Being the chancellor of a major state-aided university is a tough, mentally and physically challenging job. The average tenure of a chancellor or university president these days is between five and six years.
Robert Hemenway announced Monday he intends to step down from the Kansas University chancellorship effective next June after 14 years in this high-pressure position.
Hemenway, 67, came to Mount Oread from senior positions at the University of Kentucky, and prior to that, the University of Oklahoma. He is bound to be tired.
He has done a good job for KU. In fact, in a recent survey about the state of the university, KU alumni and friends said the school had enjoyed successful years recently, both athletically and academically, but they were concerned about the future and the vision and leadership of the institution.
Hemenway will be leaving the chancellor’s office with the best wishes and appreciation of those interested in the welfare of the school. He is a good man who has conducted himself in a manner that reflects credit on the university.
He is well thought of by his peers, as evidenced by his recent service on the National Collegiate Athletic Association board and as a member of the executive committee of the American Association of Universities.
It always is better to leave a position, such as a chancellorship, a bit earlier than expected rather than to stay too long. It’s far better to leave while on top rather than being engaged in a nasty or ugly public debate.
It is interesting, if not unprecedented, that KU, Kansas State University and Pittsburg State University all are looking for new leaders.
Hemenway plans to take a sabbatical next academic year to work on a book he has had to delay and then return to the KU campus possibly to fill an endowed chair that would allow him to teach and do scholarly research.
The timing of Hemenway’s announcement should provide ample time to recruit and select a replacement to move into Strong Hall soon after Hemenway’s departure.
Much will be written about Hemenway’s resignation and his record at KU, but now the important — more than important, but rather, critical — task is to search the country for an outstanding individual to help lead the university to even greater heights as one of this nation’s truly outstanding state-aided academic institutions.
The challenge is great, but so are the opportunities with visionary, inspiring, courageous leadership.
The Monday announcement was not totally unexpected, but it probably came as a surprise to most KU alumni and friends. As noted above, Hemenway has done a good job for the university and state, with record enrollments and sizable increases in research funding. He deserves thanks and appreciation for his work and commitment to KU.