Student Senate fights to eliminate KU Athletics Title IX and non-revenue sports fee

Screen shot 2014-02-18 at 12.08.39 AMStudent body President Marcus Tetwiler and three other Advisory Board members recommended eliminating a student fee funding women’s and non-revenue sports for Kansas Athletics Monday afternoon.

University of Kansas students are required to pay the semesterly $25 student fee to offset travel expenses for women’s and non-revenue sports. Students pay between $1.2 and $1.3 million annually to the athletic department fund through the current fee.

The Senate’s responsibility to help finance Title IX, a federal law, was a main question of senators. Tetwiler pointed to the Senate’s earlier decision to forgo funding a federally required accessibility ramp at Strong Hall. The Senate questioned if students should pay for the University to meet government standards.

“Our opinion is that that’s not a responsibility of student fees,” Tetwiler said.

The committee recommended two different options to a separate Student Senate Fee Review Committee: That the student fee be eliminated entirely, or that the fee be lowered from $25 a semester to $20.

The $20 recommendation came based on a 2004 contract signed by former student body President Andrew Knopp and former Athletic Director Lew Perkins that guaranteed a fee of $20 or more until at least the year 2020. David Catt, the chairman of the Women’s and Non-Revenue Intercollegiate Sports Advisory Board, who voted on the recommendation, disputed the validity of the contract.

“Within the past three weeks, conversations with both law professors and practicing attorneys outside of the University of Kansas structure have indicated that the document is non-binding in any way and merely reflects what two people acting out of their power thought a decade ago,” Catt said in an email to the Kansan.

Catt compiled a critical review of the fee. His report ends with the recommendation to eliminate the fee, which other members of the Advisory Board have agreed to.

“Is it the responsibility of 24,000 students to pay for Title IX compliance for a corporation?” Student Senate graduate affairs director Pantaleon Florez III asked during the meeting.

Florez asked the question after KU Athletics representatives explained why the fee exists. KU Athletics CFO Pat Kaufman and senior associate athletic director Debbie Van Saun helped clarify financial information and added insight from the Athletic Department’s point of view.

Van Saun, Kaufman and two female student athletes focused on what the fee does to ensure that KU Athletics meets Title IX equality requirements for equal travel among sports teams.

Katy Evans, a former Kansas rower and current tutor for KU Athletics, said the fee is essential to keeping the quality of travel equal among sports teams.

“This fee has allowed for gender equality between sports,” Evans said.

The Athletics Department spent $6,601,009 on travel expenses in 2013. It isn’t clear how much of that money was spent on women’s and non-revenue sports. KU Athletics revenues totaled $93.6 million during the same year. In 2012, the fee accounted for 1.6 percent of KU Athletics’ total revenue.

The Senate also questioned KU Athletics’ multi-million dollar revenues and whether the Athletics Department needs the $1.2 to $1.3 million of student fee revenue collected by the fee to help support its travel expenses.

During the meeting, Catt asked if Athletics could appropriate money from other sources to account for the fee, should that income disappear for the department.

“We’ll have to find a way someway, somewhere, somehow to cover it,” Kaufman said. “The bottom line is: It will put a damper on our ability to cover these costs.”

“It’s very difficult to get donations that are earmarked for women and non-revenue sports and that’s why this fee has become so important,” Van Saun added.

Kaufman said the Athletic Department might have to consider “looking” at the $150 student ticket package if the student fee is eliminated.

In 2008, Senate was one vote shy of eliminating the fee. According to a Lawrence Journal-World report, Lew Perkins said he would maintain the price of the $150 student ticket package as long as the student fee remained unchanged.

No mention of Knopp’s contract was cited in the Journal-World or Kansan reports on the subject.

Four senators voted for the measure to eliminate the fee, while two voted against it. Five senators voted to move the fee to $20.

The Senate’s vote is simply a recommendation to the Fee Review Committee, which will make an additional recommendation before Senate takes final action on the issue.

Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little can then veto a proposed change — or elimination — of the fee.

“Athletics is a big dollar business and there’s a lot of big dollar amounts,” Kaufman said. “I’m not going to apologize for it, it’s kind of the business that we’re in.”

  • Updated Feb. 19, 2014 at 10:28 am
  • Chris

    Athletics brings so much recognition, and money, not only to the University but to the City of Lawrence. Students benefit directly by having a successful athletics department. I don’t necessarily think that that’s a good thing, but that’s how things have gone. Complying with this fee not only makes it so the University is COMPLIANT, but so that everyone who busts their ass for their university benefits. There are so many other fees included. Think of the rec center fee. Just because someone doesn’t use the rec center doesn’t mean that it doesn’t benefit them. Having a good, well-kept rec center makes the University more appealing & more competitive, driving more students to the University.

    Think of Non-revenue sports the same way. They bring a lot of recognition. A quick example: KU Rowing had a regatta where multiple teams came to race on the Kaw this past fall. It’s estimated that 2,000+ people came for this 1 day event. Think of the teams that came. Think of the out-of-town families and friends that came. They most likely spent a night in Lawrence, shopped on Mass, and ate out for a few meals. All of this benefits the University and city of Lawrence. To say that is doesn’t benefit students whatsoever is silly.

    Now, think about it from a more compassionate side: These student athletes work hard, not only in their sport, but in school too. They not only take a normal course load, but they also practice 20+ hours a week. They take pride in their University and are willing to shed blood, sweat & tears to bring recognition and pride back to their fellow Jayhawks. They’re usually up early in the morning to train, practice in the evening, and still have to find a way to study and have a college life. Not to mention that many of these athletes may have a part-time jobs as well. If there’s a complaint about fees and excess expenses in college, it’s not from trying to benefit the groups and people that make our University amazing (students AND student athletes), but from the state legislators that fail to budget accordingly and support their public universities.

    So, although an extra $25 would be nice to have in your pocket, try to think of how much it benefits us all, and how hard Jayhawk athletes selflessly work for our University.

    • Omar L.

      Comparing the rec center (which all students can use) to a multi-million dollar subsidy to a corporation is laughable. Chris must be in PR for Athletics.

  • Omar L.

    Good for this new coalition. The fee was always protected by KUnited/United Students coalitions in return for favors from the Athletics Department. Lew Perkins rewarded KUnited exec members with Athletics jobs/internships as well as letters of recommendation for law school/grad school. (This is pre-scandal when Perkins was named Sports Executive of the Year and his name had clout). Look at the article linked within about the resolution to cut the bill in 2008. Former sponsors of the bill who were members of United Students coalition had withdrawn their sponsorship and switched sides after talking to Ray Wittlinger (SBVP at the time) and Adam McGonigle (StudEx Chair/SBP the following year). Athletics also rewarded KUnited/United Students with Student Athlete endorsements and the promise of hundreds of votes from the computers in the Wagnon Athletic Center.

    Even when Senate reduced the Athletics fee by a slight margin in 2007 or so to fund a sustainability fee, Chancellor Bob Hemenway unilaterally vetoed the change, and United Students leadership did nothing to publicly stand up to him.

    This is the ultimate pork project, with student “leaders” selling out the students they’re supposed to represent for kickbacks from Athletics.

  • Chris

    Omar, to be honest, I would love a job with Athletics, or anywhere with the University, and I thank you for the compliment that I must be in PR. I agree, some things that have been done in the past were not good, and not beneficial, but I hope and truly believe that that track has changed. More transparency is a must, and I feel like that it’s headed in the right direction.

    The way I try to look at things is not by pointing fingers at the negatives (especially those in the past), but seeing the positives and working to better those positives. A strong connection between Athletics and the University is beneficial to everyone. A relationship where they can work together to strengthen each other is a win-win. Would I like to see more emphasis on the University and more people donating to the University? You bet. And although some of it gets funneled to Athletics, the University of Kansas brand benefits as a whole.

    • Chris

      Not to mention that this fee helps benefit the equality of women, not only in sports but in academics as well. Why can’t students and the academic side of the University be proud to help support that?

    • Omar L.

      Sure, there are plenty of benefits a strong KU Athletics brings to the community, no one should deny that (though it’s odd to look at Athletics and the University as separate entities in anything other than their funding mechanisms).

      But there are also benefits to a strong music department, and a strong engineering department, and strong student orgs, etc. Singling out non-revenue sports for this massive subsidy seems odd to me. The vast majority of fundraising, enrollment, tourism, etc are directly tied to football and basketball, and you know that. And look what’s happened in recent years since this fee has increased: our football program is in the tank and we’ve lost century-old rivalries with Nebraska and Missouri. So what good is it really doing for the purposes you’ve brought up?

      The reason I bring up the past is it’s important to understand how the fee increases came about, otherwise you’re left with talking points that paint a pretty picture but aren’t the reality of the story.

      • Chris

        There is no correlation of this fee to the tanking of football and the loss of Nebraska and Missouri from our conference. Not having a $25 fee from students wouldn’t have changed any of that. But you can see the direct benefit it has on other sports. Again, look at the rowing team. They have made huge strides just in the past 3-4 years. I totally agree, though, that it’s strange we look at the two as separate entities. I’ve never quite understood how/why that happened, but then again, wasn’t that during Lew’s reign? I see incredible steps being taken by athletics to make much more well-rounded athletics then to just benefit football & basketball.

  • John S.

    Why should non-athletes be forced to subsidize any portion of the athletics program? Any fundraising should be the joint responsibility of the athletics programs and booster clubs. Colleges are designed for the main purpose of education, and any student fees should reflect on the value of the education, not on mens / women’s /non-revenue sports teams. If there are issues with revenue inequality, why not have that sorted out with athletic revenues being distributed fairly?

  • BenC

    About time. I was a Senator when this last came up (which tells you how long it’s been), and a freshman when the fee was first voted on in referendum. It passed, btw, because Athletics sent out the basketball players to encourage people to vote for it on Student Senate election day.

    Here’s the thing: the Athletics Corporation has lots of money. If it wants to maintain non-revenue sports, and it should, it can afford to do so itself. It makes a lot more money than Senate ever brought in, and being a corporation as opposed to an actual department of the University, the legality of this fee as an administered Student Senate fee has always been, at best, dubious. Thankfully the body finally seems to have people ethical enough to prioritize what’s legal and good for the student body over the Athletics Corporation and the free tickets it used to liberally hand out.

  • Ashley

    I don’t think it should be eliminated! These athletes are ambassadors for the University. Not only do they work hard physically, they are keeping up mentally to meet grade requirements for the team. Perhaps if it is needed to make cuts for the future of the University then I can understand. But, eliminating funds would be extreme.