Archive for Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Dreaming of KU excellence

June 11, 2003


I had a strange dream last night. I dreamed that I woke up as I normally do and that I went outside to get the day's copy of the Journal-World to read with breakfast. As I opened the paper on the way back into the house I was struck by the headline on page one: "KU recruits Nobel Prize winner to join faculty! The new recruit says that he came because of the outstanding facilities, the competitive salary and the public enthusiasm for education in Kansas!"

The story included a quote from the chancellor saying that this was only the first of many new faculty and staff who would be recruited using the new funds appropriated by the state Legislature to ensure that Kansas would become one of the best universities in the world. One member of the Kansas House was quoted as saying, "We understand that the future of Kansas lies in an educated populace. We recognize that world class education, from K-12 all the way to graduate and professional levels will ensure that Kansas will be a world center of culture and economic development in the 21st century."

A member of the state Senate put it even more eloquently: "It's time that this state made its academic programs the equal of its athletic programs. There's something wrong with having world-class basketball at KU, football at K-State, and baseball at Wichita State but not providing the funding to put the majority of our academic programs at the same level. We've gone too long in neglecting education. It's time for a change. We need to recognize existing faculty and recruit new faculty and make sure they have the resources to do their best work."

Feeling immensely cheered, if somewhat surprised, by this article, I hurriedly finished my breakfast and drove over to campus to see what other faculty and staff were saying about this amazing development. I couldn't believe it. The streets were lined with trucks delivering computers for faculty and students. When I asked one of the staff members supervising the unloading, she told me that state-of-the-art equipment was going to be provided across campus. Every classroom would be set up for advanced media. Every office would have modern, up-to-date computers.

Indeed, as I walked into my office I was amazed to find that my 7-year-old computer, by now getting a bit worn in keyboard and monitor, had been replaced by a new Pentium 4! As I sat there in my office admiring my new machine I noticed a memorandum on my desk stating that all periodical subscriptions which had been canceled by the library for lack of funds had been restored and that all missing back issues were being ordered as well.

A second memorandum stated that not only would tuition not be raised this year, but that it was being reduced by 20 percent to ensure that no Kansan would be deprived of an education simply because of financial need. Unfortunately, just at that moment, I woke up.

During those first few minutes after I awakened, while in that hazy state somewhere between sleep and consciousness, I wasn't sure whether I had been dreaming or whether things had really changed. I quickly slipped on my clothes and went out to get the paper. For a minute, I actually thought that my dream might have been true. As I glanced at the headline I saw that it referred to a terrific new recruiting triumph for KU! But, then, as my eyes focused, I saw the headline clearly and discovered that our triumph was in recruiting a new athletic director.

Glad for the athletic program, but saddened that academics had not done as well, I went back in and had my breakfast and drove to campus. Everything was normal. The roads were torn up, but there were no trucks delivering new computers. There was still an acute shortage of media classrooms. Tuition was still rising in order to cover basic needs the state would not provide, and the Legislature was still trying to find ways to cut an already bankrupt government.

And my dreams of a new Kansas, filled with happy, educated folks working in new industries brought to Kansas because of our skilled work force and technology transfer evaporated. Sometimes it just doesn't pay to wake up.

-- Mike Hoeflich is a professor in the Kansas University School of Law.

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