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Archive for Wednesday, September 18, 2002

s chief of staff as president sparks criticism

September 18, 2002

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— The top spot at the Kansas Board of Regents office again will be filled by a Kansas University administrator.

The board Tuesday chose Reggie Robinson, chief of staff to KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway, to be its new president and chief executive officer.

The regents said Robinson was the right man to lead the Kansas higher education system through tough budget times. But several legislators questioned Robinson's qualifications and the board's decision to name another KU official as its top administrator.

"I think the energy and what he brings will overcome any criticism," said Regent Fred Kerr of Hays.

Robinson, 45, will fill the position vacated by Kim Wilcox, a former KU department chairman who returned to the university this fall as dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Robinson will be paid $135,000 per year  about $5,000 less than Wilcox was paid  and receive a $1,000 monthly car allowance. He'll start this fall, but an exact date hasn't been set. It was unclear what would happen with Robinson's duties in the School of Law, where he teaches criminal and civil rights law.

Robinson came to KU in 1998 after serving five years in the U.S. Department of Justice, where he led Atty. Gen. Janet Reno's efforts in several community-based public safety initiatives and was acting director for the Office for Victims of Crime.

Robinson received a bachelor's degree in political science from KU in 1980, then received his law degree from KU in 1987.

Regent Bill Docking of Arkansas City, chairman of the search committee, said 23 people applied for the position. Regents on Monday interviewed Robinson and three other finalists.

The others were Kendall Blanchard, business and anthropology professor at Fort Lewis College, Durango, Colo.; Barry Martin Dorsey, president of the University of Rio Grande in southern Ohio; and Steve Scott, dean of education at Pittsburg State University.

Scott replaced Paula Myrick Short, vice chancellor for academic affairs for the Tennessee Board of Regents, who withdrew her name from consideration.

"It was a difficult decision," Docking said. "The finalist pool was very good. We had different kinds of people who would have brought different kinds of experience to the board."

Everybody isn't pleased

The regents' decision drew criticism from some lawmakers.

Rep. Ralph Tanner, R-Baldwin, said he wasn't sure Robinson was qualified for the post.

"It's typical for a person in this position to have earned a Ph.D. and had some experience in the management of a college or university. He's had some experience, but he's never been where the buck stops," Tanner said.

Regents Chairman Jack Wempe said it was true Robinson's background "isn't necessarily typical" for such a position. "We did feel Reggie is the type of person we needed at this point in time," he said.

Rep. Tom Klein, D-Wichita, said the choice would add fuel to some legislators' concern KU has too much influence on the state's higher education system.

"I can't say I'm real surprised" about the decision, he said. "I've been concerned for a long time that higher ed was KU-driven. It's just going to perpetuate the same kinds of questions or doubt at the other universities when they don't get what they want. I don't know if it's real or not."

But Jon Wefald, president of Kansas State University, said Robinson would not let university loyalties interfere with his job.

"It doesn't make any difference to me whether somebody's from Harvard or Michigan or Stanford or KU or K-State if you hire the best person you can," Wefald said.

Ed Hammond, president of Fort Hays State University, agreed.

"Kim Wilcox was from KU, and at no time during his years at the regents did I feel he acted in favor of KU," Hammond said. "If anything, he bent over backward to make sure there were no special favors for KU."

'Broader service'

Docking said regents were aware of the potential conflict among universities.

"We questioned Reginald Robinson closely about that perception, of there being too much closeness to KU," Docking said. "He'll work a lot to dispel that notion."

Robinson said he began considering the regents post after he heard Wilcox would return to KU. It fit with a larger goal he had when returning to Kansas from Washington, D.C., he said.

"I wanted to do this thing at KU, but I hoped at some point after my return I'd have some opportunity for broader service to the state," he said.

He said budget issues would dominate the next few years of higher education but that other projects  such as continued efforts to coordinate six state universities, 19 community colleges, 10 technical schools and Washburn University  would continue.

And lobbying the Legislature would be a top priority, Robinson said.

"A lot of folks recognize that K-12 education is important," he said. "K-12 is important, but that's not enough in this economic environment. People need to understand the importance of K through graduate school."

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