By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

dobrien@dailynews.net

After two separate unanimous votes earlier this year to pursue a merger with Fort Hays State University, a vote last week by the Board of Trustees at Dodge City Community College whether or not to continue the merger process failed on a 3-3 count.

The vote came after months of discussion to bring the opportunity to earn a four-year degree to southwest Kansas.

"Morally, I've always felt this merger was the right thing to do for southwest Kansas," said Mirta Martin, who took over as FHSU president in July, in the middle of the merger talks. "Many of them are place-bound because of jobs and because of family commitments. This would have provided those individuals to pursue their dream of earning a four-year degree."

Former President Edward Hammond, who stepped down after 27 years, had begun the discussions with DC3 more than two years ago and traveled to Dodge City in spring for a question-and-answer session with Dodge City faculty and staff concerning the partnership.

Martin then started putting in a lot of road time to and from Dodge City as soon as she took over the FHSU presidency, meeting with the DC3 president, task force, faculty and other constituencies.

As the process unfolded, Martin said, "I think some questions started to be answered that hadn't been addressed. With those answers came some changes; with those changes came some apprehension."

The proposal had called for the two-year community college to form an "industry-education" partnership and create an Institute of Applied Technology on the Dodge City campus, offering four-year programs through Fort Hays.

Martin said DC3 had countered with a proposal that was "not a model that would work financially or logistically for Fort Hays State University. It's a duplication of funding and duplication of staff. In the end, this has to be a business transaction."

The original proposal had been endorsed by the Kansas Board of Regents, the governing body of the six state universities that also supervises and coordinates the state's 19 community colleges, including DC3.

The proposal had called for a $10 million facility on the Dodge City campus to support the expected increase in enrollment, as well as an additional $5 million more in state money to FHSU for operating expenses.

But just before the DC3 trustees' latest meeting, the Regents had moved their request for state funding for the merger in their legislative package, pending a show of unity and affirmation by the Dodge City trustees.

That became a moot point when the DC3 trustees last week failed to get a deciding vote to move forward.

"I said to allow the process to continue," Martin said, "because this was an exploration."

However, she added, "the Dodge City trustees changed their minds and do not wish to explore the merger. That is their decision, and FHSU will honor that decision."