What's going to happen to the Kansas University School of Fine Arts? What kind of a school will it be five, 10 or 20 years from today? What skills, talents or experience will a new dean bring to the school?
Earlier this week, the School of Fine Arts and members of the school's Fine Arts Advisory Board launched a new awards program that recognized and honored two graduates of the school and two other individuals - all of whom have contributed much to the betterment and reputation of the school, as well as being recognized nationally and internationally for their personal and professional achievements and leadership.
The fine arts graduates honored were Gary Foster of Los Angeles and Phil Risbeck of Fort Collins, Colo. Foster has compiled a superb record as a freelance musician, playing with many of the nation's most accomplished performers. Risbeck is a world-recognized authority on poster art and founder of the acclaimed Colorado International Invitational Poster Exhibit.
The two recipients of the Distinguished Service Awards were Polly Bales of Lawrence and Christina Hixson of Las Vegas. Bales and her late husband, Dane, lived in Logan and have been generous contributors of time and money for the benefit of KU and Kansas. Hixson's vision and leadership of the Lied Foundation has provided funds for the Lied Center of Kansas and the KU Medical Center as well as KU scholarships and other funding for Iowa State and Nebraska universities.
The Wednesday gathering took place only weeks after a search committee reported to the KU provost that it was unable to recommend any candidates to fill the upcoming vacancy in the fine arts dean's office. The search process covered about four months.
The provost asked the search committee to take on the role of a task force to study and consider a possible restructuring of the School of Fine Arts. With this in the minds of many attending the awards program, it was only natural there was much interest, as well as concern, about the future of the school.
What does a "restructuring" of the school mean?
Over the years, the KU School of Fine Arts has compiled a fine record, but just as the chancellor wants championship football and basketball teams, shouldn't the chancellor, provost and other university leaders want each school within the university to be of national championship quality?
The public has been told this week what university officials believe is necessary for KU to continue to be a national basketball powerhouse: a great coach, superb facilities, excellent funding and compensation that places KU coaches near or at the top in their respective fields.
What does it take to make the KU School of Fine Arts a "national champion" or a model for other universities to try to match? What does it take to attract a truly outstanding individual to be the new dean or "coach" of the school? How about improved or new facilities or new strategies for recruiting outstanding fine arts students the same way football and basketball coaches are expected to recruit outstanding "student athletes"?
KU athletic and administrative officials say the university must have the best coaches and facilities to attract the best athletes. Does the same philosophy apply to efforts to build KU's various schools into national powerhouses?
The provost's plan to study a possible restructuring of the school opens all kinds of speculation: Some are wondering whether there is a possibility the school might be rolled into the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. With the acting dean coming from the department of theater and film, is it likely that department will become part of the fine arts school?
Some suggest the "school of fine arts" is too broad a title that encompasses so much that it is difficult to focus on specific areas of excellence. They believe it would be far better to have, for example, a "School of Music and Dance" and/or a "School of Performing Arts and Theater."
There is no way any school of fine arts or music and dance can draw crowds like an NCAA post-season basketball game, but with a great dean, internationally known faculty, great students and great facilities, it would be possible to attract superior students and to draw large crowds to hear various performances.
What would KU have to do to have the nation's No. 1 school of fine arts or school of music and dance five, 10 or 15 years from now - best in the nation in leadership and faculty, the best facilities and McDonald's All-American-type fine arts students?
Wednesday evening, a highly respected KU fine arts faculty member told this writer, "There are going to be a lot of upset, angry people over the changes which are likely to be made."
Complacency is a dangerous and deadly disease whether it's in a school of fine arts or most any other endeavor.
KU's School of Fine Arts has a fine record and the careers of Gary Foster, Phil Risbeck and hundreds of others offer excellent evidence of the school's talented students and the motivation and inspiration provided by talented faculty members.
KU athletic and administrative officials realize they have an excellent base on which to try to build an even stronger future. Any "restructuring" they might consider is more a matter of building on the past and making it even better.
It would seem wise to approach the future of the School of Fine Arts in the same manner. Build on its past record of excellence with the goal of making it even better, in fact, one of the best in the country!