Archive for Sunday, January 26, 1992

THEIR REPUTATION PRECEDES THEM

January 26, 1992

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— State Board of Regents and university officials are working overtime this legislative session with lawmakers to mend relations that were damaged during countless exchanges over the years.

Some memories die hard, and the job apparently won't be easy.

"Universities think they are the elite of the whole state budget," said Rep. George Teagarden, D-LaCygne, chair of the House budget committee.

Sen. Lana Oleen, R-Manhattan, whose district includes Kansas State University, said regents and their representatives have come to committee meetings and "talked down to legislators. It sends a real bad signal."

"They've been very pushy, you might say, over the qualified admissions issue, which does rankle some members," said Rep. Don Crumbaker, R-Brewster, former chair of the House Education Committee.

REP. KERRY Patrick, R-Leawood, added: "Stan Koplik (regents' executive director), by his presence, irritates a lot of legislators. He's taken a holier-than-thou attitude too many times."

To foster better communication and positive ties with the Legislature, the Board of Regents shuffled the lineup for the 1992 session.

Koplik won't spend as much time in the Statehouse as in the past. Regent John Montgomery and Ted Ayers, regents' general counsel, will take the lead in coordinating the board's lobbying activities.

"In terms of the past, I think there was a lack of visibility," Montgomery said. "Consequently, some legislators may have had questions or concerns that weren't addressed. We hope to change the perception."

Gene Budig, chancellor at Kansas University, said it's essential to raise the profile of regents.

"IT IS important that they be given an opportunity to publicly articulate key issues," he said.

There are signs the board's strategy may work, Budig said. A Senate committee hearing last week in which regents and university officials outnumbered the committee went well, he said.

The communication problem has been evident to members of the Lawrence legislative delegation. Each has faced hostility from other legislators for being advocates of KU.

"One legislator referred to me as the `lobbyist for KU,'" said Rep. John Solbach, D-Lawrence. "I doubt there is anyone who served in the Legislature from Lawrence who hasn't been accused of being over here only for KU."

"I'VE BEEN called the `Senator from KU' on the floor," said Sen. Wint Winter Jr., R-Lawrence.

To avoid charges of parochialism, Winter occassionally finds a Senate colleague to make a point during higher education debates.

The same can be said for legislators representing districts in university cities, Budig said.

There appears to be an anti-KU sentiment among some legislators, said Rep. Sandy Praeger, R-Lawrence.

"It's an undercurrent here," Praeger said. "There's no question. I've felt it personally. I've been asked if I support higher education philosophically or because it's (KU) in my district."

Del Shankel, executive vice chancellor at KU, said there is an anti-higher education feeling sweeping the country.

"KU, AS the flagship university in the state of Kansas, bears more of the brunt of that," he said.

However, Koplik said he hasn't detected anti-KU sentiment in the Legislature that he finds troublesome.

"To be troublesome it would have to be organized, deliberate, continously vocal. I don't believe it is," Koplik said. "You will always have some of these individual rivalries and people will be recognized as representing a particular institution. That's just a function of geography.''

Teagarden said legislators haven't been so jealous or angry that they succeeded in inflicting damage on a particular university's budget.

Winter said personality conflicts and other disputes have hurt the regents' system by slowing reform and limiting opportunities to improve state funding for universities.

"IT DOES hurt us," he said. "I'm constantly reminded of it. There are only six senators who have universities in their districts. It's a very narrow constituency, but a huge component of the state budget."

Spending at the six regents' universities is expected to approach $1 billion next fiscal year.

The view in the Capitol is that there's simply not enough money to satisfy higher education, Winter said.

"I think those professors are pretty hard to please," said Sen. Frank Gaines, D-Augusta. "In terms of representative government, they are so big in university towns. They're just overwhelming."

Legislators from non-regents districts don't have much to gain politically from supporting bills that dramatically enhance funding to state universities, Winter said.

"THEY CANNOT go home to a coffee in Great Bend and say, `Gee, we didn't do very well with school finance and we didn't do anything to bring jobs here, but the good news is we were able to increase faculty salaries 5 percent,'" Winter said.

Solbach said one reason KU somtimes finds itself catching flak is that the Lawrence economy continues to perform well in relation to other areas of the state.

"Some areas are literally impoverished," he said. "Then look at the University of Kansas. The thing that strikes you is KU is well fed, relatively speaking. You can get the same impression by going to Emporia or Wichita."

Budig said KU initiated a program last fall to sharpen KU's public image and generate support throughout the state for the university.

More than 20 meetings were held in Kansas. They were attended by legislators and community leaders, and the university was well received at each stop, Budig said.

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