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Archive for Saturday, May 17, 2003

Team effort

May 17, 2003

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Now's the time for KU and KSU to rally, stick together and win a vital war.

People such as Kansas State University President Jon Wefald and Kansas University Chancellor Robert Hemenway cannot be blamed if they sound like broken records to some who have followed higher education financing.

They have "cried wolf," so to speak, for so many years that sometimes their pleas, sadly, fall on deaf ears.

A recent news release from Manhattan featured this basic premise: Inadequate salaries in the past and no increases at all last year have created major problems for faculty recruitment, retention and morale at KSU, according to Wefald. "KU" and "Hemenway" could be inserted in that evaluation and be just as accurate.

Wefald goes on:

"State budget cuts have compounded a problem that was already serious. For many years, salaries at Kansas State University have ranked at or near the bottom when compared to other land grant institutions in the region and the nation. The absence of increases -- or very small increases -- makes a bad situation worse. It is important that the Legislature and the Kansas Board of Regents take swift and effective action in spring 2004 to reverse this damaging trend."

KSU Provost James Coffman adds: "It is clear we need to take this message to the policy- and decision-makers at the state level, especially as competing states begin to recover economically. We must find ways to stem the rising tide of low morale, high turnover and inability to hire new faculty brought on by the chronically low salary increases for faculty and staff."

Wefald says (and KU's Hemenway could say exactly the same): "If higher education in Kansas is to reverse and correct this trend, then administration, faculty, staff and students in all our universities must join together to make salary increases a high priority. A failure for all parties to provide effective leadership and for a collaborative partnership by all groups will create major problems for future generations of Kansans."

That same basic message has been delivered year after year by people such as Wefald and Hemenway. Seldom has the state of Kansas funded its schools as well as it should have, even in "fatter" years. Some, in fact, might chuckle at the sameness of such appeals, to the point they are inclined to stress there will always be a brain drain, morale problems and fears for the future.

But even though those appeals may have been accurate and relevant in the past, they are even more vital this year. State funds are scarcer than ever, the recent Legislature did not measure up on its responsibilities to the field of education, and there are many serious problems that have been building for some time.

The one factor that prevents a panic situation is that other schools are fighting the same battles and too often are losing. So faculty flight may not be what it once was, and job-eager staff members may be more inclined to accept lesser pay and benefits. That doesn't do much for morale, of course.

But keep in mind Wefald's warning about what will happen when surrounding states begin to recover economically and begin to boost their educational budgets accordingly. Will Kansas be able to compete with the "opposition" or will it continue to be hurt, as it clearly is now?

To be sure, the Wefalds and Hemenways have talked the same way for many years. But this time there is clearly a "wolf" in the neighborhood and KU and KSU would do well to get everyone involved in trying to kill or at least chase off this predator.

The two schools have their various rivalries, but this is one battle, actually a war, they must rally and win together. Lose, and everyone gets hurt.

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