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Archive for Saturday, August 16, 2003

Setting high standards

KU’s top official says school positioned for future challenges

August 16, 2003

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Robert Hemenway couldn't have anticipated the highest-profile challenges that faced Kansas University the past year.

The KU chancellor was faced with replacing the athletic director and men's basketball coach, fighting off an attack on a human sexuality class and dealing with midyear budget cuts.

"In the world of a university, things are going to happen that you don't expect," Hemenway said. "A number of challenges presented themselves, and will next year. But I feel the university is very well-positioned to go into the future."

Hemenway's often-mentioned goal at KU, where he's been chancellor since 1995, has been to catapult the university to the top 25 among public universities. U.S. News & World Report, one of the key rankings, put KU 41st last year.

Hemenway, 62, said the Office of Institutional Research and Planning at KU this year will develop criteria for measuring KU's progress toward the top-25 goal.

"Our overriding goal for the University of Kansas is to be the best public university in the country," he said. "That's the goal we start off with every day."

In some ways, KU already ranks highly. The university had 11 faculty members win Fulbright grants to study abroad last year, the most of any university in the nation.

And Hemenway points to individual achievements -- such as student Robert Chamberlain, who won a Rhodes scholarship, and professor Jared Grantham, who won an international kidney research prize -- as examples of excellence.

"That's the nature of KU," he said. "We're a nationally and internationally competitive university."

Kansas University Chancellor Robert Hemenway is entering his ninth
year as KU chancellor. He's seen here at the Malott Gateway at 15th
and Iowa streets.

Kansas University Chancellor Robert Hemenway is entering his ninth year as KU chancellor. He's seen here at the Malott Gateway at 15th and Iowa streets.

He also cited rising ACT scores among first-time freshmen. Thirty percent of freshmen last fall scored 27 or higher on the ACT or the equivalent on the SAT. Nationally, only 13 percent of students score 27 or above. The average ACT score among freshmen was 24.3, the highest of any school in Kansas and above the national average of 22.

"Academically, I think the university is in the strongest position it's been in, both with the quality of students and the quality of faculty," Hemenway said.

Perhaps the highest-profile success the past year was the basketball team's run to the national championship game.

"At a place like the University of Kansas, athletics becomes a metaphor for the success of the institution," Hemenway said. "Is athletic success important? Yes, but athletic success isn't important in and of itself. It's important because it's a symbol for what else is going on at the university. There's a lot of success at KU outside the athletic department."

Budget woes

Hemenway said KU has handled the state budget crisis well. The state cut $18.8 million from KU's budget last year. The Kansas University Endowment Association also will cut its contributions to the university this year because of a weak stock market.

Meanwhile, large tuition increases are helping counteract the cuts.

"That presented a number of challenges to us," he said. "Tuition enabled us to have more funding at a time when there were severe budget constraints. We're operating much more efficiently than we have before."

The $500 million KU First campaign at the Endowment Association also is adding to the university's coffers. So far, more than $404 million has been raised.

"To me, that's a great tribute to KU alumni and the achievement of former KU students," the chancellor said. "People are saying, 'We believe in the university enough to write a check for private support.' It says, 'We like the direction the university is heading.'"

Hemenway said he was encouraged by the fact the Legislature didn't cut additional funds from KU's budget during their session this spring.

"I'm paid to be optimistic," he said. "I realize that, looking back, there were challenges. But we had a strong possibility to have more funding cut and be a year when not a lot of strides were made."

As he starts his ninth year as chancellor, Hemenway said he still enjoys his job every day.

"I know there's always potential in a job to get burned out," he said. "I've never worried at all about being burned out. Frankly, I thrive on the day-to-day activity. It's a chance to make an impact at the university."

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