A recent news story focusing on the current, somewhat turbulent, situation within the Kansas State University athletic program noted the active role of the school’s president, Jon Wefald, in the success of the KSU Wildcats.
Wefald has, indeed, played a major role in the re-emergence of KSU’s athletic program. When he arrived in Manhattan approximately 23 years ago, enrollment numbers were tumbling, private financial support was lagging behind peer institutions, and KSU was about to be kicked out of the Big Eight Conference because it was in danger of losing its football program. One of the requirements of membership in the Big Eight was to field a football team.
Wefald came from Minnesota, got to work, turned student enrollment around, reignited school spirit, improved faculty morale, worked to increase private giving and did a masterful job in turning around the KSU football team.
His involvement in the KSU athletic picture and the positive impact this had on the entire university was immense.
Now, as he is about to step aside from the president’s office, there have been some major bumps in the road: changes in coaches, discord among some alumni and financial “sugar daddies,” and questions about an incoming president’s degree of involvement in the school’s athletic department.
Dan Lykins, a Topeka resident and a member of the Kansas Board of Regents, talked in a Topeka Capital-Journal newspaper article about his meeting with one of the candidates for the KSU presidency, as well as his thoughts on college athletics.
He is optimistic Kansas State will get a “great president” and said the Board of Regents has a “policy to completely stay away from the athletic department.” He said regents should avoid micromanaging the president or chancellor of a state university.
Lykins said, “I think one of the reasons we keep presidents as long as we do — keeping Wefald for 23 years and (KU’s Robert) Hemenway for almost 15 years and Ed Hammond at Fort Hays for 23 years — it’s because we don’t micromanage.”
He said the regents’ job is to determine tuition, what is taught and who will stand at the schools’ helm. He then added, “We’re going to leave it to the presidents to run the athletic departments. They know that we want them to run a tight ship, to get the best coaches they can, the best athletic director they can. The problem is, sometimes that costs a lot of money.”
He said he is concerned about the increased costs of athletic departments, the high salaries being paid to coaches and athletic directors at the state’s universities and how these salaries compare with what faculty members are being paid.
“When a top-flight professor is making $80,000 or $100,000 a year and a coach or athletic director is making over $1 million a year, it just seems to be a little out of whack. I think we send a mixed message when we spend so much money in the athletic department.”
It is understandable that Lykins and his fellow regents have a policy to “completely stay away from the athletic department” because those departments usually are separate corporations, not financed by the state.
However, it may be something like sticking their heads in the sand not to think and recognize these athletic departments play a significant role in their respective universities.
If Lykins and his fellow regents really and honestly have concerns about the million-dollar coaches’ contracts and the close-to-million-dollar athletic directors’ contracts, and if they really and honestly are concerned about the disparity between those salaries and the salaries for top-flight faculty members, then maybe they ought to get more involved in what is happening on the campuses.
They talk about not micromanaging and leaving it to the chancellors and presidents to run the athletic departments, and yet, they say they are concerned about the out-of-control arms race in athletic departments. It’s just like the phony arguments offered by chancellors who claim they, too, are concerned — but they do little about it.
The regents’ position is a good example of talking out of both side of their mouths. They don’t want to micromanage; they leave everything in the hands of the chancellor or presidents; they are concerned about the huge expenses of athletic departments; and yet, what do they do about it? If they are concerned, maybe it’s time, far past time, to demand some action by the chancellor and presidents.
Relative to Lykins’ observation and his apparent happiness and pride that “we keep our presidents so long,” there are many who believe current chancellors and presidents have been kept too long. Both university leaders probably should have stepped aside three or four years ago. Both men know it’s best to go out on top, not when faculty, friends and alumni start to grumble. The current average tenure for top executives at the nation’s leading schools is between five and seven years.
Numerous knowledgeable and experienced observers of college education say most any chancellor or president starts operating in circles after seven or so years. He or she gets tired in a very demanding job and runs out of new ideas. Their enthusiasm is dampened, they start stepping on toes and they do not enjoy or merit the continued support and admiration of the faculty.
Following a policy of not micromanaging may be applauded by some, but, at the same time, particularly here in Kansas, with the current Board of Regents and with Wefald serving close to 24 years and Hemenway close to 15 years, maybe there should be more micromanaging. As former President Ronald Reagan used to say, it’s good to trust, but better yet to trust and verify.
Here at KU, there are MANY situations that the regents should be much more aware of. “Trust” is nice, but far more verification is needed concerning all the good reports about KU’s operation that are fed to the regents in Topeka.