The chancellor went on offense -- and had some fun -- in two major speeches this weekend.
It has been a challenging and stressful year for Kansas University. But Chancellor Robert Hemenway wrapped up the contentious 2002-2003 academic season with two addresses -- sometimes serious and sometimes joking -- that received high praise from the students, faculty, friends and alumni in his audiences.
Last Friday at the school's All-University Supper and Sunday at the university's 131st commencement ceremonies, Hemenway touted and defended academic freedom and the right of faculty members to be free to pursue truth in their research and classrooms without fear of political reprisal from the state. He didn't pull any punches in taking on state Sen. Susan Wagle for her attacks on a KU faculty member for his controversial manner of teaching human sexuality.
Hemenway didn't hesitate in associating the Kansas senator with the late Sen. Joseph McCarthy and Soviet leader Josef Stalin.
"Nothing," Hemenway said, "threatens academic freedom more than a faculty having to look over its shoulders to see if Big Brother is watching."
In lighter comments at commencement, he joked about the length of the ceremony, the likelihood that few of those graduating would remember what he had to say and advice about money and how he realized "you don't have much of it now, but there is at least an 18 percent chance you will have money someday. There is a 100 percent chance that your family thinks you'll earn some money."
Hemenway received enthusiastic applause and standing ovations at both presentations. Those in his audiences were strong, loyal and enthusiastic supporters of KU and were pleased to see their chancellor on the offense, taking a strong, positive position on academic freedom.
It should be remembered, however, there are many in the state devout in their support of Wagle and that a good many Kansans share, to a certain degree, her concern about what is being taught at KU -- and the tone and direction of the administration. They are not going away.
In the meantime, KU supporters should be pleased with Hemenway's two presentations and hope he continues to present the KU mission in a strong, powerful and effective manner.