Archive for Sunday, August 15, 1999


August 15, 1999


Coach, er, Chancellor Robert Hemenway has a game plan for KU academics.

If Robert Hemenway could wave a magic wand, the Kansas Jayhawks' football team would go bowling after winning 10 games and the basketball teams would rule the Final Four.

"We'll hold out that hope," the Kansas University chancellor said while preparing for the 1999-2000 school year.

Of course, keeping hope alive is realistically the extent of his contribution to sports these days.

At the end of Hemenway's first season on the Hastings College football team, a coach pulled the third-stringer aside to urge him to study very, very hard in class.

And -- let's be honest -- it's a scientific fact all 58-year-old guys standing 5-foot-11 are past their prime as basketball players.

While Hemenway is reduced to enthusiastic sports fan, there is no more integral player when it comes to the university's academic arena.

The man calling the shots at KU has a game plan.

"There are great opportunities," he said. "We are looking not only to be the best university we can be in 1999, but the best university we can be in 2020."

Key strategies:

  • Invest heavily in faculty salaries and computer technology.
  • Pour millions of dollars into new campus buildings and infrastructure.
  • Solidify KU as the key research university for Kansas City.
  • Push annual research into the $200 million to $300 million range.
  • Advance scholarly achievement among students and faculty.
  • Set the stage for a large private fund-raising campaign.

CEO primer

Hemenway was born in Sioux City, Iowa, and raised in Iowa and Nebraska. He received a bachelor's degree from University of Nebraska at Omaha and a doctorate in English from Kent State University in Ohio. He wrote an internationally recognized biography of the late Zora Neale Hurston, an African-American novelist, anthropologist and folklorist.

Hemenway chaired the English department at University of Kentucky from 1981 to 1986 before he was hired by University of Oklahoma to be dean of arts and sciences. In 1989, he returned to UK as chancellor of the university's main campus in Lexington.

He became KU's 16th chancellor in June 1995. He focused initially on reorganizing KU's administrative structure to reduce bureaucracy. He's worked to create a "student-centered" university by recruiting high-ability students and placing emphasis on international experience for both students and faculty.

Undergraduate students can get personal with Hemenway in an American literature class he teaches regularly.

His most significant hobby is reading. His Strong Hall office shelves overflow with books. Thousands of texts occupy the chancellor's residents on Lilac Lane, a home he shares with wife, Leah, and the youngest of his eight children -- Arna and Zack.

On a summer day prior to a family vacation to Italy, Hemenway sat down to talk about the past year and the future.

Salaries, technology

Hemenway found himself preoccupied this year with issues related to low faculty salaries and the high technology costs.

The 1999 Legislature approved a budget that included a 4.9 percent pay increase for university faculty, but it was insufficient for KU to catch up with wages at peer institutions.

"That has been a priority the last two or three years and will continue to be a priority. Let's at least bring our salaries up to our peer institutions."

He's also worried about salary compression. It occurs when market forces require new junior faculty be paid salaries close to that made by senior faculty with long service to KU.

The rising cost of technology -- especially computing -- has been another big issue at KU.

"The hardware is obsolete in three to four years," Hemenway said. "Software changes all the time. You have to make these investments.

"The computer has simply changed the way people collect and assimilate and process information."

He also spent time last year helping prepare KU for an upcoming fund-raising campaign. The last campaign by the KU Endowment Association launched in 1987 with a goal of $150 million. In 1989, the target was increased to $177 million. Campaign Kansas raised $262.9 million during a five-year period. The goal of the new drive will be far in excess of $250 million.

Asked about ongoing background work on the next drive, Hemenway would say only that KU was "making progress."

Futuristic research

Hemenway is openly committed to making KU the most prominent academic player in the Kansas City metropolitan area.

"Lawrence is very much a part of the greater Kansas City area," he said.

The combined forces of KU's campus in Lawrence, the KU Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan., and the Regents Center in Overland Park could serve nearly any research need, he said.

The triad has a strong enough reputation in engineering, business management, health sciences, telecommunications, education and the humanities to merit recognition as a Research I university -- the top rank given 86 U.S. research universities.

"We really want KU to be the research university for Kansas City," Hemenway said.

Hemenway has urged faculty to dramatically increase external funding for university research. KU pulled in $147 million in external funding in the 1998-99 academic year. The chancellor believes KU's annual total should be $200 million to $300 million.

Much of that additional financing could be in the life sciences field. Scientific advances in medicine will be huge in the next 25 years.

"There's great opportunities for us," the chancellor said. "We need to make sure we're prepared. That's going to be very challenging to stay on the cutting edge of that research."

Building a solid base

Infrequent visitors to campus would be surprised by the transformation of the university's physical shape.

"The face of campus is changing," Hemenway said. "I feel good about that because it will remain true to our principles, which are to maintain the beauty of campus and show respect for learning."

He walks frequently on campus with his wife. They chart the progress of construction crews. The list of big projects includes renovation at Memorial Stadium, expansion of Murphy Hall, renovation of an old dormitory for a new School of Education, a new Hilltop child-care center and a new parking garage next to the Kansas Union.

Hemenway said the Dole Institute's ground-breaking should occur in the next year. The $6 million project isn't the largest on campus, but excites the chancellor because of its huge potential for inspiring students.

"It will encourage young people to have a career in public services," said Hemenway, an admirer of Dole's contribution to the state.

Thriving student life

Hemenway said he was pleased with the academic performance of KU students in the past year.

Five KU students earned Fulbright grants. Two students were awarded Goldwater scholarships and a handful of their peers earned national acclaim.

"That recognition shows KU people can compete with the best in the country," Hemenway said.

He's interested in creating more opportunities for undergraduates to perform at a high level. That requires establishment of more research programs. He also encourages KU students to enhance their educational experience by getting involved in volunteer organizations.

"It's part of building a premier learning community."

Rankings contained in national publications indicate KU has been doing much right in the classroom. U.S. News and World Report maintains KU is tied for 30th best public university in the nation.

"They confirm what we believe about KU," Hemenway said. "But it would be just us talking if not for the rankings. It's a sign that the pride we have in KU is justified because people recognize excellence just as we do."

-- Tim Carpenter's phone message number is 832-7155. His e-mail address is

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