A recent news story told of Kansas University School of Business officials ratcheting up efforts to raise $50 million for a new School of Business building. The school failed to match a $10 million challenge grant by the deadline set by a KU alumni donor and, consequently, the money was taken off the table.
This project, if it is worthy and needed, should be part of a major universitywide capital campaign. This particular building, along with funding for other campus projects including scholarships, faculty enrichment, equipment needs, endowed professorships and new or expanded and remodeled buildings, should be addressed and included in a broad, well-planned, professionally run campaign, not pursued in uncoordinated individual efforts across the campus, each competing with other KU projects for donors and dollars. KU must cultivate private giving to its fullest potential if the school is to grow into one of the nation's finest state-aided schools.
KU is lagging behind other schools in its planning and execution of a capital campaign. The school already has lost many millions of dollars by not having a campaign in the planning and "quiet" fundraising stages.
The KU Endowment Association is one of the best in the country. Its past record and the generosity of KU alumni and friends is excellent. Unfortunately, because of the current attitude and feeling by growing numbers of alumni and friends about the leadership of KU, officers of the association are in a stand-down position and have been unable to begin planning for a capital campaign.
The KU Alumni Association also is recognized as one of the nation's best, but here, too, board members find themselves limited as to what they can do for the university because of "the situation" in KU's Strong Hall.
There is growing concern about an apparent lack of leadership, vision, enthusiasm and excitement in Strong Hall and in the chancellor's office.
Although KU can point to many successes by its faculty and students in recent years, as well as its football and basketball teams this past year, there is an almost stifling environment hanging over the school.
Board members of both the KU Endowment and Alumni associations lack either the will or the courage to move ahead and call for changes in the current environment. Such changes could re-ignite pent-up enthusiasm and excitement for KU that currently is in an unfortunate idle or stalled position.
KU Provost Richard Lariviere, who came to KU only a couple of years ago with much fanfare and the hope he could provide the excellence, enthusiasm and vision to help build the school to new academic heights, is considering jobs at other universities. Some had thought he might move into the chancellor's office when Robert Hemenway decided to step aside.
Those who should be most concerned about the leadership situation at KU are the approximately 200,000 KU alumni who have reason to want KU to continue to grow and excel, the thousands of generous alumni and friends who over the years have provided hundreds of millions of dollars for KU, and Kansas parents who want their children to have the opportunity to have a truly challenging academic experience at KU.
These are the people who really ought to be asking, "What's wrong?" Where is the leadership, excitement, enthusiasm, vision and sense of urgency a school such as KU deserves and must have to reach its potential?
Members of the Kansas Board of Regents apparently are wearing blinders or earplugs regarding the current situation on Mount Oread. Regents recently conducted their periodic review of the chancellor's performance and gave him a high grade, one of the best he had received since coming to KU in 1995. And, yet, the general dissatisfaction about what is going on - or not going on - is near the dangerous level.
Something is wrong somewhere. It's not working the way it should.
Hemenway is a good man, a good and talented individual. He wants to do a good job. There's no question, however, that being a chancellor of a major university is a tough, demanding and tiring challenge. In today's climate, the tenure of college chancellors or presidents is becoming shorter and shorter, in many cases, only four or five years. Faculty, alumni, parents of students, campus turf wars, egos, state legislators, regents or curators, special interests, often those associated with medical schools, and even those in the news business can and do make the life of a chancellor a challenge.
There's no question that Hemenway, who soon will be 67 years old, has deep affection for KU. He has done many good things for the school, but for one reason or another, the university seems to be running out of gas. It doesn't have the level of leadership, energy, excitement and morale among its faculty and alumni that it once enjoyed. Again, something is missing.
The excitement or "swagger" that KU used to enjoy and merit must be recaptured.
KU Endowment and Alumni officials should have a straight-forward, tough, all-business visit with the chancellor to find out what is wrong, what is missing and how collectively to take the appropriate corrective action. Why haven't the regents been on top of the deteriorating situation at KU?
The longer such action is delayed, the more the school, the city of Lawrence, the state's higher education system and the welfare of the entire state will be handicapped.
Many good, well-intentioned people are involved in this unfortunate situation, but it shouldn't be allowed to continue the way it is.