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Archive for Saturday, August 11, 2001

KUED Janet Murguia

August 11, 2001

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Unlike most KU students, Murguia grew up in a small house with seven brothers and sisters in the Argentine section of Kansas City, Kan.

"You know Hillary Clinton's book, 'It Takes A Village'? Well, my parents decided to raise a village," Murguia said.

Now -- after earning three degrees at KU and rising from congressional aide to high-ranking White House official during 15 years in Washington, D.C., -- Murguia has returned to KU.

This time, it's as executive vice chancellor for university relations, a new position designed to help KU better present its image to the public.

Murguia cannot contain her excitement about returning to KU and being closer to her parents, who still live in the same Kansas City, Kan., neighborhood.

Apparently, Kansas officials are just as pleased because her appointment was greeted with glowing comments from the state's top elected leaders.

And despite their humble beginnings, the Murguias are no strangers to high places.

Janet's twin sister Mary recently became a federal judge in Arizona. Her brother Carlos is a federal judge in Kansas City, and brother Ramon is an attorney and chairman of the board of the National Council of La Raza, one of the largest Hispanic advocacy groups in the nation.

So what prompted all this achievement?

Janet Murguia credits her parents, Alfred and Amalia, with building a life for them rooted in family, school and church.

Her father worked as a laborer for a steel company that was just a few blocks from their home. He and her mother had moved to the Kansas City area in the late 1940s from a small town in Mexico.

Murguia said her mother stayed at home with the children and even baby-sat other children in the neighborhood.

"We learned to appreciate and value what we had," she said.

The family was close-knit, as was the neighborhood, she said. In fact, it was kind of an insulated lifestyle.

"We could have been in a small western Kansas town," Murguia said.

Murguia said she and her brothers and sisters grew up speaking both Spanish and English. Her parents made it known that education was the key to opportunity.

"We could always clear off the kitchen table and work on our studies there," she said. The children also would often go to the nearby library.

Murguia said she now teases her mother that although her mother could barely speak English, she was always able to communicate to the children's teachers that "if we ever needed to be disciplined, to feel free to do that."

In high school, Murguia said she was selected to go to Girls State and then Girls Nation in Washington, D.C.

"It was an incredible experience," she said. "That was one of those things that really affected me. I always thought I would go back to Washington."

A love of learning

Donna Severance, who taught Janet and Mary Murguia at J.C. Harmon High School, said the two sisters loved learning.

"They were the most curious young ladies as far as wanting to learn," Severance said. "When they learned something, it would trigger question after question. I enjoyed that and it made me look more deeply into what I was teaching."

Janet and Mary followed in their older brothers' footsteps and went to KU. That's when they found the "big" dorm room -- although they noticed other girls in the building "didn't have the same reaction" to their living quarters, she said.

Janet Murguia went on to receive a bachelor of science in journalism, a bachelor of arts in Spanish and then a law degree.

Her sister Mary described Janet as "one of the hardest workers you'll ever encounter. She just doesn't given anything less than 100 percent."

After college, Janet Murguia went to work for then-U.S. Rep. Jim Slattery, D-Kan.

"She is one of my favorite people in the world," said Slattery, who is now an attorney in Washington. "She is a true public servant. I can't think of a better person for that job (at KU)."

Later she worked in various high-level positions in the Clinton administration. When Vice President Al Gore announced his candidacy for president, she signed on as a spokeswoman for the campaign and as liaison between Gore and national groups.

After Gore lost, she was recruited by some top law firms and corporations.

But KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway came calling, asking her to lead a reorganization of KU's relations with the public.

"This is a great chance to work on something that I really believe in -- higher education," she said.

The job pays $195,000 per year and appears on KU's organizational chart at the same level as the provost for the Lawrence campus and executive vice chancellor for the KU Medical Center.

And despite her Democratic Party background, Murguia has received high marks from Republican officials. She points out that her family has always received bipartisan support, noting that her brother and sister were nominated to the federal bench by former President Clinton, a Democrat, and supported in Congress by Republicans.

At KU, she will coordinate the school's marketing efforts with those of the KU Alumni Association, the KU Athletics Corp. and KU Endowment Association.

Murguia is a big booster of KU, but says one of her priorities will be to try to increase minority enrollment at the school. Of the school's 28,329 students, 2.6 percent are black, 2.4 percent Hispanic and 3 percent Asian-American.

"I don't think KU has done as good a job as they could have. I want to make sure we have a good, diverse group of students," and professors, she said. "It adds to the educational experience to be exposed to a lot of different ways of thinking."

-- Staff writer Scott Rothschild can be reached at 832-7221.

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