Last week, this writer discussed various situations within the Kansas University Athletics Department. Questions were raised about whether sufficient funds were being allocated to the university's athletics program, whether coaches' salaries were competitive with those at other similar institutions, the ability of the coaches and the degree of commitment from university administrators and athletics department leaders.
Many of these questions remain unanswered, at least as far as the public is concerned. It is hoped those in positions of authority are equally concerned about the matters mentioned above and will initiate actions that will help the KU athletics program rise to the level of the school's academic program.
This week, this writer would like to ask many of the same questions raised about the athletics program but shift the focus to the academic side of the university.
Questions of low salaries, faculty excellence, commitment of university administrators to stressing excellence and the quality of the school's physical plant are just as applicable to the academic side of the university as they are to the athletics department.
In fact, KU could have a wonderful, state-of-the-art athletics plant, with the nation's finest coaches and perhaps bowl-caliber football teams and NCAA Final Four basketball teams but with average, mediocre teachers in the classrooms and a run-of-the-mill academic reputation unless just as much concern and attention is focused on faculty salaries as many want to focus on problems of the athletics department.
Time and again, many of KU's outstanding faculty members receive offers from other schools that are much more rewarding than what they receive at KU. Many longtime faculty members have a deep loyalty to the university. They enjoy living in Lawrence and have remained at KU at a personal financial sacrifice.
Times have changed, however, and younger faculty members, particularly the all-stars among their ranks, have not developed the deep loyalty and they must be alert to financially rewarding opportunities. They are not likely to stick around when and if much higher salaries are offered by other schools.
It is disappointing that many KU alumni and friends do not get as excited and emotional about faculty salaries as they do about football and basketball coaches, win-loss records, all-sports rankings, salaries and the ability of coaches to recruit outstanding athletes.
If KU is to have any chance of meeting Chancellor Robert Hemenway's goal of placing the school among the nation's top 25 public universities in the next 10 years, faculty salaries will have to be raised. The quality of the faculty plays a direct role in the quality of students who elect to attend one university over another. The quality of faculty is linked directly to the level of research dollars coming to a university, and a high-powered faculty is sure to raise the level of excitement and enthusiasm among state residents and state lawmakers.
For some reason, state legislators and the governor, today as well as in past years, have failed to display any genuine commitment to getting Kansas faculty salaries up to the level of those at peer institutions.
What has to be done to get their attention? The win-loss record of Jayhawk football teams and the thousands of empty seats in Memorial Stadium have caused many alumni and friends to express their concern and ask for corrective actions. University administrators and athletics department officials are well aware of these concerns and it is reasonable to believe the chancellor is concerned and will call for improvement.
Unfortunately, the chancellor is limited as to what he can do about raising the levels of faculty salaries, at least the level of state financial support for those salaries. Hemenway, as well as heads of the other Kansas Board of Regents universities, must have the solid and enthusiastic support of the regents as well as the governor and state legislators.
Apparently, one of the few ways to get state legislators to take action is for them to be convinced of the desire of Kansas residents, Kansas taxpayers and Kansas voters to raise faculty salaries to the levels of their peer institutions.
Unless something is done, there will be a steady erosion of the best and brightest among KU faculty. We may have pretty buildings, a beautiful campus, large and well-stocked libraries and museums, a stadium with the track removed and grass down to the playing field, a shiny new weight room for athletes and other major improvements on the campus but a decimated faculty.
What would be the reaction of KU alumni and friends if this were the case? It shouldn't be a case of having to choose one or the other, but what would genuine KU alumni and friends prefer? What would they worry about more, salaries for KU coaches and how they rank among Big 12 schools and their peer institutions or the salary levels of KU teachers and researchers and how they measure up to the Big 12 and their peers?
There's reason to be concerned about various facets of the KU athletics program, but there is just as much, if not far more, reason to be concerned about the faculty situation.
In the case of the athletics scene, there are ways to improve the caliber of coaching and reason to expect win-loss records to improve. This, in turn, results in greater attendance revenue and more private fiscal support.
Unfortunately, it isn't as easy on the academic side. The level of state support is entirely in the hands of state legislators and the governor. If state lawmakers were to show their support for academic excellence at state-aided universities by approving substantial salary increases, increased private fiscal support likely would follow because those able to make private gifts are far more willing to give if they believe the state is carrying its fair share of the financial load.
Those interested in academic excellence should be contacting their state legislators now to encourage them to be as supportive as possible of the state's universities, particularly in the area of faculty salaries.
State lawmakers can do little, if anything, about the levels of coaches' salaries and their win-loss records, but they can do a great deal about the level of excellence in the classrooms.