Referendum fails by 107 votes; students narrowly reject fee increase for campus upgrades


Easton Thompson

Jenny Beyer from Housing and Residence Life assists junior criminal justice major Ralph Young with voting in the Shock the Future student fee referendum Tuesday in the Rhatigan Student Center.

The Shock the Future referendum has failed by 107 votes, with 51.5 percent of students voting against a $6 per credit hour student fee hike to support campus facilities upgrades, according to a Wichita State press release.

Referendum voting closed Wednesday at 5 p.m., with 3,469 students turning out to vote. Turnout was 28.4 percent, doubling up the 12.3 percent mark for last year’s Student Government Association election. In 2017, 19.7 percent of students voted.

Student Body President Shelby Rowell said she was encouraged by the number of students who made their voices heard.

“I’m really glad that students took the opportunity to voice their opinion on the matter,” Rowell said. “Regardless of the results, I think that having such student involvement — whether that’s SGA elections, whether that’s referendums . . . is unprecedented, at least from what I know from SGA.”

According to Shock the Future social media, a conversation circle will be held Thursday  at 1 p.m. in the Rhatigan Student Center Room 256 for students to process “thoughts and feelings” on the outcome through guided discussion.

If the referendum had passed, more than half of the $38.6 million raised by the fee hike would have gone towards the construction of a new business building on Innovation Campus.

SGA Business Sen. Anisia Brumley said she was surprised the referendum didn’t pass.

“There’s a large amount of business students, and I think a majority of those were going to vote yes,” Brumley said.

Brumley said that, while she understands why some students thought the Shock the Future infrastructure priorities were “inequitable,” WSU is in need of a new business building.

“Clinton Hall is outdated,” Brumley said. “We have one of the best business schools in the Midwest, and you wouldn’t be able to guess by looking at our facilities.”

University officials have said they will have to find a way to build the $50 million Woolsey Hall, which donors have already raised $30 million for.

“We’ve had donors give us $30 million to build [Woolsey Hall], so we have to find a way to do that,” acting President Rick Muma said at a town hall meeting in January.

“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.”

WSU Foundation President Elizabeth King said donors have been told from the beginning that part of the funding for the business school would come from university resources.

“From the beginning of our efforts, donors have been told that the remainder of the funding would come from university resources, most likely being a bond issue because that is the only source for covering such large capital needs,” King wrote in a February email.

University officials indicated before the vote that if the referendum failed, they would not force the fee hike on students across all six of WSU’s colleges. Instead, business students will likely vote on a $30-$35 per credit hour program-specific fee increase. Undergraduate business students already pay $35 a credit hour in program-specific fees, and graduate students pay $50.

Brumley expressed doubts that business students would be supportive of a major program-specific fee increase.

“I think it was either gonna pass the first time or never pass,” Brumley said.

“When you’re paying your way through college, that’s not fair to ask of somebody. And it’s not feasible. If you can’t afford college, you can’t afford [the extra fees] — even if you want the new building.”

State law requires WSU to hold a referendum before raising student fees to bond money. At a Shock the Future steering committee meeting in February, Vice President for Student Affairs Teri Hall acknowledged frankly that WSU isn’t necessarily required to abide by the will of the students.

“The state statute says that we must have a referendum. I don’t think it says it has to pass,” Hall said.

In an email Thursday, Hall said the university is still determining a plan of action moving forward.

“We are evaluating options for moving forward,” Hall wrote.