KU Provost Richard Lariviere discusses upcoming issues facing the university

September 4, 2008

This chat has already taken place. Read the transcript below.

Richard Lariviere

Kansas University Provost Richard Lariviere will discuss upcoming issues and events facing KU.


Hello and welcome to this LJWorld.com online chat. I'm online editor Jonathan Kealing and I'll be your moderator. We have Richard Lariviere here with us today. Welcome.

Richard Lariviere:

It's good to be here with you, Jonathan.


Here's our first question. A reminder, if you'd like to submit a question, you may do so throughout the chat.


As an alumnus living out of state (TX), I have been impressed with the University's effort through the KU Alumni Association to keep us active with KU. Many of us cannot write million dollar checks, but we do give annually, have been working hard to recruit the top students locally to Mt. Oread, and provide career networking opportunities for graduates. My question is does the Kansas Legislature generally view strong alumni support as a positive or is it used against KU in appropriations decisions?

Richard Lariviere:

The KU Alumni network is one of KU's great strengths. I am glad that you have noticed how hard the KU Alumni Association works to keep that network in place. Kevin Corbett and his team do a fantastic job. In the time that I have been here at KU I have not seen any evidence that the legislature views the alumni network as anything but a positive. They hear a good deal from the alumni on matters that pertain to KU and my impression is that the rectionis nothing but positive.


If you had a choice of KU winning another two athletic championships, or raising its academic ranking to the objective Chancellor Hemenway set five years ago, which would you choose?

Richard Lariviere:

That's easy--if I had my choice I would choose both! Seriously, the athletic championships are very good for an institution of KU's academic quality. The athletic success brings scrutiny to the university and when people look at KU what they find is a place with high standards and high performance on the part of faculty and students alike. There is a symbiosis between athletics and academics in that sense. This sort of positive outcome only works, however, if the athletics program and the academic program are sound and governed with integrity. It is a constant source of reassurance that KU Athletics is run as well as it is.


First the comments: It's been mentioned that there's a possibility of 100-125 jobs being lost in the budget cuts next year. It's worrisome to me that the university would even consider letting their employees go. That should be a last option, not one of the biggest chunks of "possible savings". Now the questions: How and where do you begin selecting the chosen ones? Is anyone safe? Who makes those final job-cut decisions? Instead of letting people go, how about salary cuts for those making over $100,000.00 p/year? Or cutting part-time staff? Or cutting all employee travel completely? Or adjusting the thermostats even when the faculty and students are on campus (if you're not already)? Just some random thoughts from a peon who would prefer to keep their job...although maybe this isn't the best way to go about it.

Richard Lariviere:

First of all, thank you for sharing the concern about possible budget cuts. Cuts of the sort that we have been asked to plan for are on a scale that will do clear harm to the mission of KU. We are hopeful that the state's economy will be such that cuts are not necessary. We are encouraged by the Governor's statement that she does not want to see higher education cut. I remain optimistic. As for how we would go about making cuts should that be visited on us--we have discussed with each dean and each head of a department where they might make cuts that would do the least damage to our operations. All of the cuts that you mention are on the table--with the exception of cutting salaries. People sometimes ask about cutting salaries. In a profession like higher education, the most desirable faculty and staff are highly mobile. They constantly compare their situation with colleagues in other institutions nationally. If KU got the reputation as a place where one's salary might be cut in times of economic downturn, it would be extremely difficult to attract the kind of faculty who make KU the special place that it is. The short-term saving would do long-term damage. Not a good option from a management perspective.

And you are right: we are already seriously reducing costs of utilities by taking every measure we can find to economize.


In addition to the budget question, could you identify three or four other key issues that will face the KU campus in the current academic year?

Richard Lariviere:

Yes, we face challenges in a number of areas, but among the most pressing are:
general infrastructure issues--deferred maintenance which continues to grow at an alarming rate, and space for teaching and research;
money for undergraduate scholarships; and
support for graduate students


It seems every time there's a mention of tighter budgets within academics at KU, there's always a group of people who pick up the mantra: "Why do we spend so much money on athletics?"

Where is the line drawn between funding for the academic side of KU and the athletic side of KU?

Richard Lariviere:

Great question, McShindig. There is probably no area of confusion in higher education than this question. It is helpful to remember that athletics -- the big league kind of interscholastic programs of the sort that you are referring to--is entertainment. It is a big money enterprise built on the performance of student-athletes. People invest themselves in collegiate athletics in the same way that they do in professional athletics. Some people are motivated to give money, some are willing to give a lot of money to pay for this entertainment. Entertainment is different than education. Education is what KU exists to do. Athletics, while highly visible and very important in its own way is only a very small part of the overall community. The Athletics Budget is somewhere around $50 million. That is a lot of money where I live, but it should be kept in perspective of the University's operating budget of approximately $1.2 billion.
Do I wish that people got as excited about Greek classics or medicinal chemistry or chemical engineering or teacher preparation as they get about defeating Florida International University? Sure. But that isn't the society we live in.
I would like to take just one more second to do a little boasting about KU Athletics. In the last semester, the grade point average of student athletes at KU was 3.03--the highest ever recorded. There were 59 students who had straight-A averages. Several sports wet records for their respective academic performance. This would be something to celebrate under any circumstances, but coming off the year of success that we have had it is a remarkable tesitmony to the quality of our student athletes and to the values of the Athletics Program under Lew Perkins.


And, because it's been a hot topic yesterday and today, this next questioner would like to know about the decision to quit blowing the steam whistle.


I am curious. Did the Chancellor approve or know of this before it was publically announced.

Richard Lariviere:

As I mentioned, we are looking for every possible savings, and we are particularly worried about hwo we are going to pay our utility bills this year. The Facilities Operations folks have been very diligent in searching for ways to save. One of the ways that they were able to effect savings of approximately $3000/week was by shutting down chillers for 15 minutes of every hour. This resulted in a slight increase in room temperature during that period but was quickly adjusted in the remaining 45 minutes. Canceling the whistle was another measure taken by FO. The whistle has been off for quite a number of weeks. Until the recent press coverage, there does not seem to have been much notice of the fact. The response has been quite mixed. Some invoke the tradition of the whistle and some have expressed great relief and gratitude that it is no longer being sound up to 15 times a day. I asked FO about the savings, and they estimate that the figure of $3000 is probably quite low. It is probably closer to $7000 or $8000. In the current environment we can use that money to deliver basic services needed to keep the teaching and research mission on track.


Over the summer, you decided that the Kansas Union should not be allowed to serve 3.2 beer in its bowling alley. Were there particular factors that fed into that decision?

Richard Lariviere:

Yes, Jonathan. This was a decision taken after careful and thorough vetting by the Union Memorial Board. As you probably know, alcohol abuse--binge drinking, irresponsible and dangerous behavior while under the influence--is a huge problem on every college campus. KU is no different. One of the arguments for selling 3.2 beer in the Union was that it might be a venue for showing students how to drink responsibly--limiting sales to individuals to two beers, putting up materials to educate students on the dangers of drinking to excess, etc. In the end the decision was mine, and I didn't see how the positive message of responsible drinking would be adequately conveyed by our selling beer. I was gratified by the response to this decision, by the way. Even the advocates for selling beer in the Union understod and graciously accepted the decision.


A reader submitted this question to me via e-mail:

My significant other is currently a student within the School of Education. She is currently working towards her Master's and completing her student teaching requirement. The week before beginning the student teaching portion of her semester, the department changed policies and added an additional 4 class hours of work to her schedule. According to her and the department, the 5-year track for her degree and certification was intended to help the students concentrate on student teaching and not on other assignments. This shift in policy has seriously affected her workload and sanity. Is it normal for schools within the University to alter policy so drastically with no prior notice to students? Is the School of Education considering changing its 5-year degree/certification track?

Richard Lariviere:

I am not familiar with the specifics of this individual case, so I can't comment on it. In general, a student is bound by the terms for a degree that were in effect in the year they joined the university. There are some exceptions to this, of course, when there are changes required by specific circumstances, but that is the general rule.
As for the 5-year degree/certification track, I know that the faculty of the School of Education are in the process of evaluating this matter.


A reader submitted a question about team-by-team GPA, after reading the provost's comments about the athletic department's academic success. To see team-by-team GPAs and to read more about KU athletics and academics, you can visit this Web site: http://kuathletics.cstv.com/genrel/061808aae.html


We now have a follow-up to a previous question:


Before the press coverage, people KNEW the steam whistle had been shut off. However, the news story clued people in on WHO to contact to complain about this total disregard for the traditions at KU. This is a major slap in the face to every past and current student who has walked Mt. Oread. If a donor offered to fund the steam whistle, would it be turned back on?

Richard Lariviere:

You clearly feel that the whistle is important and I understand your wish to preserve all aspects of KU's traditions. You are not alone in your feelings. There are also those who resented the intrusion of the whistle. I will say that in the time that I have been at KU I have had a number of complaints from faculty and students about the whistle. As for a donor solving the matter, keep in mind that the estimated cost of operating the whistle is $7000-8000 every year, so in order to address the costs on an annual basis it would require a donation on the order of $160,000 to "endow" the whistle. There are a lot of needs --especially in the area of scholarships--that I would place ahead of the whistle if someone offered such a generous gift. Still, I would not rule it out altogether.


That's all the time and all the questions we have. Thank you to our audience for taking part in the chat and thank you Provost Lariviere for taking some time to spend online today.


voltage 9 years, 9 months ago

Did Dick actually answer anything directly? Where do you go to learn how to provide that level of non-answer on a regular basis? If you are going to have a chat, Dick, actually answer the questions posed to you. If you aren't willing to do this, keep quiet. You obviously didn't have anything of importance to say about the topics that people wanted to talk about.

kusp8 9 years, 9 months ago

I haven't seen such a wonderful job of side-stepping questions since I last watched Fox News. Lariviere needs to go. How can you not hear the complaints of all of the students? Oh, that's right because you sit in your glass walled-off office in your ivory tower and don't interact with the common person. What an @$s!

clyde_never_barks 9 years, 9 months ago

He didn't answer a single question as pointed out above. It would not hurt my feelings at all if he found a "better job" somewhere else. He is part of the problem, but one thing is for sure - as far as traditions at KU go, he is part of a new one that that KU should hire overpaid administrators only concerned with furthering their own interests and career - he is doing great at making sure that tradition continues. Move along used car salesman.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.