Business students weigh in on referendum, new building on Innovation Campus


File graphic

Of the $38.5 million Wichita State is seeking to raise from a proposed student fee increase, $20 million would go towards the construction of a new business building on Innovation Campus. Even within the college that stands to gain the most from an affirmative vote on the March referendum, student feedback on the $6 per credit hour fee hike is mixed.

“I don’t think it’s a good situation,” sophomore business student Danielle Harms said. “Obviously, I want the new business school because that would be good for future business students, but I’ll never use it, so that kind of sucks.”

The new building, Woolsey Hall, is projected to open in the winter of 2021. It has a $50 million price tag, but the WSU Foundation has already raised roughly $30 million in donations for the project.

Harms, a member of the dean’s ambassadors for the Barton School of Business, is also a first-generation college student. She said doesn’t know why the university can’t build Woolsey Hall on a $30 million budget.

“I get that it’s cool to have a new building, and it will be nice and new, but everything we have functions,” Harms said. “For me, I’m here to learn. I’m not here to have the coolest building on campus. I’m looking for a cheap, good education.”

Sophomore business student Keaton O’Neil said a class visit from Business School Dean Anand Desai won his support for the initiative.

“When the dean came in and talked to us, he reminded us about the benefits,” O’Neal said. “It should be good in the long run.”

State-of-the-art Woolsey Hall has been billed as a recruiting tool that will both bring students to WSU and encourage industry partnership. The university website says ground will be broken on the $50 million facility in 2019. If the referendum fails, WSU will still have to find a way to pay for the building.

Provost and acting President Rick Muma said that if it fails, business students will have a second vote on a $30-$35 per credit hour program-specific fee. Undergraduate business students already pay $35 per credit hour in program-specific fees, and graduate students pay $50.

When asked what would happen if business students rejected a program-specific fee hike, Muma didn’t have a clear answer.

“We’d have to see exactly what the thinking is of the business students and why they voted that down,” Muma said. “It’d be problematic to go back to donors and say, ‘No one wants a business building here. We’re giving your money back.’ That’s not something I think we want to do.”

Although state law requires WSU to hold a referendum before raising fees to bond money, Harms said she worries WSU is beholden to its donors over its students.

“If you really wanted students’ opinion about this stuff, why didn’t you ask before you went to the donors, because it doesn’t matter what I say now — you’re going to charge me for it either way,” Harms said.

Sophomore Ethan Balzer switched majors this semester, but previously represented business students as a senator in the Student Government Association. He said most business students he’s spoken to aren’t aware that they might have to pay for Woolsey Hall themselves.

“I haven’t met a lot of business students who actually know that if the referendum fails, that’s what’s going to happen,” Balzer said. “Most of them believe that the business building is going to be built anyways.”

Freshman business student Josh Cable said he’d rather pay a $6 per credit hour fee than a $30-$35 one. Otherwise, he hasn’t given the initiative much thought, he said.

“Some of my professors have been talking about it and stuff,” Cable said. “I haven’t really thought about it too much. If we feel like we need it, I don’t see a problem with it.”

Balzer said older students who won’t see Woolsey Hall built in their time at WSU, are less likely to support the initiative than younger students.

“A lot of older business students aren’t sure they approve of the idea, simply because it’s another thing they’ll have to pay off,” Balzer said. “Younger students, I’ve seen, are more neutral towards it, and a lot of people are kind of indifferent.”