In all likelihood, Kansas University and the other Kansas Regents schools are going to have to learn how to adjust and get along with less state fiscal aid.
A news story Friday told of Kansas Senate budget writers recommending a 13 percent cut in funding for higher education. This comes on top of a 4.2 percent cut already approved in the current fiscal year.
Whether the final version of state aid for the next fiscal year ends up at 13 percent or something less, maybe even larger if economic conditions call for such actions, the fact is KU officials as well as those at Kansas State, Wichita State and the other Regents schools are going to have to operate on significantly tighter budgets.
It is understandable KU leaders have been quick to suggest a 13 percent cut would have dire consequences on the quality of education and research at the university. They say major cuts would limit the ability of the university to school and train the numbers of doctors, lawyers, architects, engineers, pharmacists, nurses, city managers and other professionals so badly needed in the state.
The final say on how much state money will be allocated to higher education will be determined by members of the House and Senate who then will send the measure to the governor for approval or rejection.
The shortage of state funds and the realization of how this will impact the university come at an interesting time.
Chancellor Robert Hemenway will be leaving his office at the end of the current semester and a search, hopefully a “recruiting” committee, is looking for a new chancellor. This comes at a time when money is tight and the KU Endowment Association does not have a capital campaign under way.
A departing chancellor, an unknown new chancellor and no capital campaign all will play a major role in how KU is able to weather tight or tighter budgets.
First the chancellor situation: It is critical a truly outstanding individual is selected to move into the chancellor’s office. The excellence of this individual will play a tremendous role in how state lawmakers, as well as the public, view the role and importance of higher education.
Like it or not, the relationship between the state Legislature and KU is not as good as it should be or has been in past chancellorships. This is true even though senior KU officials probably have spent more time in Topeka and more time lobbying state officials than any previous period.
A new chancellor could make a tremendous difference, not only by his or her own vision, leadership and respect earned by legislators, but also by a far more effective use of individuals to tell the higher education story. KU spends a lot but doesn’t get the results it deserves.
KU Endowment Association officials should have planned and set in motion a major capital campaign several years ago. In fact, shortly after completion of the last capital campaign, KU First, which raised more than $653 million for the university, Endowment Association officials should have started planning the next drive, deciding what needs were addressed in the just-completed effort and what were the most pressing current needs.
For various reasons KUEA officers realized it would be difficult to launch a large drive, probably in the $1 billion or more range. Conditions were such, based on interviews throughout the state, that many questioned KU’s leadership. Consequently, little was done about organizing a campaign.
Timing is critical in this matter. KU, and the unusually quiet endowment association, missed the boat. Unfortunately, actions, which could have been done, were not done.
As has been said many times, the availability of private money at KU has made the difference between KU being an average state-aided institution and a very good state-aided school. For years KU was the Big 6, Big 7 and Big 8 leader in private giving, but times have changed.
Missouri officials have announced a successful completion of a $1 billion campaign, one of 20 public universities that have raised $1 billion or more. Officials in Columbia have noted the availability of these funds comes at a particularly significant time in light of a tightening in state funding.
News reports this week said the nation’s colleges and universities set another fundraising record last year, but no one expects a repeat in 2009.
Adding to the problem KU faces are that the latest reports that President Obama’s new tax plans call for cutbacks in tax benefits associated with charitable giving. This does not enhance the prospects of encouraging private gifts.
With major reductions in state fiscal support, it would be nice to have completed or to be nearing the end of a successful capital campaign that would have provided millions of dollars to strengthen many and diverse programs throughout the university.
Planning can take place but until a new chancellor is on board, and until there is a sufficient time for the next executive to become acquainted and measured by faculty, alumni and friends, any active campaign will have to be placed on hold. This is likely to be another year or so.
A lot rides on the selection of KU’s next chancellor … for the university, for Lawrence and the state. And it comes at a time when funding and the availability of private money become even more critical.