Archive for Saturday, August 17, 1996

HEMENWAY CLEARS ROOKIE YEAR

August 17, 1996

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Chancellor Robert Hemenway is advancing a plan to put a new face on Kansas University.

The inaugural year of Robert Hemenway's chancellorship at Kansas University offered Jayhawk faithful plenty to squawk about.

"We've had a pretty busy year," said Hemenway, a University of Kentucky transplant prone to understatement.

In only his sophomore season as KU's top gun, Hemenway changed so much about the university that folks needed name tags to keep track of who held which job.

That resulted from the first administrative reorganization of KU in more than two decades. Work on a new personnel chart -- attaching people to jobs -- took months. Waiting generated intense anxiety among faculty and staff. The rumor mill burned white hot.

Hemenway did the same at KU Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan.

In the end, there were winners -- David Shulenburger's promotion to the new position of provost, for example -- and there were losers. A number of well-known administrators were demoted.

The reorganization typified 1995-96 at KU. There was plenty of good news in the land of crimson and blue, but not all went well.

The highs:

  • The 1996 Legislature passed the $163 million "Crumbling Classrooms" initiative. It allows renovation and construction of academic space at KU and five other state universities. KU gets about one-fourth of the money.
  • KU Endowment Association generated a record $52 million in donations. That was 38 percent better than the previous year.
  • In athletics, the football team went 10-2. The men's and women's basketball teams made the NCAA Tournament. Roy's boys finished at 29-5.

And the lows:

  • A hiring freeze was in place the entire year. Severe budget problems forced a chill on hiring. It saved KU thousands of dollars. The freeze thawed July 1, allowing KU to fill three of every four openings.
  • Lawmakers granted faculty a 2.5 percent wage hike, which doesn't kick in until Jan. 1. No increase in KU's general operating budget was passed.

Hemenway, considered a tough grader by his English students, declined to fill out a report card on his performance as chancellor.

"I'm not in the business of rating myself," he said. "I come to work every day and try to do the best I possibly can. I go home at night and try to sleep with the feeling that I've contributed towards that end."

The administrative reorganization was Hemenway's largest undertaking. His objective was to realign KU programs or services so that all effort was directed at improving the educational experience of students.

On the Lawrence campus, Hemenway appointed Shulenburger as provost and handed him unprecedented authority over academic and managerial areas. In the past, those duties were split among two or more people. There were too many hoops to jump through when resolving problems.

"The idea is to create greater accountability and to quicken responsiveness," the chancellor said. "We want a student-centered university."

In that vein, Hemenway said special attention would be placed on improving the academic experience of KU freshman and sophomore students.

He said young students could gain access to the university's greatness through more contact with senior faculty. Along those lines, he said, KU will expand research opportunities for undergraduate students.

"The advantage of being at a research university is that undergraduates can work with faculty who are on the cutting edge of a discipline," Hemenway said.

Another change will benefit new faculty eager to start research projects. He plans to end the practice of sending new faculty to the bottom of the priority list for laboratory renovation.

"In the past ... sometimes it's taken a year or two before they can actually start doing the lab work they were hired to do," the chancellor said. "In the future, we'll move new faculty to the front of the queue."

(requested 6 inch optional trim)

He said the reorganization revealed other areas of the university ripe for reform. KU's purchasing system fails the user-friendly test.

Hemenway said he was proud to have freed up $1.2 million to upgrade the campus computer system. The number of Internet connect points was doubled to 6,000. About two dozen campus buildings went online.

"More can be done," he said. "The university's infrastructure is woefully inadequate."

Recruitment of bright students -- especially Kansans -- will be intensified, Hemenway said. That effort is expected to stop the university's enrollment slide.

"We are going to make certain that every Kansas high school graduate prepared for KU is welcomed," he said.

Hemenway said he would redouble his lobbying to convince the 1997 Legislature to allocate more funding to the state university system. Increasing faculty salaries will be the first item of business, he said.

"I think there is a recognition that if we don't stay competitive on salaries, it will affect the quality of the institution and the quality of higher education in Kansas," Hemenway said.

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