One of the features of this afternoon's Kansas University football game will be to focus on the academic accomplishments of several hundred KU students. National Merit scholars, National Hispanic scholars, National Achievement scholars and Summerfield and Watkins-Berger scholars will be recognized for their achievements.
Several weeks ago, 20 KU faculty members who teach on Mount Oread and the KU Medical Center campuses in Kansas City and Wichita received W.T. Kemper Fellowships for Teaching Excellence in recognition of their accomplishments.
A week later, four faculty members from KU and Kansas State University were honored for their excellence in research by receiving Higuchi/Endowment Research Achievement Awards.
The reason for highlighting these three events is to illustrate the emphasis KU administrators and the KU Endowment Association place on excellence in education. In each of the awards noted above, private money has played a significant role, and, in the years to come, private contributions will be relied upon even more to recognize and reward superior students, good teachers and skilled researchers.
"Excellence" is likely to be the defining yardstick between colleges and universities that merely float along with the tide versus those that excel and rise to new heights. KU alumni and friends, as well as a majority of administrators, faculty members and students want KU to become an even finer institution.
It is unfortunate more students and parents, as well as legislators and Mr. and Mrs. Average Kansan, did not have an opportunity to hear the Kemper awardees talk about their methods of teaching, what they believe is critical in the relationship between teacher and students and the thrill and satisfaction these teachers have in inspiring and motivating their students.
Likewise, it would be great if these same people had the opportunity to learn more about the work and research of the Higuchi/Endowment honorees.
It is wrong to try to rank what makes a university great and what distinguishes KU as a member of the Association of American Universities (AAU). It is one of only 32 state or public institutions that belong to this prestigious association.
A comprehensive research university must have good teachers and good researchers. Actually, a better-than-average university must have excellent not just good teachers and researchers who are recognized both nationally and around the world.
However, it's something like the question of which came first, the chicken or the egg? A university striving for excellence and not settling for mediocrity has to have the financial support to attract and hold talented teachers who have many opportunities to teach at universities throughout the country. It needs world-class researchers, facilities and equipment to support these faculty members. And it needs an administration that recognizes and genuinely supports and promotes excellence.
A great university attracts better students. Good teachers and researchers much prefer to teach and guide good, highly motivated students good teachers help attract good students good students help attract good teachers and good researchers attract financially rewarding grants for their studies at the university.
To bring all this about, however, it is essential for a university that wants to excel to have state financial support that is better than just average. This is an area where KU needs far more help from the Kansas Legislature.
Some way, those realizing the importance of quality education need to lobby state legislators to fund Kansas universities at a higher level. Lawmakers also need to realize the academic mission of each school is different and calls for different levels of funding.
One way for KU to try to justify more state fiscal support is for KU to do a far better job of explaining how it impacts the entire state in so many ways. KU has not done a good job of this, and too many Kansans do not appreciate or understand the relevance of KU to the entire state.
With elections near, those interested in higher education should ask candidates for the Kansas House or Senate their position on funding for state universities.
It would be interesting to know how many current Kansas lawmakers honestly place high importance on higher education and how many merely mouth their support for higher education. Unfortunately, there are too many who do not have a passion for higher education, perhaps because they did not receive a college or university degree.
Today's halftime recognition of outstanding student-scholars is excellent and well-deserved. Last year, was the first time such a program was held at KU, and the number of students on the Memorial Stadium field today will be considerably larger than it was last year. These numbers are likely to increase year by year as excellence in teaching and research attracts better students.
Hopefully, those attending the KU-Colorado game today will demonstrate their support and appreciation for academic excellence by their enthusiastic and loud applause for the KU scholars.