Kansas State University's planned move into Johnson County is a win-win venture for the state, not an encroachment on Kansas University's turf, the heads of both schools say.
"Protective turfs are no longer," K-State President Jon Wefald said, describing higher education in a globalized world. "The world is just different now."
Wefald joined Kansas Bioscience Authority members and others last week in announcing plans to develop a campus for research and academic programs on 40 acres on College Boulevard in Olathe. The campus would be part of a 90-acre plot donated by the city of Olathe and shared with the Bioscience Authority.
It has been hailed as a major advancement for Johnson County and the state. And it is a big step for K-State.
"It's a significant change in terms of doing more in the Kansas City area," said Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence.
KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway said he heard about the plans for the site two or three days before the announcement.
Wefald "gave me a call and told me about it," he said. "I didn't think about it one way or the other. I really don't see this as a competitive situation at all."
The campus could give K-State a significant foothold in Johnson County, not far from KU's Edwards Campus.
Olathe Mayor Michael Copeland said the city wanted a major research university presence for years. He said planners approached K-State with the idea and have been working with the institution for more than a year. The plan would not be possible without Bioscience Authority Chairman Clay Blair, he said.
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"Finally the stars aligned just perfectly," Copeland said. "We had to find the right piece of ground. We had to find the right partners. We had to find the right commitment for development."
The Kansas Board of Regents has literally carved up the state, marking jurisdiction lines for Regents institutions.
The western portion is Fort Hays State and K-State territory, with the central portion set for Wichita State and Emporia State and the eastern end for Pittsburg State and KU.
According to the Regents' policy manual, institutions in a particular area have the primary responsibility of meeting the needs of the area and take precedence over other Regents institutions.
"Certainly KU would have to give permission to Kansas State to enter their designated area," Regent Dick Bond said. "Certainly if someone wants to come into another university's region, they need to have the permission of the person whose region it is."
Though many details need to be worked out, K-State leaders envision a site with a $30 million research building focused on food safety and security, food systems and animal health. Wefald said K-State won't ask the state for money because he knows it's not likely they would get any. Instead, he envisions gathering private funds, grants and federal support.
The campus also could offer graduate programs in forensic science, animal health and other areas.
But the campus won't duplicate what KU currently offers, Wefald said.
"When it comes to KU and K-State, we want to cooperate," he said. "We do. Bob Hemenway is one of my best friends. We've been working with them for years and years."
Wefald acknowledged there are university jurisdictions.
"I would say that that still exists and that KU just kind of, you know, waived it," he said. "I think that they just felt that this could be a win-win for everyone."
Institutions do stretch beyond their borders for various programs. There is a KU School of Medicine site in Wichita, for example, with a recent expansion there of a KU pharmacy program.
Importance of biosciences
Hemenway said it's unclear at this point whether territorial issues will manifest in the Johnson County K-State situation.
"I wasn't at the press conference," he said. "All they were announcing was some land had been given to K-State. ... We'll just have to wait and see what the implications of all of this are."
But, Hemenway said, this isn't like a football rivalry.
"The biosciences are way too important to the state of Kansas for anybody to be entering into a competition about," he said.
The announcement of K-State's plans also preceded any discussion about such a campus with the full Board of Regents.
"This is an economic development proposal by the city of Olathe," Bond said. "The Regents have no authority over mayors and city managers and economic community development gurus."
Bond said the plans are preliminary at this point.
"They don't have a building," he said. "They don't have permission from KU yet. Other than that, they're about ready to ring the school bell."
Bond said he supports the idea, but at this point it is an "announcement of a hope" by the city of Olathe, and the Regents won't do anything about a hope until they see the specifics.
"I don't think Wefald or anybody else is prepared to say how this could happen, when it could happen, how it could be funded and what is going to be the nature of the institution," he said. "That's all yet to be defined, if it happens."