Wichita State faculty ask to discuss Koch family-funded school


Brian Hayes

Work has already started on the former Printing and Publication Services building on the main campus just south of the Student Credit Union. The building is the site of the future Wonder school.

With four minutes remaining of the Faculty Senate’s twice-monthly meeting, senators had the opportunity to air their thoughts on the Koch-funded private elementary school coming to Wichita State’s campus this year.

After covering everything on Monday’s agenda, Faculty Senate President Carolyn Shaw asked if senators had any additional items they wished to discuss.

Jay Price, a senator from the history department, said people had been asking about the new school, called Wonder.

“That may be something that we want to discuss,” Price said. “We probably don’t have time to talk about it today, but we probably do want to have a conversation about where we are with that.”

Kirsten Johnson, a senator from the art school, said many people think a private school doesn’t belong on public land at WSU.

“They’re very concerned about Koch money because Kochs tend to be libertarians,” Johnson said.

Aleks Sternfeld-Dunn, a senator from the music department, said the school’s location on campus “disturbs” him.

“I haven’t had anyone explain to me yet why this is a good thing,” Sternfeld-Dunn said. “The mission of our university is right in there, that we provide a public good.

“And a private school that serves the top one percent of this city that is not regulated and not licensed . . . I don’t see how that satisfies the mission of a public good university,” Sternfeld-Dunn said.

And a private school that serves the top one percent of this city that is not regulated and not licensed . . . I don’t see how that satisfies the mission of a public good university.

— Aleks Sternfeld-Dunn

“If they want to go put it on 17th Street, that’s fine with me. But it does not belong on this campus as far as I can see.”

Three days after news of the Koch-family funded school broke in the Wichita Eagle, WSU’s website put up a Frequently Asked Questions page about Wonder. The webpage says the new school will be based on existing models of “experiential learning” schools, such as NuVu on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus.

Sternfeld-Dunn pointed out that the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is a private university.

“I’ve got a real problem with the school itself and the lack of oversight on it,” Sternfeld-Dunn said. “Again, I’m not saying the school is bad. I’m saying its location on our university, a public university, is problematic.”

Shirley Lefever, dean of the college of education, said Wonder would be similar to other Innovation Campus projects, such as Airbus’s move to WSU’s campus.

“Why not?” Lefever said. “We’re about innovation here. We’re exploring new ideas and this is an opportunity for our university.”

Some senators expressed concerns over the fact that the university didn’t announce the plan.

“The concern that I heard was people learning about it through The Eagle,” said Doug English, a senator from the chemistry department.

The FAQ page says that the university allowed the Wonder founders decide how they want to make the news public.

As the clock neared 5 p.m., the official end of the senate meeting, Faculty Senate President Shaw said she would put the discussion of the new school on a future senate agenda.

Kirsten Johnson said that the decisions had already been made.

“Well, it’s a done deal so we can’t do anything about it,” Johnson said.

WSU signed a lease agreement with Wonder in December.

Betty Smith-Campbell, Faculty Senate president-elect and senator from the school of nursing, said the Faculty Senate can discuss “communication strategies” at a future meeting.

“The president (John Bardo) is supportive of transparency but the actions aren’t always appearing to be transparent.” Smith-Campbell said.

“If we’re not happy, what is it we would like to recommend to have done?”