Archive for Saturday, February 4, 2006

Simons: Regents must be prepared to fill university leadership posts

February 4, 2006


The recent announcement by Emporia State University President Kay Schallenkamp that she intends to leave her post in Emporia for a similar position at Black Hills State University in South Dakota raises an interesting and important matter relative to higher education in Kansas.

Do members of the Kansas Board of Regents have any succession plan for the chancellor and presidents of the state's universities?

Education is a huge business in Kansas with hundreds of millions of dollars allocated to the institutions every year. Tens of thousands of students depend on the chancellor and presidents to devise the plan of education that will best prepare them to become active, productive members of society, well trained in many fields and hopefully with a well-balanced appreciation for ethics and character.

It is a huge responsibility and calls for top-flight men and women heading up the respective institutions and a Board of Regents that demands superior performance from the chancellor and presidents. Over the years, the state has been well served by a majority of college chief executives.

Do regents merely wait for someone to retire, or do they maintain a current list of possible candidates so that, when a vacancy occurs, they are ready to seek the very best individual as a replacement? Conversely, do regents have the backbone and courage to fire a chancellor or president if they don't measure up?

There is no mandatory retirement age now that the age discrimination law is in effect, so a chancellor or president can remain in office as long as she or he desires and the regents' expectations are met.

The age of current university leaders is as follows: Kansas State University President Jon Wefald, 68; Kansas University Chancellor Robert Hemenway, 64; Wichita State University President Donald Beggs, 64; Pittsburg State University President Tom Bryant, 66; and Fort Hays State University President Edward Hammond, 61.

They all work hard, but it is a tough job. They are well compensated, although not nearly as generously as coaches and athletic directors, but a successful career as a college leader often leads to attractive offers to fill other jobs or board positions.

Wefald should be exhausted after 20 years on the job. He arrived in Manhattan in 1986 after a successful tenure in Minnesota and has done an excellent job for Kansas State. He didn't do it by himself, but K-State's enrollment slide was stopped during his tenure and enrollment is at a record high. The school's endowment program was revitalized, the football team jumped from one of the nation's worst to one of the nation's best, and he has been able to get the national spotlight focused on KSU in a number of ways.

The latest was the school's ability to host a visit by President Bush, who delivered a major address as part of the Landon Lecture Series. These have been good times for Kansas State. Wefald has fought a good fight in regaining and revitalizing the school's spirit, but he must be tired.

Whether or not he gives any thought to retirement, only he knows, but regents should be thinking about what kind of person they hope to attract to replace Wefald. The same reasoning applies to all other university leaders.

How long should a college chancellor or president remain in office? There is no magic answer. Do they burn out after so many years of struggling with regents, legislators, alumni, sports fanatics, editors, students, faculty and others?

If a chancellor or president has done a fine job for a university and would like to step aside, is there a chance for an "emeritus" position to be created for him or her? Or would the new chancellor or president much prefer to do the job without a former leader looking over his or her shoulder?

This is not meant to point a finger at any particular chancellor or president, but it is a challenging and tiring job, and the record shows tougher and younger men and women are being selected to fill these important jobs around the country.

It's a young person's game, requiring an individual who is smart with a superior academic background that merits the respect of his or her faculty. More and more successful college leaders are known for their ability to lead and motivate and for being powerful, stimulating, persuasive speakers. These days, the ability to be a successful money-raiser is an essential skill. He or she must be a good "people person," an individual who not only is an outstanding educator and leader of the faculty but also a person who is comfortable in most any type of crowd or audience. It also helps to be well-liked.

The leaders of the state's two largest universities are 64 and 68. All five remaining leaders are older than 60. How much longer will they want to serve, and have the regents given any thought to the possibility of several vacancies opening up within a relatively short time?

What will the state have to offer, and how attractive will a Kansas university leadership position appear to top-tier candidates compared to what they are offered at other state-aided or private schools?

Is Kansas prepared to compete for the best?


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