Earlier this week, Kirk Schulz was introduced as the incoming president for Kansas State University. He currently is vice president for research and economic development at Mississippi State University.
The 45-year-old chemical engineer appears to be an excellent choice to assume the leadership of KSU, and all Kansans, regardless of their various school loyalties, should hope Schulz enjoys a successful career as K-State’s president.
He will be following the highly successful 23-year career of Jon Wefald, and many of Schulz’s actions and policies will be measured against those of Wefald, who turned things around at Kansas State after arriving from Minnesota. He took over a university that was losing enrollment and had low faculty and student morale and an intercollegiate athletic program in serious trouble. Some can criticize, and others can make fun of Wefald’s actions, but the bottom line is he did a heck of a good job for Kansas State and for Kansas.
Now, with the future KSU presidency in place, the spotlight shifts to the selection of a new chancellor for Kansas University. Robert Hemenway announced in December that he would step aside after 14 years as chancellor. In January, a search committee was named to propose several candidates from which the Kansas Board of Regents would select an individual to lead KU.
About the only thing the public knows about the process is that a group of nice people has been appointed to the search committee, most of them probably recommended by the current university administration, the KU Alumni Association and the KU Endowment Association. The school’s leadership is comfortable with those on the committee.
A very big and important question is how many of those on the hand-picked selection committee are independent, objective, visionary and courageous individuals determined to find the best possible person for this job?
A Texas firm has been hired to come up with names of potential candidates for the Mount Oread job, and it is hoped this company will make a major effort to provide a blue-ribbon list of individuals.
A search committee is standard practice for any similar search effort on most every college campus, but in all reality, few members of such groups have the time to personally travel throughout the country, trying to discover potential all-stars in the academic and business/professional world.
Those on the KU committee are likely to make some phone calls to acquaintances at other universities asking for names and suggestions, but these individuals also have other full-time jobs and commitments that limit the time they can travel to seek, interview and do background checks on possible candidates.
This is one of the reasons for a professional search company, along with the goal of trying to have the process appear to be politically correct and having an independent voice in the selection process.
Several nationally recognized university leaders have stressed to this writer the term or title of “search committee” should be changed to “recruiting committee.” Those on the committee should do far more than just review applications from those who are unhappy at their present positions or are looking for greener grass on some other college campus.
KU is, and should be, the flagship institution of higher learning in Kansas. It should have a chancellor who merits the high respect of Kansans and is looked upon nationally as a leader and a visionary in higher education. He or she should be a leader and a superior spokesperson for all higher education in Kansas and enjoy excellent and respectful relations with state legislators.
The new chancellor should have a clear understanding of the importance of schooling students to be competent, knowledgeable and competitive participants in the ever-changing domestic and international 21st century job market.
There are too many students walking the KU campus, as well as other college campuses, who do not know what they want to do as a career, what courses to best prepare them for such a career and how to find employment in these fields.
If KU alumni, athletics department people, the chancellor and others can spend countless hours and money flying around the country to recruit and land young men who can dunk a basketball or throw a football, doesn’t it stand to reason they should make similar efforts, in fact, an even greater effort, to land a truly top-tier individual to run the university?
It is hoped the identity of those being considered, particularly the finalists, can be kept confidential. There’s a much better chance of attracting superior candidates if their interest in the KU job can remain confidential and there are no public meetings on campus where finalists are paraded before student and faculty audiences to be questioned, viewed, critiqued, poked and prodded.
For those in the professional search business, the KU job is just one of many, and they will be paid a handsome fee. They’ll give every assurance of giving their best and special attention to the KU search, but that’s what they say to all of their customers.
This being the case, it is important that those on the KU/Regents-appointed committee take their task and responsibility very seriously. They should try to find out anything and everything about possible candidates and be sure they are not caught by ugly surprises after the candidate accepts the job. They should check with many acquaintances of the candidates, not just those suggested as references, and they should learn as much as possible about the candidate’s spouse because spouses play an increasingly important role for a chancellor and the university.
KU is a good state-aided university, but due to various reasons and recent recessions, it has been hurt and has slipped in some areas.
However, the potential is bright, and if the school is properly supported, both by the Kansas Legislature and private interests, and if there is visionary, bold leadership, KU could be a national force in higher education.
Selection of KU’s 17th chancellor is this year’s most important action and opportunity for the university, the city of Lawrence and the entire state. The right individual will pay dividends in many ways for years to come for the entire state, while a misstep will seriously handicap the school, Lawrence and the state.