The death of former Kansas University Chancellor Franklin Murphy brings to an end a truly distinguished career of a man who excelled in the fields of education, health care, the arts, public speaking, philanthropy, fund-raising, business and politics as well as an individual with a great and clear vision of the future.
Along with all of this, he was a delightful individual who was able to inspire others to try to do a better job, to elevate their efforts and to seek excellence.
Kansas University was extremely fortunate to have this Kansas City native serve as dean of the KU Medical Center and then to move into the chancellor's office on Mount Oread. He was a rare individual, and he set a standard for future KU chancellors to try to match.
He also set a standard to be used by members of the Kansas Board of Regents and those serving on various chancellor screening and selection committees whenever it was time to fill a vacancy in the chancellor's office. More on this matter later.
KU came close to losing Murphy as a chancellor because there was far too much hemming and hawing among some members of the Kansas Board of Regents when they were trying to find a successor to Deane Malott who left for a similar post at Cornell University.
Apparently, some regents or others questioned bringing in a young dean from the medical school to take over the chancellorship, and the delay and procrastination became so prolonged that Murphy told a close Lawrence friend that he was going to have his name withdrawn from consideration.
Upon learning this, the Lawrence resident immediately phoned a senior member of the Board of Regents and told him that unless they acted with haste, they were going to lose Murphy as a candidate. This prompted some quick action, and the personable Murphy moved into the chancellor's office in 1951.
His years as chancellor were heady years for the school. He had the rare talent of being able to get people to dream and realize the potential and benefits of striving to be better. He was way ahead of his time in foreseeing the challenges of providing health care for rural areas. He hammered home the point time and again that the heart of any great university is its library, and he encouraged private fiscal support to help build a greater library than the state alone could or would provide. He realized the importance of a sound but winning athletic program. He encouraged those who were generous in their support of the athletic program to also realize the importance of supporting the arts. And he was extremely effective in presenting the case of higher education to legislators, regents, alumni and friends of the school. He was an artist in the way he used the English language.
Some may debate the point, but Murphy clearly was the most well known and admired individual in the state, and this may have led to his eventual departure from Kansas to California. He could have left his position at KU on numerous occasions for other important posts, including some high and distinguished government positions. But he liked Kansas, he enjoyed building KU into a greater university, and he was not looking for another job.
However, the late George Docking, governor of Kansas during part of Murphy's tenure, clearly was jealous and envious of the chancellor. Murphy captured the public spotlight, not Docking, and the former Lawrence banker did not enjoy playing second fiddle to Murphy.
As is the case at most state-aided universities, there is the constant struggle to obtain adequate funding for higher education from members of state legislatures. Murphy was an eloquent, effective spokesman for higher education, and he tried his best to get Kansas lawmakers -- and Docking -- to realize the importance of proper fiscal support for higher education.
Docking seemed more interested in building highways, and Murphy was quoted as saying the state may be building fine highways, but unfortunately, these roads would be trafficways for outstanding young men and women to leave the state for other universities and other jobs because of insufficient funding for higher education.
Docking blew up, Murphy was placed in an awkward, difficult position, and he must have asked himself, "why keep fighting this battle," and he soon accepted the presidency of the University of California at Los Angeles.
Murphy compiled a superb record at UCLA, he continued to attract high national attention, he was a strong spokesperson for the arts, and eventually he left for the chairmanship of the Times-Mirror Company, one of the nation's largest publishing companies. Wherever he went, good things happened, and along his distinguished course, he never forgot KU. He continued to encourage private fiscal support for the school, he did what he could to help acquire art for the Spencer Museum, he remained in close contact with KU chancellors and officials of the KU Endowment Association offering ideas and suggestions concerning academic and endowment efforts and he continued to make frequent visits to the campus.
Murphy is an ideal example of a true "Renaissance man."
Murphy's death comes at an ironic time in that one of his successors, Gene Budig, recently announced his decision to leave his position at KU to become president of baseball's American League.
Budig, like Murphy, has compiled a superb record, and like Murphy, he will be leaving the university in a stronger position than it was when he first moved into the chancellorship.
Now, members of the Board of Regents, with the aid of a yet-to-be-announced 15-member selection committee, are about to initiate a search for a new KU chancellor.
It is hoped those serving as Regents and those on the selection committee will set their sights high and do what they can to identify and attract the best possible candidates. This is not an exercise to try to find someone who will be looked to as an individual to solve social issues, gender equity matters or racial balance, but rather someone who will help lead the university to higher levels of excellence. Chancellors such as Murphy, Wescoe, Dykes and Budig have established some high standards. These standards cannot be accomplished with less than the best in the KU chancellor's office.
Such action would be a disservice to the university, the state, alumni and friends of the university, students, faculty and to the efforts and tireless work of chancellors Murphy, Wescoe, Dykes and Budig.