Paying Republican operatives’ company millions an unacceptable lapse in ethics for WSU

As a public university, Wichita State must steer clear of promoting partisan political agendas. You’d be hard-pressed to catch a university administrator openly endorse a candidate for office, but scratch just below the surface and it’s hard to miss WSU’s closer-than-comfort relationship with the Republican Party.

Opening the door to industry partnership in a reliably conservative state concedes a certain level of influence to powerful Republicans — Charles Koch’s personal residence is a mere 10 minutes from WSU, and his fingerprints are all over campus — but certain dealings stand out as particularly problematic.

Two Innovation Campus developers whose company is quickly cornering the market on student housing at WSU, announced earlier this month that they will co-chair a 2020 Republican Senate campaign. The developers, Ivan Crossland and David Murfin, are partial owners of Flats of Kansas, LLC, the company WSU is paying more than $2.5 million this year to lease The Flats private apartment complex from.

WSU will pay Crossland and Murfin’s company even more next school year when university-owned Shocker Hall becomes a freshman-only facility, meaning upperclassmen who want to live on campus will be directed exclusively to The Flats or The Suites, a lower-priced Flats of Kansas-leased residence hall set to open this fall. Freshmen can choose to stay in The Suites next year, but upperclassmen hoping to stay in Shocker Hall are out of luck.

Presenting students with these private housing options isn’t necessarily problematic. Giving them no alternative to it is.

On top of a $1.96 million base rate, WSU is paying Flats of Kansas, LLC 70 percent of gross rental revenue from The Flats this year. That means each individual student paying to stay there prompts WSU to shell out more money to Crossland and Murfin — even though their company is in no way involved with the day-to-day operation of the facility.

And WSU isn’t just waiting around for campus housing to fill itself. Out-of-state recruitment efforts are being bolstered through the expansion of the I-35 Corridor in-state-tuition initiative. More students from outside of Kansas means a higher demand for student housing at WSU, a commuter school by nature.

It also means more students unwittingly padding the pockets of men with a clear political agenda. Freshmen choosing between The Suites and similarly priced Shocker Hall won’t know the difference.

When questioned by The Sunflower, multiple university officials were unaware that Crossland and Murfin were even co-chairing a campaign.

Vice President for Student Affairs Teri Hall said that as long as leases are approved by the Regents, they “must pass the smell test.”

But that process is complicated by the fact that Murfin is a member of the board. Even though he recuses himself from votes that involve his various companies’ finances at WSU, regents rubber-stamping each other’s conflict-of-interest-ridden projects at state universities is standard practice.

WSU officials should take a step back and remember that they are running a public university. Cozying up with political actors means decisions have political consequences. Right now, WSU’s housing plan for next school year promotes a partisan agenda.