Guest Commentary

We need to find new pathways to keep Wichita State, and Wichita, growing and thriving

2016: Take an aerial tour of WSU’s Innovation Campus

Check out the construction progress at Wichita State University's Innovation Campus from an aerial drone. Footage provided by WSU.
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Check out the construction progress at Wichita State University's Innovation Campus from an aerial drone. Footage provided by WSU.

There’s certainly a correlation between the decline in state funding and the rise in student tuition and fees at Kansas public universities over the past decade (Eagle editorial 3-8-2019). But other changes in society, industry and technology have also spurred universities to spend money to improve teaching methods, student services and facilities.

We have few good options for meeting WSU’s needs. We depend on tuition and fees, along with taxpayer funding, donors, foundations and research grants to provide the dollars that deliver education and research for the good of students and society.

Every generation of students learns in classrooms and laboratories paid for by the tuition and fees collected from those who came before them. When we ask for increases to build or renovate academic buildings, it’s because we have studied the needs of students and feel there are academic programs and projects the university needs to pursue.

What’s been lost in the discussion of last week’s referendum is that each of our deans solicited regular feedback from students before the referendum and in innumerable discussions leading up to the vote. Anyone who says otherwise wasn’t paying attention. We are all required to get student feedback for our university accreditation and all of our 29 specialty accredited programs.

It doesn’t take a genius to see that we have many mediocre facilities on campus, including the business building.

We have limited resources from the state of Kansas – about $4 million a year – to tackle a $100 million list of renovation and repair needs. One of our biggest recent expenditures was for a complete refurbishment of Fiske Hall, one of the oldest buildings on campus, which houses the History Department. We did it because it was the right thing to do.

The History faculty was outspoken in its opposition to the referendum after the university spent $2.5 million to renovate their building, but opposed efforts to improve facilities for many other departments that would have benefited from the referendum.

Although the Shock the Future referendum narrowly failed, it doesn’t mean the discussion is over on building a new building for the Barton School of Business, or making needed changes to other academic facilities. It means we need to find new pathways to keep Wichita State, and Wichita, growing and thriving. If we stop working to improve our university, we risk becoming irrelevant to our students and community.

Richard Muma is provost and acting president of Wichita State University
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