Several news reports the past several weeks should help local residents and loyal Kansas University friends realize just how well KU is doing and what the school means to the betterment and future of Kansas.
Earlier this week, the Fiske Guide to Colleges, written by Edward Fiske, education editor for the New York Times, rated KU as a "four-star" academic institution. KU was the only Big Eight Conference school receiving this rating. Only six state universities received a higher, "five-star" rating.
There are many college guides, but the Fiske report is considered the most authoritative and is widely respected among educators.
KU is a superior state university and clearly the overall academic leader of the Big Eight. Not only is Kansas the flagship academic institution of the state, it also is the flagship school of the Big Eight. And, with the success of Campaign Kansas, which now has raised more than $210 million, private funds will be available to endow additional distinguished faculty chairs, provide books and periodicals for the school's libraries, build student loan funds, acquire artwork for the university's museums and provide for many other programs that help create an environment of academic excellence rather than mediocrity.
WHILE KU is steering a steady course toward the future, nearby schools such as Missouri face many troublesome challenges.
Within the past few days, George Russell, chancellor of the University of Missouri at Kansas City, was named president of the four-campus MU system.
This appointment has been met with considerable unhappiness by many MU faculty members who had hoped the school would be able to land a top-flight, highly respected academic leader to lead the school in the coming years.
Russell did not have a distinguished career at UMKC, he is reported to be 70 years old, and he does not bring any excitement or enthusiasm to the Columbia position. In the eyes of many, including some top MU faculty members, the school is merely treading water, almost stalled in the academic race toward excellence.
The MU system had a top-flight educator-administrator in their midst, Martin Jischke at Rolla, but for some reason, higher-ups in the MU system let him get away to Iowa State University, where he has moved into the president's office.
It will be interesting to watch the performance of Russell vs. Jischke. It shouldn't be much of a contest with the former Rolla leader likely to run academic laps around Russell in Columbia.
As an aside, the manner in which Russell was selected must have raised eyebrows in Columbia. There was no formal search process, no national advertising for applicants, no opportunity for women administrators or minorities to apply for the job or be interviewed and considered. Any suggestion that the school gave any attention to an affirmative action process is a joke.
UP THE KANSAS River a few miles, in Manhattan, Kansas State University officials are seeking a new athletic director. Spokesmen for the school say they are pleased by the numbers and caliber of those applying for the position, and they suggest a new AD will be named by Sept. 1.
These same KSU officials claim the department's alarming fiscal situation is of no major concern to the applicants. This kind of statement is a perfect example of someone trying to bouy their spirits by whistling to themselves as they walk through a dark cemetery.
Kansas State's athletic department's fiscal problems are severe, and only time will tell how this condition will affect the university itself.
SPEAKING OF fiscal conditions, faculty members at Wichita State University are concerned or upset by the monetary condition of the WSU endowment association. With much ballyhoo, WSU officials told of many major contributions to the school's recent capital campaign. Now, after supposedly raising more than $100 million and with the future targets of $200 million and $300 million in private giving, many WSU faculty members are asking "where's the money?" This reminds some of the popular TV ad of a few years ago in which the little old woman viewing a skimpy hamburger, asked, "Where's the beef?"
If WSU was so successful in raising money, faculty members wonder, where were the funds being allocated or spent. Now, WSU officials and endowment association spokesmen acknowledge the school is facing a fiscal crunch in their private funding program. There were a lot of pledges, promises and big talk but apparently a shortage of hard cash.
KU CERTAINLY has its share of challenges, but compared with what is happening at nearby schools, as well as at institutions such as Stanford, where the president has been pressured into announcing his resignation, the academic atmosphere and private fiscal support on Mount Oread is extremely healthy.
Gene Budig provides sound leadership and is relentless in his efforts to help build KU into a truly superior state-assisted university. He has been tireless in his efforts to raise funds in the Campaign Kansas capital effort, and he spends considerable time visiting with state legislators about the need for adequate state tax support.
The KU Endowment Association is healthy and sound and Campaign Kansas has been a grand success. Over the years, the association has provided more than $300 million for KU projects and for faculty and student enrichment. At the same time, the association's assets have grown to more than $300 million.
The KU Medical Center is stronger today than at any time in recent history, and a few weeks ago, it was named one of the nation's top six teaching medical centers.
Now comes the Fiske report, which places KU near the top of all state universities.
The KU athletic department, while not possessing a bulging bank account, is one of the few NCAA Division I schools with a positive bank statement. The private fiscal support of alumni and friends has played a significant role in achieving this enviable situation.
As KU is about to begin a new school year, its alumni and friends have every right to be proud and enthusiastic about the university and its future. However, there is no justification for complacency, and alumni, friends, faculty, students and administrators all are going to have to continue to work hard to help build the school into one of the nation's finest comprehensive research institutions.