The goal of communications executive Jack Sampson chairman of the Kansas Board of Regents is to bridge gaps in understanding between students, faculty, legislators and anyone else involved with Kansas higher education.
"This will be a year of bridge building," said Sampson, elected this summer to chair the board, which has jurisdiction over Kansas University and five other state universities.
Appointed to the board in 1988 by then-Gov. Mike Hayden, the Hutchinson businessman will serve a one-year term as chair. He replaced Robert Creighton of Atwood.
Sampson looking back on his tenure on the board said his first year was spent listening.
"Everybody, rightfully so, was sharing their opinions. At end of the first year I was so confused," he said. "Going into the second year, I began to sort out what was critical and where I could make a difference."
SAMPSON SAID one conclusion he reached is that there hasn't been enough dialogue.
"It's important that we understand what the students want and what students are getting from the system," he said. "Equally important is for us to understand the kind of people faculty are and what they need out of their careers."
Sampson also said regents need a better relationship with the Legislature and the Kansas Board of Education.
He said communication might break the stalemate regarding admission standards at state universities. He is a proponent of qualified admissions, but the Legislature has refused to modify the open admissions policy.
"It is important for regents to go to legislators and explain to them why this is important to Kansas," Sampson said. "We're just getting too many kids that aren't qualified."
HE SAID regents can work better with the Board of Education, which coordinates policy for elementary schools, high schools and community colleges.
"When students get to us they're having problems with math and English," he said. "There is a lot that can be done" in high school to prepare students better for college.
Sampson's other goals for the year:
Develop an overall strategic plan for Kansas higher education.
Make certain the mission of universities is geared to the 1990s.
Gain passage of qualified admissions and improve university budgets.
State government is facing a year of fiscal constraint, he said. However, universities can't maintain quality if budgets are cut.
"We must show the people of Kansas that investment in universities is very, very important. This is our future. This is economic development," he said.
At the same time, Sampson said, regents must demonstrate they are good stewards of the money allocated to universities.
HE SAID regents will study academic program duplication at state universities this year.
"We hear a lot of accusations about duplication," he said. "The Legislature uses it with us. The question is: Are there places where we've got weak programs that could be consolidated into a strong program somewhere else."
A university cannot be operated like a business, he said.
"We don't have an assembly line that we can cut overhead. A business is bottom-line oriented. A university is not. We are trying to educate people," he said.
Sampson said he wasn't certain Washburn University in Topeka, a municipal university that receives some state support, should become the seventh state university.
"Washburn has not done a real good job convincing me they can bring a lot to the regents system," he said.
The Legislature has declined to approve Washburn's transfer. Regents policy is to accept the transfer once existing state universities are adequately funded.
Sampson also said he wasn't fond of proposals to bring the state's 19 community colleges under regents control.
"It's an idea whose time has not come," he said. "Probably in the future that could happen and could be beneficial to Kansas."
Sampson said he would like to see graduation rates of state university student-athletes improve.
"I don't believe we have real athletics problems at the universities. But we've got to make sure that cognitive skills . . . are raised," he said.