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Archive for Thursday, June 3, 2004

Alumni strength

June 3, 2004

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Kansas University has a strong and loyal group of alumni that deserves the best possible leadership in the KU Alumni Association.

Through the years, one of Kansas University's strongest assets has been its alumni. Their loyalty and devotion to the school, as well as their generous financial support, has attracted national attention and been the envy of many other universities.

The KU Alumni Association has played a major role in organizing and directing a multitude of alumni activities and has been looked to as a national leader among alumni associations. Of course, it should be remembered that the success and reputation of any alumni association is determined to a significant degree by the excellence of the institution it represents. It is much easier to have a strong, active, generous alumni association working on behalf of an outstanding university, such as KU, than to generate such enthusiasm for a marginal school. Few public universities enjoy the special relationship KU has with its alumni.

With this in mind, the firing last weekend of Fred Williams as president of the KU Alumni Association probably came as a surprise to a large percentage of KU alumni.

However, there had been growing unhappiness with Williams' leadership for a number of years. Unfortunately, the attitude of many past association officers and directors had been, "We know there are some problems and concerns, but we'll let the next board address these matters." As a result, the problems grew year by year, but there was little, if any, corrective action.

Williams reportedly had a rollover contract -- designed several years ago by a board member -- which obligated the association to pay Williams three additional years of his annual salary if he was terminated. It is believed Williams' rollover contract is the only such contract on the campus other than a few similar commitments within the athletic department. No dean, no faculty member and no administrator has such a financial arrangement.

Association officials are being extremely careful in what they say about the Williams' firing, but various observers say there must have been a particular situation that finally prompted the board to fire Williams.

KU was extremely fortunate to have the excellent services of the late Fred Ellsworth, who served as executive director of the alumni association for 38 years. He was known affectionately as "Mr. KU" for his tireless efforts to build a strong, active alumni association. He was succeeded by Dick Wintermote, who worked in the association for 32 years, 20 as director and secretary-treasurer, before retiring in 1983.

These two men are primarily responsible for building the association into the organization it is today. They took their jobs seriously, and their only goal was to do what they could to help build KU into a finer institution. No egos were involved, and their personal behavior always reflected credit on the school. Ellsworth and Wintermote had only one objective: to do what was in the best interests of the university.

Now that there is a vacancy, the association's national president, Dr. Linda Duston Warren, its vice president, David Wescoe, and the other directors have the responsibility of selecting a truly outstanding individual to step into this important position. This presents a great opportunity for the right person, and several well-known individuals have made it known in recent years they are interested in the job.

Warren, Wescoe and other officers and directors are to be congratulated for their courage in handling the Williams matter. Previous officers and directors had shied away, looking the other way when confronted with concerns about Williams.

The new president should represent the university and association in a top-flight manner but should not be in the hip pocket of the chancellor, the athletic director or any other individual. Former KU chancellor, vice chancellor and biology professor Del Shankel has been asked to fill the association presidency on a temporary basis, and he will do an excellent job.

Now it is time to move to a new chapter of growth and excellence for the association.

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