Archive for Saturday, January 28, 2006

KU lobbying effort fails to resonate with many legislators

January 28, 2006


Kansas University is a fine state-aided university. In fact, it probably ranks among the upper tier of such schools. It enjoys a proud past, and both faculty and students have distinguished themselves in numerous fields. The institution is a great asset for the state of Kansas.

There are so many good things that can be said about the school, and yet, for some reason, this message is not ringing a bell with state legislators. First, there doesn't seem to be the enthusiasm, excitement and sense of electricity found on the campuses of many top universities and, second, state legislators seem to share this lack of enthusiasm when considering state aid for the school.

Something is missing.

Members of the KU Alumni Association board of directors met last week at KU, and after two days on the campus, they left KU excited and enthused about their school. They are sure to return to their respective homes eager to spread the word about KU.

Loyal KU fans usually leave Allen Fieldhouse after a KU win full of Jayhawk spirit and are quick to brag about the team, the coach and the school. This same enthusiasm was very evident after the KU football team's wins over Missouri and Nebraska and, later, after the postseason Fort Worth Bowl.

Sadly, there doesn't seem to be the same, or at least as much, spirit for the university. Sports are great, but isn't the primary purpose of the university to educate and inspire?

Why does KU have such a difficult time selling the school to state legislators, those who control the school's purse strings? Why isn't there greater enthusiasm and excitement around the state for the school?

Granted, more state tax dollars are being appropriated for the university than ever before, but the percentage of the overall operating budget being paid by state money drops every year. Private fiscal support for KU is excellent, and enrollment numbers are at a record level, even with higher tuition costs, but private money, with continually dropping state aid, is not going to move the school into the top tier of state-aided universities. The opportunity is there, but for one reason or another, something is missing.

Who is responsible for getting state lawmakers to realize the potential of KU, its benefit to the state and the importance of appropriate funding?

KU seems to have had a revolving door for its legislative lobbyists. These are the men and women who are supposed to be in daily contact with lawmakers, answering questions, providing information about the school and urging adequate state fiscal support.

For many years, the school's two lobbyists were Marlin Rein and Jon Josserand. Rein was the first to resign his position, and Josserand recently announced he planned to pursue other business/professional activities. Whether these two men left of their own accord or were asked to leave isn't certain.

Josserand carried the major lobbying load by himself for some time but eventually was joined by Janet Murguia. She enjoyed an excellent record before joining the KU team and was hired as a vice chancellor, one of the top positions on campus. She and other members of her family have compiled excellent records. Murguia had been in the Clinton administration, serving in the West Wing as a top adviser to Vice President Al Gore. She is a pro.

And yet things didn't work out and, eventually, the very talented and politically astute Murguia left for Washington, D.C., to become director of the National Council of La Raza, the nation's largest Hispanic advocacy organization.

Now, Josserand is leaving.

Filling the holes are Paul Carttar, executive vice chancellor for external affairs, and Keith Yehle, recently hired as director of government affairs. Carttar came to KU following a fine business career, and Yehle previously served as a senior staff member for Sen. Pat Roberts.

Assisting in the KU lobbying effort will be Kathy Damron of Topeka, a lobbyist who works on a contract basis. She, too, had been a staff member for Sen. Roberts as well as former Gov. Mike Hayden.

Will this group be able to bring about any better results than the school's previous lobbyists? Time will tell, but there must be something else holding back KU's effort to turn on the positive switch with the state's lawmakers.

By the way, the chancellor spends a great deal of time lobbying for KU, along with former state senator David Adkins (now vice chancellor for external affairs at the KU Medical Center), and various Alumni Association officials and student leaders. They all are presenting the KU story to the best of their ability.

The school has hired a professional researcher to assess opinions about the university and has launched a program to establish the "official" Jayhawk mascot, school logo, school colors and official this and that.

But, again, why can't the school come up with the right chemistry to sell its story in Topeka?

Some at KU think they are doing a good job, but some senior state lawmakers question this assessment. Consider the following statements from knowledgeable Topeka lawmakers:

¢"Kansas University is struggling in the eyes of many legislators. There is little 'true love' for KU."

¢"The trust factor is real low; they can't get the comments of that professor of religion out of their craw."

¢"Yehle could do a great deal of good for KU if he is allowed to do what he knows needs to be done. However, clamps have been put on him."

¢"KU is walking a fine line."

¢"They should be focusing on the good things. For example, representatives of the medical school are doing a good job of telling the story of 'Stem Cell 101.'"

¢"Too often, KU lobbyists find themselves in the wrong position. They do not know politics and how to work with lawmakers."

¢"Too often some of those who have represented KU know as much about politics as ¢know about flying to the moon."

¢And, "Kathy is a professional; she knows what she is doing and spends a great deal of time in damage control."

These are exact quotes. There are likely to be those who think KU is doing an excellent job, but if that's the case, why is the school not seeing better results? KU officials will not like hearing this, and they are sure to say that these statements are wrong, misinformed or biased against KU.

Better to hear unfavorable and negative remarks, however, and initiate positive action than to continue to operate in the dark.

As stated at the first of this column, KU is an excellent state-aided school. Some way, the glass ceiling that seems to be holding KU back needs to be shattered so KU can grow to its full potential and be one of the nation's most outstanding state-aided institutions, a model for the rest of the country. This isn't a dream, but a definite, achievable goal.


james bush 12 years, 4 months ago

These few "quotes" appear to be the only evidence,weak at best, that there is a basis for the theme of this article. Does anyone know anything that supports the thesis that the legislature doesn't like KU?

Jamesaust 12 years, 3 months ago

OMG! Comments to a Dolph Simons article. I thought he only spoke TO readers.

Ceallach 12 years, 3 months ago

Maybe the fact that the movers and shakers at KU keep putting the blue in this little blue dot in a red state, has something to do with it. KU administrators and faculty love to loft their liberal bombs at the "common" folk, you know the ones who caint think straight enuf to vote fer John Kerry and therefore should not be allowed to vote at all. KU leaders are constantly berating the citizens of Kansas while at the same time asking for more state money.

Kansans may be dumb, but they aint tupid enuf to keep paying to be insulted.

yourworstnightmare 12 years, 3 months ago

Three major problems plague KU. 1) Most Kansans don't value higher education and academia and in fact are actively opposed to it. This is reflected in the legislature. 2) KU has had on ossified administration that has failed over the years to modernize by supporting research and scholarly activity. KU has focused almost exclusively on teaching, and this is what separates KU from other "energetic" research universities. For example, see the previous article about genetic counseling. KU is just now getting into the act. This is something that should have been done 20 years ago. 3) KU has suffered from drastic budget problems and is just now responding by raising tuition. KU was kept "barefoot and pregnant" for 20 years.

Residents of other states (Iowa and Minnesota) see their research universities as "jewels in the crown". Kansans do not.

Also, while teaching is vital, it is research and scholarly activity that gives research universities energy and success. KU has failed to properly support research, and therefore is behind on this front.

Godot 12 years, 3 months ago

Couldn't agree more. Your editorial is right on point, Dolph, and, gl0ck0wner, your resonse is good.

KSU and the community colleges may well be the educational institutions that save Kansas. KU takes, but does not return. How many graduates of KU stay in Kansas to work or start businesses? How does that compare with the rest of the regents institutions? Where are the stats?

questionme 12 years, 3 months ago

I would like to think that KU graduates are leaving the state because the state does not offer any incentive for them to stay.

Why would an education major want to stay in a state that restricts subject matter and dictates the way in which they must teach?

Why would a science major want to stay in a state that is unwilling to view bioscience and pharmaceutical reaseach as a 'new wave' of income and job creation?

And to be quite honest, my teachers at KU encouraged us to leave the area and create a name for ourselves in the world. Why would you encourage students to stay in their 'comfort zone' and never explore their own true limits. To me, you aren't seeing the entire case of education. Going to a University, such as KU, doesn't just teach you subject matter, it helps to make people grow.

Until the State can give me a reason to stay, I'm out of here.

The_Twelve 12 years, 3 months ago

Most of you are right on the money. I have tried to lobby the legislature as a student, and found them to be rather disinterested. They only view us as students learning a good civics lesson. One staff member (of a legislator who thankfully was defeated, but of the majority party), even had the gall to inform me that I should not be at the university at my age (I am a non-trad). This tradition of non-support began a long time ago, and will take forever to change. Perhaps it has its roots in the populist image of this state, and the mistrust of any type of search for knowledge.

And Hemenway, yes, spends way too much time worrying about athletics, not scholarship.

Too bad no legislators outside the Lawrence area will read these comments--or ever see fit to answer the questions raised.

yourworstnightmare 12 years, 3 months ago

glockownwer makes some good points.

However, I think you will find that most KU administrators are in fact republicans, just not of the stripe that you approve of.

Second, if conservative republicans ever supported the university, their voice there might be stronger. The fact is that conservative republicans generally oppose the university and are often at odds with the goals of a major research university such as KU.

Godot 12 years, 3 months ago

YWN, conservative republicans' opposition to increased funding for KU might stem from the kind of things they hear about KU and Kansas from people like "questionme."

My five children graduated from LHS; four of them have bachelor's degrees; they've all moved out of Kansas. The one who remains in Kansas attended a community college.

We have to find a way to keep our youth here. The endowment associations and the legislature should work with the universities to create scholarships and incentive programs that would help students start new businesses and stay and live in Kansas. Technology is great, but that requires competing with states that have a huge head start in that field. Kansans can create new opportunities in alternative energy and medicine and who knows what else, if our universities would just encourage our kids to stay here and put their education to work.

Would all but the NE corner of Kansas be so conservative if its educated youth had returned to their homes to live and work?

yourworstnightmare 12 years, 3 months ago


Agreed that Kansas needs to find a way to keep its educated youth here. Creating opportunities is the best way, and the State is way behind here. It is getting better, though.

I also think it is incorrect that professionals educated in Kansas leave Kansas. Most doctors and lawyers I know in Kansas were educated at KU. It is possible that many leave, but this might be because there are too few positions for them here.

The case is different in western Kansas, which has a hard time attracting professionals. This is true of rural parts of every state.

Godot 12 years, 3 months ago

YWN, my kids' friends did not stay in Lawrence, either. They view Christmas as a time to reunite in Lawrence and compare notes of their lives in the far corners of the earth, where each and every one of them is making life better where they are....but not here.

If we don't find a way to keep a large percentage of those that we educate in Kansas, in Kansas, our state is doomed.

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