Newspaper sports pages these days are carrying many stories about this or that football player receiving recognition as the best of this or best of that.
Coaches are honored for being coach of the year of their respective conferences, and eventually there will be a coach of the year based on a group of sports writers or fellow coaches believing he has done the best job in guiding his team.
Likewise, there will be an All-American team of players, selected by various judges and a Heisman Trophy awarded to an individual who is supposed to be the best football player in the nation.
Employment contracts for many college coaches today call for coaches to receive financial bonuses if their teams are selected for a bowl appearance or win a league or national championship, if a certain percentage of his players make their grades or get a degree, if the program is not cited for various NCAA rules infractions and many other special incentives.
Aside from attracting national attention and, thereby, the attention of professional scouts and possibly multimillion-dollar contracts, players don't get much out of being recognized as one of the best at a specific position.
The point of this is to call attention to another group of individuals at Kansas University who are truly "all-American" in their respective fields. Unfortunately, the university doesn't brag about them as much as athletic departments hype their star athletes and winning coaches.
Those who disagree with this viewpoint will say, "What are you talking about? We have all kinds of awards recognizing superior teachers such as the Kemper teaching awards that carry a nice cash reward. There are awards voted on by students for those they think are the best teachers and there are the Higuchi awards, which carry a great deal of weight and a nice monetary award."
All this is correct, but ask "X" number of students at the intersection of Jayhawk Boulevard and Sunflower Road on the KU campus or individuals at the intersection of Ninth and Massachusetts streets in downtown Lawrence or the busiest intersections in Topeka, Kansas City, Wichita or Salina to name any KU faculty member who has been designated a "distinguished professor." Compare the number of correct answers with the response to a similar question about the names of any starters on KU teams - or the names of the head football or basketball coaches. The public is not as aware of good, all-American teachers as they are about a player who can dunk a basketball or throw a touchdown pass.
Those designated as distinguished professors at KU, Kansas State and Wichita State have attained the highest academic rank at their respective schools. According to a brochure that lists the distinguished professors, these faculty members "are recognized as educational leaders who have achieved excellence as scholars and researchers."
And yet, how much does the public know about these truly outstanding faculty members, many recognized as world leaders in their fields. Why don't KU, KSU and WSU officials make more of an effort to put the spotlight on these men and women, point out their importance to the state and the excellence they provide for the universities?
If a football or basketball coach is rewarded for winning games, staying out of trouble with the NCAA, having a certain percentage of players stay academically eligible or graduate, why shouldn't there be fiscal rewards for faculty members who attain membership in top professional societies, have papers published by national review committees or bring in a certain amount of research dollars?
Is there any cash incentive for a faculty member receiving a Nobel prize? How about a system to reward faculty members whose students attain national and international prominence?
KU alumni and friends have every right to be proud of coaches and team members who achieve recognition for their excellence and performance and the attention such performances generate for the school and the state.
Why not devote an equal amount of attention to promoting and recognizing the academic side of the university? How many individuals are involved in promoting KU's athletic program compared with the number of people promoting the academic side of the university? How about the money spent to promote sports vs. the dollars spent to tell the academic story?
KU has many world-class faculty members and yet the public is not sufficiently aware or appreciative of this excellence. Perhaps the media is partially at fault for not doing a better job in telling this story, but the university is dropping the ball in not focusing enough attention on the quality of its faculty.
The results of such an effort might be surprising. State legislators might be more supportive of increased funding for certain programs or for the entire university. Alumni and friends might be inclined to be more generous in their fiscal support. Such an environment might attract more highly talented and skilled faculty members, and increased numbers of superior young men and women might elect to enroll at KU for their college education rather than leave the state for college and post-graduate work.
Why not give it a try?