Archive for Saturday, June 27, 2009

Regents need to tighten oversight of state universities

June 27, 2009

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All of a sudden, there is much discussion about the need for the Kansas Board of Regents to require exit audits for universities under its jurisdiction when there is a change in chancellors or presidents.

This overnight interest came about after it was learned Kansas State University officials had OK’d a number of large payments to a fired football coach, a former athletics director and a highly successful former and current football coach.

Many, maybe all, of these payments were made in a strange, if not secret, manner and with questionable documentation.

It is unfortunate this comes at a time when Jon Wefald is stepping aside as KSU president after 22 years of leadership at the university. He did an excellent job of addressing a dangerous slide in enrollment, poor faculty morale, meager private fiscal support, embarrassing athletic achievements, a slide in academic excellence and a lack of enthusiasm about the school.

But now, many are likely to remember his tenure as severely tarnished by the questionable financial dealings and his role in the mess.

Regents plan to have similar “exit analysis reports” (audits) made at Kansas University and Pittsburg State University where a new chancellor and president soon will take charge. At their meeting Thursday, the regents also agreed to perform similar audits at the other three state universities and establish a policy for routine audits not tied to the departure of a chief executive.

Many are asking why the regents haven’t been on top of the situation and realized the wisdom of such audits long before now. Why did it take the football and sports situation at KSU to trigger the interest and action of the regents? Just how well have they been carrying out their assignment to monitor the schools?

Chances are, the audits of KU and PSU will lack the fireworks provided by KSU’s situation, but it seems wise to have an outside, independent audit when millions upon millions of dollars are involved.

It will be interesting to learn what the audits of KU, the KU Athletics Department, KU Endowment Association, KU Alumni Association, research bodies and other university-related agencies disclose.

For example, how much of the millions of dollars spent by KU Athletics Inc. for new buildings, equipment, practice facilities, salaries, etc., came from cash on hand, pledges, bank loans and/or major advancements by the KU Endowment Association? What is the current debt of the athletics department?

Aside from what regents are calling an “exit” audit, another type of audit or review is long past due. This would be a thorough, comprehensive review of the performance of university presidents and chancellors, a mandatory analysis of the manner in which the institution’s leaders are carrying out their jobs.

As it is now, chancellors and presidents serve until either they or the regents decide they are not getting the job done. Yes, regents do ask the executives how they are doing and go through fairly routine, shallow “reviews,” but those are far short of what is needed.

In addition to exhaustive annual reviews, regents should impose term limits on university leaders. Times change, and a chancellor or president serving for 15, 20 or more years is extremely unusual. Being a chancellor or president is a tough, demanding and tiring job, and it takes a toll.

Kansas regents should consider a five-year term followed by an optional five years for chancellors or presidents, with thorough reviews each year. The responsibilities of a university leader are great, and regents have the charge and mission of making sure each of their university leaders is performing in a superior manner.

Considering the hundreds of millions of dollars involved, taxes paid by Kansans for quality education and the importance of higher education to students, faculty, parents and the overall development of the state, there is every justification for great concern in how the universities are being run.

In past years, those serving as regents were far more demanding in what they wanted to know from chancellors and presidents and they didn’t hide their displeasure if the leaders were not performing up to expectations. For some reason — either the regents are different types of individuals these days or perhaps there has not been the level of leadership from the board’s president and CEO — the regents have been lax in carrying out their responsibilities.

If there is anything good to come out of the KSU mess, it may be that greater attention will be focused on the role and appointment of regents. In recent years, they have not been on top of what is going on at KU, KSU and maybe even Wichita State and the other regents institutions. They have taken the word of chancellors and their top associates that everything was going well and there were no serious problems. They engaged in superficial interviews. In some cases, however, they knew, or were suspicious, there were serious problems but took no action.

Maybe — hopefully — Gov. Mark Parkinson will give more attention to the types of individuals appointed to the Board of Regents. He says he does not intend to seek another term as governor so there’s less likelihood he will select regents with partisan politics foremost in his mind.

He can demonstrate the priority he places on higher education by the types of men and women he considers for this terribly important body.

What’s gone on at KSU along with the chancellor situation at KU, and maybe other problems, offers ample evidence recent and current regents have not devoted the necessary time and attention to knowing and understanding what is going on throughout the regents system. Or, if they did know, they didn’t take action to correct the situations.

With two new presidents and a new chancellor, this could be the start of a new era of excellence and performance at all regents’ universities AND far better and tougher oversight by current, or maybe a number of new regents.

The state and its citizens deserve and need a far better and more demanding administration of higher education than has been the case in recent years.

Comments

admireed 5 years, 9 months ago

Reviews & audits by "sweetheart" cronies will become the norm kind of like congressmen moving into consultant situations.

justthefacts 5 years, 9 months ago

The Board of Regents is (unlike many offices) a constitutionally created entity. To change the system would require a constitutional amendment.

The make-up of the board is established by statute. It dictates that persons must come from certain parties and certain backgrounds and have certain expertise(s). The purpose of such a statutory dictate is to make sure the board represents many interests. Changes to the statute require legislataive action.

The persons serving on the board (nine members) are never paid (except for travel expenses) and are required to attend 12 two day meetings per year (that's 24), at a minimum. Add to that the many special meetings sometimes needed (for example to discuss new Presidents), and the numerous other appearance or committee meetings. That is a lot to ask of unpaid highly skilled volunteers.

The current CEO graduated first in his class from Law school, served as an officer in the Army, was recruited right out of law school to work for the US Attorney General, and could be making 5 times the salary if he went into private practice. Instead, he is a dedicated and highly intelligent individual that Kansans are lucky to have working for them.

Finally, if you Mr. Simons, or anyone else, think you can do a better job, the Governor is open to suggestions for new members/appointments. Put your name in the hat and see how easy it is to run a system that has thousands of employees.

Ann Gardner 5 years, 9 months ago

JTF: Just to clarify, the only statutory requirements on regents' appointments are that each of the state's four congressional districts must be represented on the board and that no political party can have more than 5 representatives on the board. That statute doesn't address other background or expertise issues. Here's the link: www.kslegislature.org/legsrv-statutes...

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