KU student senators criticize Board of Regents for rejecting fee increase for mental health services, student pay raises

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The University of Kansas student government on Wednesday voted unanimously to send a letter to the Kansas Board of Regents following the board’s decision last week to reject a $31.15 per semester increase to required student fees.

Board members were divided in their rejection of KU’s fee increase, but a majority ultimately decided to continue with a previous directive to the state’s public universities to keep all tuition and fees flat because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

That decision, KU student leaders wrote to the governing body, will more directly harm a greater percentage of the campus community than the $31.15 — or 6% — increase would have.

“The reality of your financial decision means cutting healthcare and mental health services, preventing student wages from increasing, and the further degradation of already struggling services across our campus, is more detrimental for students than an increase of $31.15 per semester,” the letter reads.

KU Student Senate debates increases and cuts to campus services at the beginning of each spring semester through consultation with stakeholders. Each $1 of funding an organization receives from student fees equates to roughly $45,000 annually, and the group is responsible for allocating some $25 million in total student fees.

“We did not increase the fee lightly, many students on our campus as well as staff and faculty are overworked and underpaid,” the letter reads. “We just want what is best for our students, staff and faculty. This is what we were elected here to do.”

“Which brings us to ask KBOR, how do you intend to maintain a functioning university which is bleeding funds from every corner? How can students pay less fees if the state is reducing out budgets by the millions, while still trying to remain operational?” the letter continued.

Student senators voted to send the letter to the nine-member Board of Regents at the conclusion of the meeting, which lasted more than six hours as senators reconfigured how they would allocate funding without the $31.15 increase they’d planned for.

Azja Butler, the Student Senate communications director and co-author of the group’s letter, said being forced to retract funds from campus services desperately in need of money is something that shouldn’t have happened.

“We all have experienced the past 6.5 hours … a lot of disdain for KBOR and their lack of knowing, lack of investment and lack of care with the students of KU, and honestly students at any institution in the state of Kansas,” they said. “Their reasoning did not make sense. We are smart enough, regardless of if they think so or not, to recognize that contradiction and that inability to make those things meet.”

“I think this is a critical first step,” Butler continued. “Identifying the problem always comes before action that comes after that.”

Student Body Vice President Ethan Roark closed the meeting by praising senators for making such difficult decisions Wednesday, and also decrying efforts on the part of the Board of Regents to ignore the amount of work that went into the previous fee packages not only at KU, but at other state universities that also saw fee increases rejected at the board’s June meeting.

“Not only is our displeasure captured in this letter, but realistically what we’ve had to do this entire night is reflective of KBOR’s decision to vacate student democracy,” Roark said. “Many universities across Kansas have felt the pain from KBOR rejecting their democratic process, and so really it’s going to be a student-owned initiative of making sure this doesn’t happen and Kansas does not continue to defund these vital services for students.”

KU’s required campus fees will remain at $491.95 for the 2021-22 academic year.

Conner Mitchell (he/him), reporter, can be reached at cmitchell (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com or 785-435-9264. If you have sensitive information to send Conner, please email connermitchell (at) protonmail (dot) com. Read more of his work for the Times here.

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