Provost Carl Lejuez.
“Nothing is set in stone,” Ries said. “We’re hoping that even with the options that the Chancellor has laid out for us of where this could potentially go, we still think that after we give our sort of perspective on the issue, we can come to a better solution that for sure will not take away seats, or maybe jack-up the price of the combo package by a significant amount.”
This story is developing.