KU's 16th chancellor, Robert Hemenway, announced Dec. 8, 2008, that he would retire at the end of the current academic year. He's been chancellor for 14 years.
Kansas University Chancellor Robert Hemenway ends his 14-year run atop Mount Oread on Tuesday, leaving behind a legacy of work in KU’s academic, athletic and medical fields.
He’ll hand the reins to Bernadette Gray-Little, who moves into the second floor of Strong Hall on Aug. 15. She has said she intends to focus on undergraduate graduation rates and increasing private fundraising.
When Hemenway was hired, he was already looking ahead.
“Ten or 15 years from now, when I’m being put out to pasture, I would hope that people would be able to look back and say there are a number of things that are now characteristic of the University of Kansas which were not characteristic before, and we attribute some of that to the fact that Chancellor Hemenway was here,” Hemenway said in 1995 when he was introduced as chancellor.
Hemenway declined an interview request this month seeking to discuss his tenure as chancellor and his time ahead — he plans to take a year off to write a book about intercollegiate athletics and then return to teaching — but several other people with whom he worked said he will be remembered in a number of different areas.
Donna Shank, chairwoman of the Kansas Board of Regents, said Hemenway will be remembered for his ability to understand the role of major college athletics, raise test scores and admission standards, and institute strong fundraising.
But, in her mind, Hemenway would be most remembered for issues at the KU Medical Center and KU Hospital campus in Kansas City, Kan. — the first being his efforts to separate KU Hospital from state control.
“That was his idea,” Shank said. “He got that accomplished, and I think it’s worked out very well.”
Bill Docking, a former member of the Kansas Board of Regents, remembered Hemenway visiting him in his office in Arkansas City, as he did with all the other regents, leading up to the decision to make the hospital an independent public authority in 1998.
Hemenway took the lead in coordinating support at the state level, including legislators and other stakeholders, always taking along facts and figures and key hospital and medical center players to drum up support.
The hospital was hurting under state control, Docking said, and needed to be spun off and freed from bureaucratic hurdles.
“It was an enormous undertaking, and it succeeded,” he said. “He deserves great credit for getting that done.”
Then “the hard work started,” Docking said, as KU Hospital, KU Medical Center and KU Physicians Inc. hammered out an affiliation agreement detailing how the entities would work together.
Shank said the chancellor also will be remembered long into the future for beginning KU’s current march toward National Cancer Institute designation.
Hemenway has made the designation the university’s top research priority.
Roy Jensen, director of the KU Cancer Center, said that bold move paid off.
“A university is a big, complex organization with multiple constituencies and many different priorities,” he said. “Anytime someone actually lists those priorities, the most likely thing you’re going to do is make enemies.”
In listing it as a top priority, however, Hemenway — himself a prostate cancer survivor — has garnered regional support and the attention of the National Cancer Institute, Jensen said.
Hemenway, an athletics enthusiast who has described himself as the No. 1 Jayhawk fan, saw KU’s men’s basketball team win a national title and the football team win the Orange Bowl in 2008.
After Al Bohl’s brief and tumultuous tenure as KU athletic director, Hemenway hired Lew Perkins, who has brought athletic success and large fundraising efforts.
Under Perkins’ oversight, the athletic program also has faced criticism. Earlier this year, for example, plans surfaced indicating that KU intended to build a $24.6 million Olympic Village facility for softball and track, which raised questions of whether a true symbiotic relationship existed between the university and Kansas Athletics as one braced for budget cuts while the other planned major capital improvements.
The athletic program continues to aggressively raise money through programs that Perkins instituted, such as a point value system that awards donors with priority seating opportunities at events.
Hemenway oversaw more than $100 million in construction and renovation to athletics facilities — everything from modifications to Allen Fieldhouse and Memorial Stadium to a new boathouse recently constructed for the Jayhawk rowing squad.
Paul Davis, a state representative from Lawrence who has worked with Hemenway, said athletic success can spill over into other aspects of the university, such as increased fundraising opportunities.
“When you’re able to compete for national championships and go to bowl games, you’re going to see all kinds of collateral effects that have a positive impact on many different aspects of the university,” Davis said.
Bohl hired football coach Mark Mangino, who has helped lead a turnaround of that program, and head basketball coach Bill Self has said Hemenway’s leadership was one of the aspects that attracted him to the university.
The chancellor also served on the NCAA’s Executive Committee and its Division I Board of Directors, which handles legislation and rulemaking for the body that oversees major college athletics.
After Hemenway steps down from his position, he has said he intends to write a book on intercollegiate athletics.
“He became a national voice in intercollegiate athletics with the NCAA, and KU athletic teams flourished,” said former KU Chancellor Gene Budig, who later went on to be the president of Major League Baseball’s American League. “He will be remembered for this era.”
Several people who followed KU during the time Hemenway was chancellor remarked on his ability to raise the stature of the university’s academic and research mission.
Davis said that would be what he remembered most about KU’s 16th chancellor.
“I think that he was instrumental in charting a new course for the university in terms of research capabilities,” Davis said, particularly in what has been accomplished on its West Campus.
A renewed focus on biosciences research and development have been a hallmark of Hemenway’s tenure, Davis said. Hemenway has overseen more than $150 million in construction of new research labs and $60 million toward student housing.
KU celebrated a record enrollment in fall 2008, with 30,102 students, but the number had remained relatively stable in years past, and had declined slightly the last two years.
It hasn’t been all successes under Hemenway — the university never attained Hemenway’s goal of becoming a top 25 public research institution under his watch, and, facing dwindling state support, tuition has increased dramatically during his tenure.
Budig praised his successor, saying he admired anyone who served 14 years in a higher education leadership position, calling it “a real test of endurance.”
“He was successful in greatly increasing the number of research dollars coming into the university, especially in the sciences,” Budig said.
KU last year announced it was the recipient of $20.2 million in National Institutes of Health funding, the largest federal research award in Kansas history.
As former KU Chancellor Archie Dykes pointed out, Hemenway has the support of many people involved with the university, as recent events commemorating his tenure have shown.
“If I had left there with the friendship and support that he has, I’d be very happy,” Dykes said.