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Archive for Saturday, July 29, 1995

SATURDAY COLUMN

July 29, 1995

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Kansas University Chancellor Robert Hemenway has made it clear he wants to reverse recent enrollment declines at the university and improve the academic excellence of the school's student body.

The first part of this goal would appear to be easier to achieve than the latter task of trying to upgrade the academic excellence, given the policy KU must live by that gives open admission to all Kansas high school graduates.

The state's open admissions law allows any graduate of an accredited Kansas high school to be admitted to KU or any other Kansas Board of Regents school. Although members of the regents, as well as some legislators, have called for a selective admissions policy, it still is an uphill battle, and chances are the policy will not be changed any time soon. This is true even though the policy is not in the best interests of the students, it is far more costly for the state, and it does not give the university the best chance to achieve greater academic excellence.

Perhaps those opposed to selective admissions should review what has happened in Minnesota. Granted, Minnesota does not have the same restrictive law on open admissions that KU and other regents schools must follow, but there was statewide sentiment that the doors to the University of Minnesota should be open to all of the state's high school graduates.

Soon after moving into the president's office in 1989, Nils Hasselmo announced his "U2000" improvement plan, his program to restore the university as one of the nation's top research schools.

According to various reports, Hasselmo's plan to raise admissions standards has played a significant role in improving the academic excellence of the school. Lawrence Ianni, chancellor of the University of Minnesota at Duluth, said he believes Hasselmo has altered the school's path for the better by emphasizing quality even though it sacrifices access for some students.

Ianni said, "Selective admissions was a radical departure for the state of Minnesota. Eight years ago, this premier Minnesota institution still saw itself as an open enrollment institution. Regents expressed great anguish at the university having to turn its back on a high percentage of youngsters not in the top half of their class."

This writer does not know whether Minnesota's "open admissions" policy called for anyone in the top half of their class to be granted admission to the university, but consider the problem KU and other regents schools face when any graduate, no matter where he or she may be in relation to the rest of his or her class, must be granted admission to one of the state's universities. No other state has such an open policy for university admissions.

Under Hasselmo's plan, 80 percent of the freshman class would come from the top quarter of their high school class. So far, the effort to recruit better students and enforce a more selective admissions policy seems to have paid off for the university because upcoming high school graduates are reported to be better prepared academically and applications for enrollment at the university are up 34 percent.

Hemenway's goal is to increase freshman enrollment by 200 this fall and another 200 the following year. He wants to raise the average ACT score of entering freshmen as much as 0.2 percent each year through 1999. And he wants to recruit more minority students.

It is unfortunate Hemenway and other regents school administrators are not able to operate with a more realistic admissions policy. The new KU chancellor has noted on many occasions that he thinks high school students and academic counselors should try to match the student with the appropriate school. He notes some high school graduates are better prepared to enter KU while others might do better to start off at some other school or junior college and transfer to KU. Or, as he has suggested, it might be better for some to start at KU and transfer to Kansas State or vice versa.

Hasselmo announced several weeks ago that he intends to step aside from his Minnesota presidency at the end of the 1997 school year. He will have been at the school for nine years, and it hasn't been all peaches and cream for him at the Gopher school. He and Gov. Carlson have had their differences, and he has endured split votes by the regents on major policies. Nevertheless, the regents recently voted to give Hasselmo a two-year contract that would take him up to his 1997 retirement year. Commenting on this, a spokesman for the governor said, "Now that the two-year deal is done, we hope he focuses on the critical measures in U2000 and makes them a reality. Slogans are fine, but let's get down to business."

Hasselmo's goals sound fine. He apparently has done a good job since taking over in 1989, but many in the state are growing impatient that more progress has not been made. He, like every other college president or chancellor has had many major headaches and a large number of critics. Hasselmo has had particularly serious problems with the school's medical school, faculty appointments, deans and the university's athletic department.

Now that Hasselmo has announced his plan to move out of the president's office, speculation has been growing about who his successor might be. One well-known Minnesota newspaper columnist was quick to claim Kansas State President Jon Wefald would be one of the first to express interest in the job. According to the report, Wefald would jump at a chance to leave Kansas State and Manhattan for the Minnesota post. Wefald came to KSU from a position in Minnesota.

And, in regard to Big Eight university presidents and chancellors, there isn't a single chancellor or president today who held that job 10 years ago. Every school has seen a change in the top administrator, and chances are, the rotation will continue, with the length of tenure becoming shorter year by year. Being a chancellor is a prestigious job with many advantages and opportunities, but it seems chancellors, football coaches and basketball coaches all move from school to school with some regularity.

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