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Martin provides factual evaluation of FHSU-DCCC proposal

8/12/2014

Special to The Hays Daily News

Special to The Hays Daily News

DODGE CITY — Mirta M. Martin, president of Fort Hays State University, visited Dodge City on Tuesday to dispel concerns about the proposed merger between FHSU and Dodge City Community College.

She met with Dodge City media, appeared on live radio and spoke during a Town Hall Meeting that was sponsored by the Dodge City Area Chamber of Commerce. The public meeting drew a standing-room-only crowd of more than 100 people, who asked questions about the futures of DCCC faculty and staff and expressed various concerns about the implications of the merger. Some also voiced strong support for the proposed union of the two institutions.

Martin addressed the concerns in her prepared remarks and in responses to the questions.

"The proposal to merge a community college into a state university would be a first for Kansas, and a project of that magnitude necessarily poses concerns," she said. "It is a challenging union. Therefore, we must trust each other and deal in fact. The proposed merger has the potential to produce tremendous benefits for southwest Kansas, so deliberations about implementing such a major project should be based on solid information. Should questions arise, they should be addressed openly. In an effort to ensure transparency, we have created a website and we encourage the community to use it."

Martin emphasized her respect for the role of community colleges. "I understand the community college system," she said. "I've been part of it, have worked in it, have been a regent, and now, I'm the only representative from senior institutions to the board of the American Association of Community Colleges. The historically vital community-college service to the Dodge City community will not be lost.

"This is not a hostile takeover. This is a union. This is a marriage."

The FHSU president addressed some of the misinformation that has been circulating.

"The idea of merging the two Kansas Board of Regents institutions did not originate in Hays," she said. "When St. Mary of the Plains College closed its doors in 1992, that left an entire quadrant of the state without a four-year institution other than tiny Barclay College in Haviland. Understandably, there have been calls during the more than 20 years since then to re-establish local access to four-year degrees. This union can accomplish that."

She said FHSU's previous president, Dr. Edward H. Hammond, was approached with the idea of the merger. "He said he would help make the merger a reality if the state would provide sufficient resources to hold FHSU financially harmless and to create the kind of institution that could meet the educational needs of the people of southwest Kansas."

Former President Hammond also spoke briefly during the Town Hall Meeting, recounting that he had been approached three years ago by Dodge City citizens about the need to make baccalaureate degrees available in their community.

Martin pointed out that the Dodge City Community College Board of Trustees had endorsed the merger not once but twice.

"Your board voted unanimously on March 25 to move forward with the merger, and because of apparent confusion in the community, voted unanimously again on June 24 to confirm its commitment to the merger."

"The first motion referenced a white paper titled 'Fort Hays State University at Dodge City' and stated that the Board of Trustees supported the creation of a regional baccalaureate center to be established in Dodge City, working with the Kansas Board of Regents and Fort Hays State University. The resolution passed in June stated, and I quote, that the 'Dodge City Community College Board of Trustees endorses the establishment of Fort Hays State University at Dodge City on the terms set out in the May proposal.'"

She said key elements of the white paper were that the community college function would continue and four-year degrees would become available without having to leave southwest Kansas. The third element of the merged school, she added, would be the creation of a technical institute that would blend traditional learning with cooperative internship-style workplace learning at industrial partners. The innovative technical institute would require construction of a new building on the Dodge City campus.

"All of this is predicated on financial support from the state of Kansas," Martin said. "The white paper requires $10 million from the state to build the technical institute and $5 million annually for operating FHSU at Dodge City."

The merged institution, with its three-pronged mission of associate degrees, baccalaureate degrees and technical training certificates, likely would stimulate an enrollment increase of 2,000 new students. "That increase would not happen all at once," President Martin said. "It would be gradual over several years, which would provide time to address housing needs and other demands of growth."

She pointed out that the enrollment increase would mean that approximately 2,000 more students, some from southwest Kansans, would enjoy a higher quality of life through education, and it would be a huge boost to the economy of the Dodge City area. "Yes," she said, "there is such a thing as growing pains, I certainly recognize that some in our community need time to adjust, but just imagine what this union would mean for our community."

Concerns have also circulated over property tax increases resulting from the merger, but the FHSU president said a tax decrease would be more likely. "The white paper leaves ownership of the physical campus with the local board, along with the costs of maintenance and extracurricular programs such as athletics," she said. "However, operational costs would be covered in the FHSU budget with help from the annual $5 million from the state. The result should be a decrease in the local mill levy."

"I have been president of Fort Hays State for just a little over a month, and you can imagine the length of my days," she said. "And yet, I have been making repeated trips to Dodge City because this union is important. I'll be here again next week to speak to the faculty and staff at In-Service Day at DCCC. I'm making this commitment of time because I understand the importance of this union and I wish for the community to get to know me, not just as the president of Fort Hay State, but as Mirta, a member of this community."

"I aim to earn your trust and I ask for you to give me a chance. I ask you to reject rumors and deal only with facts. We are providing copies of the white paper and the motions passed by the trustees. I encourage you to read those for yourself. When questions arise, seek answers. Go to the newly created website -- http://fhsu-dccc-merger.fhsu.edu.

"Going forward, let's pursue this union knowing that at the end of the day, we all want the same thing -- ensuring that we provide an affordable and accessible quality education for Kansas's next generation of leaders. We need to retain our talent, not export it. Our youth, our communities must have access to the American dream. I am committed to making that our guiding star."

Floris Jean Hampton, a member of the DCCC Trustees, expressed doubts about the merger and insisted that the two unanimous votes did not indicate unqualified support for the merger. Morris Reeves, vice chair of the DCCC Trustees, said he was speaking for the majority of the board, who "enthusiastically" support the merger. He pointed out that the merger also has been endorsed by the Ford County Commission, the city commission of Dodge City and the local school board.

Don Woodburn, president of DCCC, predicted Fort Hays State University at Dodge City would be a great thing for the community five years down the road, but he added that was conditional on making sure that the steering committee "does it right."