© 2021 KMUW
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

'This Is Not The First Cut': WSU President Bardo Talks Higher Education Funding

Sean Sandefur
WSU President John Bardo in his office.

Gov. Sam Brownback has until Thursday to sign a budget passed by the Kansas Legislature two weeks ago. He'll need to find nearly $200 million in savings in order for the budget to be balanced. One of the options on the table is to cut a portion of spending to the University of Kansas and Kansas State. KMUW's Sean Sandefur sat down with Wichita State President John Bardo to talk funding higher education. 

Sandefur: I want to start with the budget talks that are happening in Topeka about KU and Kansas State, specifically that they’d be targeted for funding cuts rather than smaller universities, the idea being that they can weather the storm a bit better.

Bardo: Well, we certainly have an opinion on it, and I expressed that to the governor [last week]. I’m much more concerned about it as a policy issue because the realities are that the reason KU and K-State have bigger budgets is because they have been very successful at getting grants and contracts. If we are going to really redevelop the economy of this state, that should be encouraged, not discouraged. And I think it’s really sending the wrong message that if you do well and do what the state needs you to do, we’re going to take more money away from you. I think it’s a disconnect from the goals of the state and the policy.

Wichita State has also seen funding reduced in past years. How difficult is it to maneuver cuts like that?

Oh, it’s very hard. This is not the first cut. It’s not like the university had been receiving additional money over the course of the last 20 years and all of sudden we have to cut something. This has been pretty tight for a while. And so it certainly started before I came back to the state and has continued ever since I got back—it hasn’t really changed.

What I see is that we’re now down to the point where we’re saying, "What options are we really going to keep and which ones are we not?" Not, "Oh, gosh, well, we can do this a little slower and maybe we’ll mow the lawn every month, rather than every two weeks." We’re kind of beyond that now. Now, it’s really a matter of saying, "What is it that we don’t do? What is it that we simply have to jettison?" And I think that’s what I’m concerned about as much as anything.

If someone were to look at the huge building being built along 17th Street for the Innovation Campus, the fact that Wichita State is talking about bringing its football program back, they might say, you know, "What money problems?" But I understand it’s not that simple, right?

The way things work on a university campus is that we get revenues for general operations of the university that we can’t use for other things. And then we get revenues, for example, for athletics that we can’t transfer out of athletics into other things. So they have to have to stay with athletics, they have to stay in that fund. When we look at the Innovation Campus, we’re not using general funds of the university for that. It has been paid for by grants, county bonds, private enterprise, federal grant. But I can’t move that money over to base budget. That’s not legal.

As far as football, no decision has been made about football. And it will be based on whether or not we can afford to do it. But again, the revenues won’t come out of the general base of the university. The upside of it is, it will bring students; the downside, it has costs. So, none of those decisions will be made in a hurry, nor will they be made in a vacuum.

You mentioned earlier that a limited, or even a smaller, budget from year to year has affected the university. In what ways?

You know, there’s a number of things we do if we knew we had flexible money, that I would probably take more risk on because I knew I could cover it if it went south.

Are there any specific things that the university is holding off on?

They don’t ever even get to the stage where they’re formal proposals because we look at them and say, "That’s just nothing we can work with right now." There're some areas in engineering we really should develop. I know we don’t have the internal resources to do it, so we’re not going to unless we can get external resources to come to the table. There’s a real need in this area for a chemical engineering department, and that’s an expensive program to start. We don’t have the resources internally to start it, so we’re going to keep trying to find resources, and try to find partners who may be willing to make an investment.

But that’s a very different model than it was in better times, and we’d say, "If it takes 4 or 5 years for this to really ramp up to where we have enough students to cover it, so what? We’ll cover it ourselves for those 4 to 5 years." And we simply can’t do that.

Has Shocker Men's Basketball's success over the last few years meant more money for the university, to help out with these budget issues?

No, not really, as budget goes. There’s a great belief in the athletics community that if this happens, it causes all of these other things to occur. What it’s really done is it’s brought the university and the community closer together. When you lose a game, and you still have 400 to 500 people show up to greet your team, that tells you a whole lot. So I think it’s hugely important for our morale. I think it’s hugely important for our identity. But as far as benefiting the university financially, not really. It obviously benefits athletics somewhat. But there’s also a lot of cost in it, and it really hasn’t affected enrollment the way people want to act like it does. But that’s not really why you do it, you do it for other reasons.”


Follow Sean Sandefur on Twitter @SeanSandefur


To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at news@kmuw.org.