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Archive for Saturday, January 7, 1995

SATURDAY COLUMN

January 7, 1995

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Sometime later today, members of the Kansas Board of Regents are expected to announce their selection of Kansas University's 16th chancellor.

From the outset, it has been a messed up selection process, and those responsible for the troubles are the regents and the executive director of this important body. There is no way of knowing if the individual selected and announced later today would have been the same if the regents had conducted a better selection process, but it is a sure bet there would have been additional candidates if the selection process had been designed in a far more effective manner.

All this is history, however. Now it will be up to the newly named chancellor to conduct himself or herself in such a manner as to earn and merit the respect and support that most other past KU chancellors have enjoyed.

KU has a rich history in the excellence of its chancellors. Recent chancellors such as Gene Budig, Archie Dykes, Clarke Wescoe and Franklin Murphy all did excellent jobs for the university, for higher education and for the state of Kansas. Each had his own particular strengths and each was looked to as the clear leader and No. 1 spokesman for higher education in Kansas. They also enjoyed high respect throughout the country.

It wasn't long after these men moved into the chancellor's office that they started to gain public support and respect. This is not an automatic that comes with the job, but rather is earned by the performance of each individual chancellor.

The new KU chancellor is inheriting a sound university with an excellent reputation. It is hoped the new chief executive will be able to maintain this excellence or, better yet, help build the university into an even finer comprehensive research institution.

It would be interesting to know how the regents and those on the search and selection committee presented the KU picture to the various candidates. Did they stress the desire for true excellence at KU? Did they acknowledge the "flagship" role of KU in the state's system of higher education? Did they tell the various candidates that admissions standards are in the best interest of KU and the state? What did they say about the role of the new chancellor in working with legislators on the fiscal needs for universities, specifically for KU? Did the regents pledge their support in helping to tell the story of the need for more than merely "adequate" funding for higher education?

In the recent past, too few members of the regents have been active public spokespeople for higher education and its needs. These individuals enjoy the honor of being regents, but not many have been active in their lobbying efforts for higher education or in volunteering to make public presentations throughout the state on behalf of higher education. Those serving as regents should be among the state's most active supporters of higher education and not think their participation in such activities should be limited to the formal regents' meetings.

It is hoped each of the "final four" who are in Lawrence for their last interviews will have visited with Gene Budig, Archie Dykes and Clarke Wescoe to hear what these past chancellors have to say about the KU position.

Kansas University truly is a special institution, and each of these past chancellors would be quick to point out KU is not like many other state universities. Gene Budig would not hesitate in saying KU was, and is, far different, and far more demanding in may ways, than what he encountered in his executive positions at other universities prior to arriving on Mount Oread.

Unless the candidates did their own investigation, there wasn't much opportunity for them to learn a great deal about the school and its various offices, and persons associated with the institution, until the closing days of the search process. Hopefully, the finalists were sufficiently interested in the job and what might be encountered if they were offered the job to have made their own inquiries about the school.

Friday and today, the final four were to meet for the first time, at least officially, several groups of people to learn more about KU. This seems rather late in the process. And those who have been selected to meet with the candidates and their spouses are supposed to report back to the regents concerning their impressions of the various candidates.

Speaking of spouses, the spouses are extremely important and play a significant role in the success of the chancellor.

The record of Nancy Dykes, Barbara Wescoe and Gretchen Budig was excellent, and it is hoped the spouse of whomever is selected will be able to measure up to the performance of past spouses.

The challenges for KU are substantial, but likewise, the opportunities are great. There is nothing automatic or guaranteed about the continued success of KU. It is going to take the hard, effective and visionary work of many if the university is to continue to climb the ladder of academic excellence, if it is to receive the state fiscal support it deserves, if it is to continue to enjoy the loyal, enthusiastic support of its alumni and friends, and if it is to continue to be looked upon as one of the nation's truly outstanding state-aided universities.

The individual to be announced later today will play a pivotal role in whether the university enters the next century as a giant among state-aided universities or one which has lost its drive, enthusiasm and commitment for excellence.

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