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Archive for Saturday, August 12, 2000

Saturday Column

August 12, 2000

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Kansas University will be starting its 135th academic year next week, and hopefully, it will be the best year ever for the school.

It is difficult to establish yardsticks to measure whether a university has a successful year. Perhaps it is more a case of determining the excellence of a school over a longer period of time.

Even so, there would appear to be several factors that help determine just how well a university is doing each year.

Some of these include the number and caliber of students enrolling at KU, the level of excellence in the graduate school, the quality of the faculty, the degree of state financial assistance, the amount of private giving, the direction and vision of university leaders and the enthusiasm and support for the university by alumni and friends. Also, to a certain degree, the success of the university's athletic teams plays a role in the public enthusiasm for the school. Like it or not, a successful athletic program can be a major factor, particularly at a state-assisted university, in generating support, pride and often increased private giving.

One other very important ingredient in the overall recipe for a successful university is the relationship between the school and the people of the state.

How well do Kansans think KU serves the state? Do they consider KU important to the welfare and growth of the state? How great is their enthusiasm and support for higher education, an essential component if a school like KU is to grow, excel and have the support of state legislators.

As was seen earlier this summer when it appeared KU basketball coach Roy Williams might be lured away to the University of North Carolina, there is tremendous interest in KU's basketball program by both alumni and friends of the university. At the same time, it was apparent that many of those interested in the KU basketball program and the university as a whole had an inferiority complex about KU. Those with this feeling were quick to suggest Williams would leave, that KU couldn't hold him and that he would be taking over the Carolina basketball program.

Williams' decision to stay at KU and what he said about his reasons should have given everyone at the university, as well as across Kansas, a giant shot of self-esteem and a positive attitude about the school, the city of Lawrence and the state of Kansas.

Kansans need to have more pride in KU and realize its importance to the future of the state. It is the engine that drives the state's economic future. KU's success and development is terribly important and is directly connected to development of the state.

Generally speaking, Kansans do not seem to get sufficiently excited about higher education. Sure, Jayhawk fans show their enthusiasm for KU and its basketball program just as Wildcat backers are tremendously supportive of the Kansas State football program.

Perhaps one of the problems is that Kansas has so many public and private universities and colleges along with a large number of community colleges. With so many schools, and with alumni and public loyalty and support split so many ways, it may be difficult to develop an inclusive, statewide sense of enthusiasm and support for higher education.

KU is expected to have strong enrollment totals this year including a record number of National Merit scholars. Some at KU have made an extra effort in the past year to be more effective in the school's recruiting program, and it is paying off.

Although KU faculty pay levels do not match those at their peer institutions, it is surprising and highly complimentary that many of the school's top faculty members choose to remain at KU even though they are offered higher compensation packages at other schools.

KU's faculty measure up quite well, but it would be a serious mistake for state legislators to believe they can continue to pay low faculty salaries without weakening all state-assisted schools.

Private fiscal giving to KU remains high, and planning for a major capital campaign is well under way.

KU's leaders are determined to do what they can to make the university an even finer academic institution and to have it play an increasingly important role in the development of Kansas. However, they are handicapped by poor marketing of the school. KU does not do a good job of telling its story to all parts of the state.

The university's alumni are extremely loyal, but it would be good if they expressed the same level of enthusiasm and pride in the school throughout the year as they do during the basketball season.

Overall, KU is a fine state-assisted university, and students have the opportunity for a challenging educational experience. Financially, KU is a tremendous bargain. Even so, KU officials make it clear they want the school to step up to a higher level of academic excellence.

There is every reason to believe the 2000-01 school year will be a good one, and Lawrence residents should do what they can to help make the city a fine host community. Those living in a university community such as Lawrence are, indeed, privileged and they can play a significant role in helping KU become an even finer, more attractive school.

It should be the goal of all interested individuals, on and off campus, to make the coming school year the best ever for KU. There is no room for complacency as competition among major universities for good students, superior faculty members and sound fiscal support is becoming increasingly intense. KU cannot afford to coast.

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