Congratulations to Gov. Kathleen Sebelius on her nominations for the Kansas Board of Regents. It appears the governor is intent on following through on her recent observation that she had not given sufficient attention to higher education in Kansas.
Based on the biographies of those she has nominated to this critically important body, the governor is expecting the Board of Regents to take a closer and more critical look at the state's six universities, 19 community colleges and five vocational-technical schools.
The excellence of the regents schools is important in so many ways. The vision and leadership especially of those leading state universities is of utmost importance. State legislators are likely to have much greater respect and acceptance of the board's recommendations concerning state funding if those serving as regents merit lawmakers' respect.
Unfortunately, during the past several years, the regents have not distinguished themselves in terms of their oversight of the higher education system. It is doubtful that any current chancellor or president has really had any reason to worry about whether the regents were monitoring his or her performance or might ask for a certain chancellor or president to step aside.
Being a university chancellor or president should not be looked upon as a lifetime appointment. They should be expected to measure up, just as any other person in control of a multimillion-dollar annual budget who manages thousands of employees and, in this case, plays a significant role in the quality of education students are experiencing.
The image of the Board of Regents has slipped significantly in recent years. Too many were appointed because of their previous political help to a governor (financial or otherwise) or for other personal reasons. As has been noted in previous Journal-World editorials, Sebelius has the opportunity to leave a lasting legacy for the state with the quality of individuals she nominates as regents and the importance she attaches to a superior system of higher education in Kansas.
It's one thing to talk about the importance of higher education and the role of higher education in the state's development but something quite different to demonstrate the true commitment and take the necessary action to bring about the changes.
Sebelius' nominations for the Board of Regents are a promising first step, and it is hoped she will continue to demand better performance from the state universities and those who lead those schools. If she can sustain her current level of interest and concern, she will leave the state's system of higher education far stronger than it was when she took office in 2003.