Archive for Sunday, December 5, 1999


December 5, 1999


A 12-hour day in the life of KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway.

It's about 7 p.m. on a Monday and Kansas University Chancellor Robert Hemenway walks fast to his car parked in the Theta Chi parking lot. Twelve hours after it started, his public day is finished.

The Kansas University CEO has just left a dinner with the members of a reorganized fraternity chapter. After dinner he made a brief speech praising the students for their decision to have an alcohol-free house.

"Your day began and ended with students," the reporter shadowing Hemenway says.

"Maybe there should be more in the middle, too," he replies, then grins.

Busy, busy, busy

Hemenway's days are so structured, even his free time has to be scheduled. His meals are meetings.

The workday began shortly before the 7:30 a.m. American Literature II class Hemenway team-teaches with Angela Place, a Ph.D. student in the English department.

Twenty students in T-shirts or sweatshirts and jeans listen to Hemenway and Place as they discuss Toni Morrison's novel "Beloved."

Hemenway, 58, opens the lecture portion of the class by reading a poem about slavery. He sits on the table at the front of the classroom, swinging his legs back and forth. He holds a paperback anthology, thick as a family Bible, in one hand as he reads. His voice fills the room.

The lecture turns into a discussion; Place and Hemenway enjoy the back-and-forth with students and each other. As students raise questions, Hemenway praises the points they make.

Back to the office

After class he walks quickly out of Wescoe Hall and across the street to Strong Hall, where his office is located on the second floor.

In his office he sits down at a table covered with ring binders, folders and magazines.

Hemenway's secretary, Gay Clock, calls from the doorway.

"Chancellor, are you going to the breakfast?"

"It's at nine, right?" Hemenway says as he pulls the note card with his schedule from his pocket.

"8:30," Clock says.

"Then I'm going to breakfast."

Late already, Hemenway hurries from his office down the stairs and to his car. He bumps open Strong Hall doors with his hip as he searches for the key to his car and handles a folder.

He drives out of the parking lot to a street and then past the booth at an entrance to campus, returning the wave from the person inside.

"I know the fastest routes," he says.

At the Lawrence Holidome, the chancellor meets with Robert St. Peter, president of the Kansas Health Institute.

Oatmeal and ideas

The two men have a breakfast of oatmeal with milk and brown sugar.

St. Peter describes the work of the institute, which studies public health policy.

Hemenway says he wants to find ways for the institute and the university to work together. He's exploring opportunities for a formal affiliation between the two.

As the conversation progresses, the chancellor mentions an idea he has discussed with Kansas State University President Jon Wefald.

That idea would have KU provide preventive health services through K-State Research and Extension.

"KU has the statewide responsibility for health-care delivery," Hemenway says as he drives back to campus. "The extension service is one of the best delivery systems. There ought to be ways you can combine these."

Creating a group

In a conference room across the hall from his office, Hemenway presides over a meeting of the Lawrence Campus Operations/Policy Group.

Twenty administrators attend the meeting. Today's issue is the impact that planned street and road construction in Lawrence could have on auto and foot traffic on campus.

The conversation ranges from local politics to demographics to roadway design, plus enrollment patterns and pedestrian traffic on campus.

Hemenway is most concerned by the effect increased traffic to the 15th and Iowa area will have on pedestrians on campus.

Next he asks whether there is a study group within the administration that focuses exclusively on traffic issues in and around the campus.

No, there isn't, Hemenway is told. Those issues are studied as part of individual projects.

"There should be," Hemenway says, directing the creation of such a group.

On to the budget

Hemenway returns to his office and quickly scans the University Daily Kansan as he awaits his next meeting. It's with Marlin Rein, governmental affairs and budget director for the university.

Rein and Hemenway sit opposite each other around a coffee table in front of the chancellor's desk. As Rein briefs Hemenway, the chancellor listens and squints his eyes. He chews on an earpiece of his glasses. His thumb moves back and forth against a leg of the chair.

Rein briefly talks about issues at the Nov. 30 Board of Regents meeting, which is the next day. He then tells Hemenway about a coming dispute with the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services.

SRS has announced plans to close the Rainbow Mental Health Center next to the KU Medical Center campus in Kansas City, Kan. The campus surrounds Rainbow. SRS plans to sell Rainbow and place the money from the sale in a trust to fund the purchase of services for the mentally ill in the area from private providers.

SRS officials have told Rein they are tired of the university's uncooperative attitude as the future of Rainbow is decided. Yet, Rein had not heard of the plans for the center until he was being told the university was uncooperative.

"I think we're going to have to oppose it," Rein says.

"They've obviously devised a strategy to take the medical center out of the equation," Hemenway says.

It is clear from their discussion that both men assume the plan is devised to keep money flowing to local mental health professionals.

"I think you need to stay on top of it," Hemenway tells Rein.

Stack of mail

Hemenway's next meeting is lunch with Dorothy Lynch, a KU alumna who sits on the KU Medical Center hospital board.

As Hemenway and Lynch leave for lunch, Sarah Price, secretary to Mary Burg, Hemenway's chief of staff, opens and date-stamps items in a foot-high stack of mail addressed to the chancellor. After Price finishes with the mail, Clock will sort it and attach schedules to items requesting Hemenway's attendance. The shrinking stack then goes to Burg and the items she thinks need Hemenway's attention are placed in one of a dozen or so files on his desk.

After lunch, Hemenway and Provost David Shulenburger agree to cancel a meeting. They met right before the Thanksgiving holiday. There's nothing to discuss today.

Hemenway uses the time to sort through invitations and schedule requests.

A new reporter from KLWN-AM radio, Brad Rudolph, has scheduled a brief interview with Hemenway about KU's views on the South Lawrence Trafficway.

"This is a not typical part of a day," Hemenway says.

He does the radio interview and takes a couple of phone calls before meeting with Burg to discuss whom to invite to sit with the chancellor at KU basketball games.

Hemenway wants to be sure to invite Kansas City, Mo., Mayor Kay Barnes. They also discuss a possible trip in July to Japan as a part of tour of Lawrence's sister city Hiratsuka.

The meeting with Burg completed, Hemenway attends a budget briefing and then rushes to his car to drive to Theta Chi.

After dinner, in his speech to the 30 fraternity members, Hemenway tells the students how he evaluates his own work.

"I think I've done my job if I can say I made the University of Kansas a little better today," Hemenway says. "I think that's what you ought to be able to say as students."

-- Erwin Seba's phone message number is 832-7145. His e-mail address is

Commenting has been disabled for this item.