Congratulations to Gov. Bill Graves for his nominations to the Kansas Board of Regents. Based on the caliber of those the governor has selected for this important body, it is apparent Graves places significant importance on higher education.
In past years, the selections for the board too often have been the result of political IOUs and personal favors, and by making such appointments, governors have lowered the public's respect and confidence in the board.
Graves' appointees add much to the board. Bill Docking, Kenneth Havener and Bob Talkington -- all new nominees -- will bring added stature to the board, and apparently Graves thought it wise to renominate Sidney Warner for another term on the board. If the public, the taxpayers and those in the state Legislature are to view higher education as one of the state's top priorities, it is essential those serving as regents merit the respect of the citizenry and the legislators.
It stands to reason legislators are going to pay more attention to the concerns and vision of the regents if those serving on the board merit the respect and confidence of lawmakers. Likewise, the public is likely to give more support or at least study the positions of various regents if they believe those serving as regents have the interest, background, business acumen, honesty, intellect and vision to help build a superior system of higher education for the state of Kansas.
It would be interesting to know just how much of an effort recent past regents have made to try to tell the story of the importance of higher education throughout the state. Have these men and women traveled around Kansas, addressing those in civic clubs and other groups extolling the importance of excellence in higher education? Have they actively solicited the help of legislators in obtaining essential state funding? Have they addressed high school audiences urging superior students to attend one of the state's regents institutions rather than to leave the state for another school? Have they been active in soliciting and recruiting superior faculty members? Have they taken advantage of other opportunities to help build and improve the state's colleges and universities? And have individual regents spent much time telling the story and role of the regents and how they work to build excellence at the state's schools?
Being a good regent should be more than merely attending the regularly scheduled meetings and having your name on the letterhead of an important state body. Being a regent should be a 365-day commitment, selling the importance of higher education at every opportunity, becoming familiar with the various schools within the system, stressing the importance of efficient operation of all regents schools and seeking adequate state fiscal support for the school throughout the year, not just when the regents budget is being prepared.
Docking is a highly respected banker from Arkansas City. He is a son of one of the state's best governors, the late Robert Docking, and he will add much to the excellence of the body.
Bob Talkington of Iola is a successful attorney who many hoped would have run for the governorship of Kansas. He had a distinguished career as a state senator, and his past legislative experience, combined with his legal training, will make him a top-flight regent. By the way, he was a top-flight tackle on the KU football team.
Sid Warner is a highly respected farmer/rancher, and he will do a fine job of keeping the regents alert and aware of agricultural needs and problems and how the regents schools can help address these agriculture-related matters. Apparently, Graves thought his past performance merited another term.
Ken Havener is well-respected in his home community of Hays, and as a Hays resident, he should be well aware of the needs of higher education through his knowledge of Fort Hays State University.
Kansas faces tight economic conditions, and based on early reports and votes in the Legislature, some lawmakers apparently look upon higher education as an easy target to save tax dollars.
Perhaps this would have been the case regardless of the state's fiscal condition because some lawmakers find it difficult to justify spending so much money on higher education. It's been this way for years.
However, a top-flight Board of Regents can make a big difference. Highly regarded regents are able to solicit the support of many influential citizens throughout the state, who in turn can help build a case for adequate fiscal support for state universities. Likewise, a highly respected Board of Regents is far more likely to capture the attention and respect of those serving in the Legislature.
Properly motivated and forward-looking regents can work in conjunction with the chancellors of the various schools to help tell the story of higher education. Dr. John Hiebert, Lawrence, is making an effort to try to correct this vacuum and lack of initiative by those who serve as regents. There is much that a highly motivated, interested and respected Board of Regents can accomplish for the good of the entire state. More regents need to follow the efforts of Hiebert.
Unfortunately, this has been lacking in recent years, but it appears Graves is determined to elevate the regents to a higher level of public respect. Graves' four nominees have set a good standard for other state appointments, and it should give all Kansans confidence their new governor is going to make sure his appointments measure up to the demands of the various boards and that the selection of these men and women will be based on what they can do for the state rather than merely being a payback for some past political favor.