It is difficult to understand the thinking of many Kansas legislators.
At a time when lawmakers claim they cannot find sufficient state dollars to fund the Kansas Board of Regents universities at a level comparable to their peer institutions or money to fund the third year of the critical Margin of Excellence program, the state Legislature still is considering adding Washburn University to the regents system.
The consideration of adding Washburn to the state system raises many questions. Is the state really as short of money as legislators say, or do lawmakers simply not want to fund the regents schools at a level more in line with their peer institutions?
If it is a case of scarce tax dollars, how can the lawmakers justify the added expense of placing Washburn under the regents umbrella?
Do Kansas House and Senate members think it is better to have several top quality academic institutions with national and international reputations or do they prefer to have all regents schools at the mediocre or average level in their academic offerings?
How much emphasis do the legislators place on quality? Do they believe that excellence in a state's educational program will determine what states will prosper and be economically strong in the coming years? Are they willing to gamble that merely being average, or maybe even below average will be good enough?
Do they think they can attract the state's top high school graduates to average universities and keep these future leaders in Kansas? Do they think they can retain and attract superior faculty members with salaries substantially below what these men and women could make elsewhere?
According to our elected representatives, Kansas is facing serious fiscal problems, and because of this, lawmakers say, they are unable to fund the regents schools at a level requested by the regents and officials of the various schools or provide funding for the already postponed third year of the Margin of Excellence program.
In such a severe fiscal climate, how can legislators consider adding Washburn to the state regents system? Such an action would send a clear signal that lawmakers are willing to further weaken existing state regents schools by siphoning scarce tax dollars away from current higher education budgets. The action might even suggest that legislators have lost sight of their fiduciary reponsibility in managing state tax dollars in a sound, prudent manner.
If legislators cannot fund the state's regents schools at an adequate level in today's economic climate, it is irresponsible to consider adding another four-year school to the state's system.