Deans talk student input on infrastructure proposal

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Wichita State’s deans were tasked with generating infrastructure priorities for their respective colleges in preparation for a “student-driven” initiative to raise student fees by $6 a credit hour for the purpose of upgrading campus facilities.

The proposal will be voted on by students in March, and although WSU is not required by law to respect the outcome of the referendum, the university’s infrastructure priorities list states that using student fees requires “serious student support.”

The proposed hike would allow the university to bond $38.5 million — $20 million of which would be allocated to the construction of the new business school. The rest would go toward other colleges’ priorities.

There is no hard data available on student input for the infrastructure priorities, Vice President for Student Affairs Teri Hall said.

The Sunflower reached out to the deans of each academic college to ask how they used student input to set their infrastructure priorities.

The top infrastructure priority for the College of Health Professions is relocating the dental hygiene program to an expanded oral health facility at the Hughes Metroplex — a project Dean Sandra Bibb said has been in the works since before she arrived at WSU in 2014.

“The goal always was to move dental hygiene over there and build out the first floor into the parking lot,” Bibb said.

“There was input from faculty and students and the department chair of dental hygiene at that time in designing that first floor.”

Architects provided an estimate for the facility, and Bibb said the college planned to seek donor support for its funding. Then WSU’s infrastructure proposal came along and she saw an opportunity to expedite the process.

“It made sense then, when there was an opportunity to move [the new dental hygiene facility] forward with the possibility that we could have both donor support and then have it be part of this referendum, that we would have it at the top of the list,” Bibb said.

Moving the dental hygiene program would free up space in Ahlberg Hall for a renovated advising and student services suite — the college’s other infrastructure priority.

One priority for the College of Fine Arts is modernizing classrooms, offices, and labs in Henrion Hall — something Dean Rodney Miller said has been discussed on and off for 15 years.

“Focusing on the last four or five years, we have had numerous (and diverse) meetings that have either been focused solely on students (i.e. – student town hall meeting, MFA student discussion group, etc.) all the way to architectural charrettes where student representatives were invited to participate,” Miller wrote in an email.

Miller said the college’s other priorities — renovating performance space and updating classrooms, offices, and equipment in Wilner Auditorium — has had “less student involvement” so far.

“We have not discussed specifics with students because specifics in this area will depend upon the amount of money we have for the project,” Miller wrote of the equipment upgrades and acquisitions.

Miller said all three priorities are “organic” in the sense that they are “in the area of ‘attention must be paid’ to dated, aging and/or crumbling facilities and equipment.”

Bibb said she has taken an active role in discussing the proposed fee with students.

“I talked to health professions senators, the Future Healthcare Professions president, and then I asked for the opportunity from the chairs again to go to as many classes as I could to talk to the students about this,” Bibb said. “And so I visited lots of different classes.”

She said some students nearing graduation wonder why they should pay fees for projects they may not see completed.

“It’s possible that the fees could start before you graduate, and perhaps as a student, you won’t see the benefit, but you will as an alum,” Bibb said.

“When I talked to the students about it, I talked about how they are enjoying things that other students may have contributed to or whatever else. For me, I just see that as part of being in a community — being in a community and being a citizen in the community.”

Bibb said another question students have raised is why more than half of the money raised should go to the construction of the business school.

“You can always have that perspective of what’s fair and not fair, and I don’t believe that you’re going to be able to do things — this is my personal opinion — across the board the same way all the time,” Bibb said. “There’s always going to be give and take.”

The university created a steering committee of 30 students to take the lead on informing students of and generating support for the project. Bibb said she is encouraging students to make their voices heard by speaking to their student representatives.

“I cannot tell [students] what to do, but I said to them that they needed to absolutely make sure that their student representatives knew what they thought and where they were,” Bibb said.