Linnabary: Renovation Campus
As Wichita State dives headfirst into Innovation Campus, let’s not forget the buildings, students and areas of campus that are worse for wear.
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Forget innovation for a minute … let’s talk renovation.
Our fine arts buildings need work. Henrion and McKnight, which flooded in September, have been repaired by Facilities countless times to no avail.
You can keep your finger plugged in a levy’s leak to hold back the water and no one will know, but someday you’re going to have to take that finger out.
Fine arts is obviously a priority of the university, with 2017 marking another year of its student fees budget steadily dissipating to nothingness.
Those funds are used to support their live events, among other allocations.
Fiscal year 2016’s fine arts budget was $78,000. 2017’s was $35,000. Now the program is at $20,000.
Don’t worry — WSU has an $8 million renovation plan for Henrion, started October 2015. As of June 2016, $176,000 has been raised.
At that rate, it would take 20 years to reach $8 million.
Grad assistants and the hiring freeze
Graduate assistants are barely paid above minimum wage, tip-toeing the line of poverty. Assistants in WSU’s English department are paid $8,500 — the national average is $16,000. WSU’s engineering assistants average $18,000.
Great instructors and faculty in Elliott have had a 1 percent raise over the last three years. Students in liberal arts and sciences majors sometimes cannot graduate on time because there are not enough faculty and staff to offer the classes they need.
Teachers prefacing a course by stating “this is my first time teaching this course, it was thrown on me last minute, so bear with me” is becoming commonplace due to a state-debt-driven hiring freeze.
‘All I see are dollar signs’
Yeah, the university isn’t paying for all of these new buildings and developments (most are privately funded), but it’s clear where the administration’s interests lie — engineering and business, the “money makers.”
When asked at an Innovation Campus town hall meeting if majors outside those fields were getting the short end of the innovation stick, John Tomblin said “bring me an idea,” citing how the planned Law Enforcement Training Center (that Sedgwick county recently deemed unlawful due to its bidding process) was developed because of an idea presented to him.
He didn’t have the ideas for engineering and business. It was implied that they would be the focus of Innovation Campus from the start. So far, any money the state throws at the university to spur growth has resulted in innovation-in-name-only projects, such as moving Airbus from its downtown headquarters to Wichita State, without adding jobs.
I get that Wichita is an aviation city focused on engineering. But what’s innovative about holding onto an industry of the past? At the Feb. 15 board of regent meeting, Tomblin presented a PowerPoint — nothing screams innovation like PowerPoint — noting that the aviation industry in Kansas has declined since 2010.
There are around 2,200 engineering majors at Wichita State, according to board of regents data. But with about 13,000 WSU students studying majors outside of those fields, something has to give.
We may just be spokes on the wheel, but we all make it turn.
Home sweet home
Tomblin, if you’d like an idea, how about fixing the holes in Elliott? Filling a few of the vacant teaching positions with someone other than adjuncts? Joining the 21st century — and increasing enrollment — by marketing to millennials who want to do more than work in a manufacturing plant?
Also, Elliott Hall is cockroach (not the little ones — these suckers are the size of a thumb) infested and mouse-ridden. It might be a good idea to get better pest control — physical plant custodians said treating for these pests has become routine due to their persistence. That’s not just in Elliott either — it’s throughout campus.
Maybe we could increase our student fees for that, or crowd source. But someday, someone is going to ask: What exactly are we paying for?
Though I’m unsure of exact costs, I’d wager that all of those issues could be addressed for well under $5 million — the amount the university is potentially bucking up for a YMCA partnership that most students said they don’t want and that student government voted against.
I get we’re moving forward as a university by trying something new. It’s undeniably exciting … but once the dust settles and the “innovation” has become the norm, please remember the artists, the writers, the historians, the hard-working faculty and every other student and university affiliate left in the dark.
By focusing on engineer and business majors, it’s clear the administration is not fully putting students first. You’re putting them first merely as an investment.
Keep the students’ best interests in mind, not yours. I know that’s not how this whole “running a broke college in a broke state” thing works, but it should be.