The Kansas Board of Regents was disbanded in July to make way for a new board with greatly expanded authority over Kansas postsecondary education.
Bill Graves accomplished what a quarter-century of other governors couldn't.
Of course, it had a lot to do with being in the right place at the right time.
But that doesn't change the fact that after 25 separate studies into revamping the state's higher education system between 1972 and 1998, a task force appointed by Graves set the stage for a historic July 1 transformation.
The 1999 Legislature passed a law, signed by Graves, that placed power over all postsecondary education in Kansas under a single board. A reformulated Kansas Board of Regents now has jurisdiction over state universities, including Kansas University; 19 community colleges; 11 vocational/technical schools; Washburn University in Topeka; and, to a lesser extent, private colleges.
Graves said placement of these institutions under the Board of Regents was the biggest change in higher education in state history.
The goal is to improve coordination and reduce costly competition among the schools.
"I'm truly looking forward to turning this page on higher education in Kansas," Graves said.
There's a lot riding on the switch.
Graves told board members: "I'm counting on you to make me and the Legislature look good."
A KU majority
The governor retained four regents to work with five newcomers. Five of the board's members have KU degrees.
KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway, as well as other officials in higher education circles, were lukewarm to the concept when it surfaced in 1998.
"I would not be in favor of a coordinating board if it simply meant that you were creating a new bureaucracy with an extensive staff that was going to be duplicating the work of the Board of Regents," Hemenway said last year. "I don't think anybody would agree that that was a good idea."
The chancellor was concerned about what role the new organizing body would play in reviewing school programs, developing a coordinated budget for all post-secondary institutions and serving in a conflict-resolution capacity. Would other schools drain resources that might otherwise been invested in regents' universities? Or would a coordinated approach add punch to higher education lobbying efforts?
"The devil will be in the details, and we need to look very carefully and act very thoughtfully about how we seize this opportunity," Hemenway said.
He became more accepting of change as the legislation was massaged by lawmakers in February, March, April and May. It became evident the new coordinating board would be the Board of Regents rather than a new "superboard" that expanded the state's bureaucracy.
"It probably has the potential to be an effective way of coordinating and planning higher education," Hemenway said.
A new view
In July, when the change occurred, the chancellor was committed to helping make the new alignment work.
That didn't mean others withdrew all concerns.
Ed Hammond, president of Fort Hays State University, said the Legislature didn't provide enough money to pay for transition of community college and vocational school services from the Kansas State Board of Education to the Board of Regents.
Regents staff have requested $1 million for additional staff and equipment.
"We continue to be concerned that as we approach our new responsibilities that we have adequate resources," Hammond said.
Officials at Johnson County Community College -- perhaps one of the most successful community colleges in the Midwest -- expressed displeasure with the reorganization legislation. The hope is JCCC, and Johnson County taxpayers, eventually will feel comfortable with the change, said Board of Regents member Clay Blair of Mission Hills.
"Some will criticize it, but on the whole, I think it will be very well accepted," he said.
Local governing boards will remain at community colleges and at Washburn University, a municipally operated institution in Topeka. Those panels keep power to hire and fire presidents and draft budgets.
The Board of Regents, however, will make budget recommendations for all of higher education to the Legislature.
Division of labor
Under the new law, the nine-member board was divided into three commissions -- one to govern state universities, one to supervise community colleges and vo-tech schools, and one to coordinate activities of those schools as well as Washburn and private colleges.
Arkansas City banker Bill Docking, who was selected by the governor to be the first chairman of the new Board of Regents, said he didn't want the three-commission format to split the board into factions.
"I would hope the board can align itself in a way to get all nine regents involved in the governance function," he said.
Graves said the workload for the new regents would be daunting.
"The sheer magnitude of issues that will arise will be a time-management challenge."
Graves appointed six men and three women to the board.
The new law limited to three the number of regents who could have undergraduate degrees from the same college. KU has five graduates on the board because three have undergraduate degrees and two have graduate degrees.
Holdover members are Harry Craig, Topeka; Sylvia Robinson, Kansas City, Kan.; Docking; and Blair.
Four new members are Janice DeBauge, Emporia; Floris Jean Hampton, Dodge City; former state Sen. Fred Kerr, Pratt; and former state Rep. Jack Wempe, Little River.
State Sen. Tim Emert, R-Independence, said the governor's decision to appoint three women to the board was a step in the right direction. Previously, Robinson was the only woman.
"As one who has perceived the regents as a bunch of middle-aged males, I'm delighted to see some culture brought to the board," Emert said.
For the students
Wempe, who served on the higher education task force appointed by Graves, said the new board's focus should be on affordability and accessibility for students.
"We should get away from looking at institutions and organizations and concentrate on those two things," he said.
Hampton, who has close ties to Dodge City Community College, said the realignment was a logical shift in the evolution of education governance.
"I consider this to be the next step in the continuing advancement of higher education in Kansas," she said.
Kerr sought a position on the Board of Regents when the bill was passed by the Legislature. The chance to be part of a major transformation was too much to pass up for a man who served a dozen years on the Senate Education Committee.
"It's a tremendous opportunity," he said. "We are really at a crossroads."
-- Tim Carpenter's phone message number is 832-7155. His e-mail address is email@example.com.