Archive for Saturday, March 10, 2007

Simons: Regents oversight of state universities should be stronger

March 10, 2007


The cover story in this week's U.S. News and World Report shows a young man wearing a mortarboard with a price tag of $133,000, along with the headline "Is College Worth It? Besides a degree, are you really getting what you paid for?"

The magazine devotes considerable space to the question of how well America's colleges and universities are measuring up in their efforts to have young men and women leave their respective schools smarter or better informed than they were when they arrived. It's a tough question, and, as might be expected, there is great disagreement within the academic community, as well as among the general public, as to what results should be expected from a costly college education.

The same question of whether a college education is worth the cost could be asked in a different way about the Kansas Board of Regents. How much do these men and women know about the operations and excellence of the state's "regents schools"? They are charged with "the control and operation of the public institutions of higher learning in Kansas," but how much do they really know about the schools they are supposed to oversee?

Based on the current, embarrassing mess at the Kansas University Medical Center, it is fairly obvious the regents have been asleep on the job, don't care what is going on or have total confidence in Chancellor Robert Hemenway and the other presidents to always do the right thing and not bother the regents with the details.

It's probably a combination of all three and, consequently, the state universities and Kansas taxpayers are being shortchanged by a lazy or uninterested Board of Regents.

It's time for Gov. Kathleen Sebelius to realize the important role of the regents and appoint men and women to this body who command the respect of knowledgeable Kansas residents, state legislators and those on the various campuses. It's not a place for a governor to hand out appointments as IOUs or payoffs for political help.

Hemenway and Executive Vice Chancellor Barbara Atkinson have been engaged in a behind-the-scenes plan to give away the brand name of KU medical school and, in the process, probably do significant damage to the school, the KU Hospital and the state.

Unfortunately, both Hemenway and Atkinson have been less than honest and forthright about playing their game. They have not told the whole story to medical center and hospital faculty members, and they were not straightforward, during early talks, with state legislators who have the responsibility of making sure state property and facilities are handled properly. They did not explain the plan to regents until too late in the game, and they have not been open with the public.

They claim they would not stand for anything that would harm the university, the medical school or the hospital, but they have participated in meetings since last summer that would weaken the medical school. Their arguments that KU needs to affiliate with St. Luke's to get the additional doctors it needs and additional cancer patients to justify the National Cancer Center designation, that a March 31 deadline is crucial to the deal and other justifications all are weak and hollow.

It's puzzling, as well as disappointing, that these two senior officials would not be more concerned about the long-range welfare of their school rather than being willing to jump to the wishes of a handful of powerful Kansas City business and philanthropic leaders. There is an ugly arrogance by those trying to jam their plan down the throats of those at KU Hospital and some at the medical school who are questioning or opposing the plan.

Atkinson now acknowledges that an agreement already has been reached with St. Luke's, in effect telling state lawmakers she really doesn't care about any concerns they may have. She and her handful of supporters intend to move ahead on the hijacking of the medical school, regardless of the negative fallout. Reports indicate Atkinson and Hemenway may have made commitments they cannot honor. Some indicate the chancellor and executive vice chancellor are increasingly nervous that their plan is starting to unravel.

Where are the regents? Don't they wonder what is going on? Obviously, some regents don't care. When questioned about what is going on at the medical center, former Regents Chairman Dick Bond said he didn't think it was the role of regents to micromanage the universities. He said he relied on the chancellor to do the right thing.

What does it take for the regents to be interested if the transactions the chancellor and Atkinson have been promoting don't get their attention? If selling off or weakening the medical school or selling KU Hospital, as has been suggested by one state senator, does not merit the regents' attention, what does? If the state is looking for ways to pay the repair bills on university campuses, why not sell the KU School of Law's brand name and accompanying academic rights to Washburn University? Maybe the KU School of Business could be sold to the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Two very senior and nationally recognized faculty members are leaving the KU medical school, and there may be more. Officers of KU Hospital have sent a formal message to state legislators, saying they oppose the proposed action. Atkinson turned down a commitment from KU Hospital for $400 million over a 10-year period in favor of a nebulous offer of about $150 million from some Kansas City individuals and about $100 million from St. Luke's in exchange for 100 residents a year for 10 years.

Millions upon millions of dollars and the strength and reputation of the medical school are at stake, and Bond and other regents don't think they need to get involved. Where is Reggie Robinson, the president of the Board of Regents? Can't he get the attention of the nine men and women who serve as regents?

Based on various reports, the regents don't demand much from the chancellor and presidents. In fact, some say there is far too much "window dressing" at the regents offices. A chancellor or president appears before the regents to deliver what might be called a "state of the university" message once a year when regents conduct performance reviews of the top officials, and that's about it. It is understood there are few, if any, established goals, no comparisons to regional or national standards or other detailed, well-founded standards to measure how well the state's universities are being run or the success of their academic programs. Few proactive policies are advanced.

Consider the $600 million repair bill facing the state on the campuses of the regents universities. How could regents have allowed this situation to get to this stage? Granted, the Legislature has played a role, but so have the chancellor, the presidents and the regents.

If the regents, chancellor and presidents had more clout, more respect and more leadership, they would have marshaled public support, told their story and, one way or another, initiated a plan to solve the situation.

There are nine individuals serving on the Board of Regents. The governor makes the appointments. Former Gov. Bill Graves had an opportunity to bring about a major change in the image of the regents with the caliber of individuals he appointed to this important body. He did little.

The terms of three current regents expired last June and three more expire next June. Some of these regents have served just one term and are eligible for another four-year term, and others have completed their second term and can't be reappointed.

After making those six appointments, Sebelius will have appointed or reappointed all nine members of the next Board of Regents. This body has a tremendous long-term impact, not only on state universities but also on the welfare and growth of the state. It's all controlled by Sebelius.

If the current regents system is flawed - as indicated by recent boards and their inability, weakness or passive manner and inability to be a positive, visionary force for higher education - then maybe it's time to take a look at how the regents are structured and the role the board plays.

It should not be a political circus. The governor must give serious attention to those she appoints. This same reasoning applies to other bodies over which the governor can exercise great power, such as the KU Hospital Authority. A governor, if he or she desires, can pack a board as a way to influence its actions. The state deserves something better, and the KU Hospital Authority may be a target of Sebelius, who would like to influence the board's actions.

Again, look at the medical center and KU Hospital mess and the $600 million repair bill at state universities as just two examples of an irresponsible or careless performance by the Board of Regents.

Sebelius has an opportunity right now to demonstrate just now committed she is to building a powerful, respected, courageous, independent Board of Regents for the good of our state universities as well as the state as a whole.


not_dolph 11 years, 2 months ago

Bravo! Simons doesn't even begin to capture the angst of the legislature in this article. There is no one at the wheel at the Regents, and this type of mess proves it.

rhd99 11 years, 2 months ago

WHY is it necessary to for KUMC to partner up with St. Luke's health system in K.C.? Sounds to me like the legislature does not give a damn about our medical center anymore, otherwise, they would be SCRAMBLING in their cozy offices in Topeka trying to find the right formula mixture that would pay for PROPERLY funding higher education & Building repairs for the tax payers of KANSAS, NOT MISSOURI! We have one rivalry in athletics, does that need to be spilled over into ACADEMICS?! WAKE UP, Wagle, & CRONIES!

Godot 11 years, 2 months ago

You go, Dolph! You are on the right track here.

Take this one step further: after KU Hospital has been weakened by the affiliation with St Lukes, it will be easier for the Stowers Institute to acquire it.

Sebelius has to support this sacrifice of KU Hospital in order to earn future contribution from the deep pockets in Kansas City, and, no doubt, pay back the ones that she has already received.

Question: Now that you are beginning to see Sebelius for the politically ambitious person that she is, do you now regret your endorsement of her in the last election?

ed 11 years, 2 months ago

This post must have really excited you, cool. 3 posts in 1 hour. And Not-Dolph... you're not Dolph... or are you?

Dolph, you are looking about this the wrong way.

In the real world, we determine the success of an employee based on their performance. KUMC and KU Hopital have had an excellent track record. Just because you are unhappy with the chancellor and regents handling of this specifc issue doesn't mean that they are doing a bad job.

In the real world, we get rid of people who show apathy. In this case, we have leaders at KUMC and KU Hospital that passionately care about what they are doing. These people are intelligent. They'll work through the issues. They both want what is best for their institution.

The reason this has boiled into a mess is because KU Hospital and KUMC have different agendas. KUMC wants to be a top academic institution, and KU Hospital wants to be the largest and most profitable hospital in Kansas City. Unfortunately, this created a conflict of interst.

The idea of selling KU Hospital arose out of this conflict. It still may not be a bad idea, because it would fix this conflict of interest. This conflict is not the regents fault.

Your article lacks facts and logic. In the future, please use facts and logic to back up your opinion; otherwise, your writing is just meaningless rhetoric. The US News & World report reference, which asks if the high price of education is still worth it, has nothing to do with the article you wrote. I think it can be proven that the cost of attending KUMC is worth it, but that's another story.

rhd99 11 years, 2 months ago

So, Ed, KU Hospital & KUMC are NOT one in the same? How? They both are State of Kansas properties. What is the advantage of KU Hospital partnering with St. Luke's? Can you or someone please tell me why this is now a over arching issue for the Legislature now when it never was in the past?

ed 11 years, 2 months ago

I just read a much better UNBIASED recap of the current situation:

I also just read that Dolph Simons is the grandson of one of the founders of LJWorld. I am surprised that he would write such strong editorials. It is very interesting to read his views, but his rhetoric is so biased... and he owns LJWorld? I feel bad for those who subscribe to his paper for the "news."

ed 11 years, 2 months ago


The LJWorld has painted a very biased view of this issue. The situation is actually very complicated. It is so complicated that most people that work at KU Hospital and KUMC don't care about it. My wife works at KU Hospital, and she doesn't really care what happens. I think she, like most people, understand both arguments, but just doesn't know which way is the right way.

KU Hospital and KUMC are symbiotic organizations. It is very convoluted how they are divided, and it took me a long time to understand it in detail. Basically, KU Hospital is a for-profit organization owned by the state, and KUMC is the academic non-profit organization. The two organizations have different leaders and boards. KU Hospital's goal is more short term oriented and responsive to the local Kansas City, KS community. For example, KU Hospital picks up the bill on $100 million of uninsured healthcare for in-state and out-of-state citizens in the area. KUMC is more long term oriented and looks at where the University needs to be in 10-20 years. For example, it is striving to gain a National Cancer Institute designation from the NIH to improve healthcare in the state. This symbiotic relationship, which was formed in 1998 (i think) has worked out very well until now. The 10 year anniversary has arrived, and it is time to renegotiate the contracts. Both sides want different things, and through arbitration, the two sides should be able to work everything out.

There are advantages and disadvantages of KUMC partnering with St Luke's. I will list both here for you to decide:

ed 11 years, 2 months ago

KUMC and Barbara Atkinson's viewpoint: -Collaboration will give students and faculty more experience. In theory, more experience leads to a better education, and in the long term better health care. -St Luke's has a top non-profit Cancer Center in the region. Collaboration will help KUMC become a National Cancer Institute. This will bring increased cancer funding to the state.

-KU could gain great professors from this. St Luke's is Kansas City's second largest hospital, and has some sharp doctors. Many are willing to take faculty appointments at KUMC. -There is also an economic advantage. Additional collaboration will bring additional NIH funding and private grants into the state... somewhere in the hundreds of millions.

KU Hospital and Irene Cumming's viewpoint: -The deal gives St Luke's 100 residents / fellows. St. Luke's will pay $100,000 per resident. This "cheap labor" is one of the few things that gives KU Hospital a competitive advantage. Many people ask if the residents will be taken away from KU Hospital, but the answer is that the residents will be recruited in addition to the current residents that KU Hospital has now. -KU Hospital has invested a lot in the KU Hospital brand name. KU Hospital doesn't want St Luke's to be able to use this brand name. -KU Hospital takes care of $100 million of uninsured health care issues per year. She needs a competitive advantage to pay for this big cost. -KU Hospital is a for-profit organization, and it is improtant to make a good profit, for the benefit of taxpayers.

As you can see, both sides have valid reasons to be upset. KUMC is fighting to improve health care for Kansans in the long term and improve the academic standing of KUMC. KU Hospital is fighting to make as much profit as possible for the benefit of taxpayers. Both leaders are judged based on their performance, and both leaders want to do the best thing for their institution. This is what has led to this conflict of interest. Will selling KU Hospital solve this issue? Maybe. Maybe not.

As you can tell from what I have written in the past, I believe that the long term benefit of KUMC is more important than the short term benefit of KU Hospital. But that is just my personal opinion. Would you rather give a hungry man a fish, or teach him to fish? It's a hard question to answer. You're damned if you do and damned if you don't.

Godot 11 years, 2 months ago

Wow, an insider posting on the LJW. Do you get paid for weekend work, ed?

Godot 11 years, 2 months ago

And, more germaine, ed, are you paid by the taxpayers to lobby on a public forum for your entity's agenda?

Godot 11 years, 2 months ago

or, ed, are you an employee of the Hall, Hockaday, Stowers consortium?

Godot 11 years, 2 months ago

Dig a little deeper, and surely you will find Bloch money in this, as well.

Godot 11 years, 2 months ago

Maybe Kaufman, and Watson, who knows?

middleoftheroad 11 years, 2 months ago

ed-the reasons you've mentioned are exactly why I do not pay for the LJW because you don't get what you pay for. You pay for news but instead you get opinions from someone who has taken power to a whole new level. And it is very disturbing that the person writing this owns the establishment. One would hope that someone in that position would be a little more responsible and get facts, then write.

This type of thinking is exactly what's wrong with KS. How can anyone expect a board to know more about higher education than those who actually have degrees in higher ed. If anyone knew anything, the BOR would have LESS control of the 6 institutions and then we would have a functioning system instead of the laughing-stock we have now.

ed 11 years, 2 months ago


As I mentioned, my wife works at KU Hospital.

FYI, among people that have opinions at KU, I think it is very divided. There is no agenda or conspiracy like you are trying to create. I have just tried to post the facts and my own personal opinion so that everybody can make an educated decision based on facts and not emotion. Unfortunately, I am not a good writer, so I may actually be just making things worse.

If I told you what I did, I don't think you'd believe me anyway.

The reason I post here is because this is one of the few places I can post my opinions about this.

The reason I read about KUMC and KU Hospital is because my wife works there, and I like to be able to have intelligent discussion with her about her work.

To answer your other questions.

I am not paid by taxpayers to lobby on a public forum. I am not employed by Hall, Hockaday, Stowers, Kauffman, Watson or Bloch.

I didn't know Bloch had involvement in this issue at all. Nor Kauffman. And who is Watson?

Anyway, if you would like to have an intelligent debate about this, I would love to discuss this issue. If you just want to claim that I am part of a conspiracy theory, then I guess there isn't much I can say.

Linda Aikins 11 years, 2 months ago

Has he even talked with Reggie to see what the Regents think? Has he set in any of the Regents' Board meetings? Interviewed any of them? Mad because none of the Simons are on the BOR? Or is he just blowing because he can.

I think it's two women with big egos wanting their way. And the lord help anyone who gets between them.

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