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Archive for Monday, May 3, 1999

HIGHER ED REFORM CONCERNS CHANCELLOR

May 3, 1999

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Assuming Gov. Bill Graves approves, all of higher education in Kansas will speak with one voice when reorganized July 1 under a reconstituted Board of Regents.

Kansas University Chancellor Robert Hemenway's apprehension Friday about modifying the structure of higher education in the state reflected uncertainty about details of reform.

"It's a complicated bill," Hemenway said. "Many people, including authors of the bill, have had concerns about details of it."

The Kansas Legislature -- through votes of the House on Wednesday and the Senate on Thursday -- approved a measure that abolishes the Kansas Board of Regents, which governs KU. The bill also will create, effective July 1, a new board. That board will retain governance control of six state universities and assume from the Kansas Board of Education limited jurisdiction over 19 community colleges, 11 vocational and technical schools, Washburn University in Topeka and 17 private colleges.

Gov. Bill Graves promised to sign the bill, which passed 26-13 in the Senate and 78-43 in the House.

"It probably has the potential to be an effective way of coordinating and planning higher education," Hemenway said. "It has that potential, but the real question will be whether or not the board is structured in a way that we will be able to accomplish that end.

"The real challenge is: Where do we go from here?"

Uncertainty abounds: Does the July 1 implementation date allow enough time to prepare for a smooth transition to the new board? Who will be on the Board of Regents when it emerges? Will leaders of community colleges and universities cooperate? Will the Legislature appropriate millions of dollars promised participating schools? Who will be the new executive director of the Board of Regents?

On that final point, Hemenway said few people had the savvy and connections required to lead the new board. He said any list of candidates should include Andy Tompkins, who currently serves as commissioner of the Kansas Board of Education.

"He's a first-rate person," Hemenway said. "If he were interested in the executive directorship of the regents, I think most people feel he would be a superb appointment. They're going to either need Andy Tompkins or someone like him to make this successful."

Tompkins' name has surfaced in discussions about the person best suited to assume the top administrative position with the new Board of Regents.

"I've heard that," Tompkins said. "My inclination hasn't been to do that."

Tompkins' hiring would make sense, his supporters said, because he has credibility among state legislators; he's worked with community colleges and vo-tech schools; he was an interim dean at Pittsburg State University, which is part of the Board of Regents system with KU; and he was superintendent of Salina schools, which is the hometown of Gov. Bill Graves.

Tompkins also earned a master's degree in education at Emporia State University and a doctorate in education from KU.

Tom Bryant, who was named president of Pittsburg State in April, has served as interim executive director of the Board of Regents since May 1998. He will remain with the board through the board's May meeting.

Tompkins said his focus had been on adoption of a bill capable of improving higher education -- not on finding a new job.

Better coordination of postsecondary education is the primary objective, he said.

"That's the hope -- that you can improve," Tompkins said. "The issue here is that when you have them under one supervisory board, you increase the likelihood of greater coordination."

Graves will appoint members to the reconstituted nine-person Board of Regents, subject to Senate confirmation. An amendment to the reform bill allows no more than three people on the board with undergraduate degrees from the same institution of higher education. Currently, four regents have KU bachelor's degrees.

Hemenway said selection of board members would be central to successful implementation of the restructuring plan.

The new system needs board members capable of focusing on the state's best interests rather than special interests, the chancellor said. Cohesion in a family with 50 members of different size, scope and mission could be elusive. It might be especially difficult given that the bill requires the board to be divided into three commissions to concentrate on divergent issues, Hemenway said.

One commission will govern the six state universities, one will supervise community colleges and vocational-technical schools, and one will coordinate all higher education activities.

"If people are appointed thinking they represent a constituency and act that way, I think it will be a tragedy for the governance system of higher education," Hemenway said. "On the other hand, if people are appointed to the board and act as representatives of all the people of Kansas, I have hopes for success of the new structure."

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

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