‘Right place for me’

New KU chancellor well-received at meet-and-greet, around town

Newly appointed Kansas University chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little is welcomed by KU graduate Christopher Reine, Kansas City, Mo., on Saturday during Gray-Little’s introduction to the university community at the Kansas Union, 1301 Jayhawk Blvd. At right is Jeff Aube, who served as a member of the chancellor search committee and is a professor of medicinal chemistry at KU.

Bernadette Gray-Little said it hasn’t taken long for community members to reach out and congratulate her on being named Kansas University’s 17th chancellor.

More than 200 of them came to the Kansas Union on Saturday afternoon to meet Gray-Little in her first public appearance after being named as KU’s 17th chancellor.

They greeted her warmly — with two standing ovations — as she spoke on the KU campus for the first time.

After Friday’s announcement that she would become KU’s 17th chancellor on Aug. 15, she told the crowd that she went to dinner at Teller’s on Massachusetts Street, and though she tried to wear big sunglasses to conceal her identity, it didn’t work.

The standing-room only crowd laughed along with Gray-Little as she told how multiple KU faculty members came up to her, introduced themselves and congratulated her.

“We were having a party,” she said. “It was a celebration before it was over.”

Then, on Saturday, bikers and joggers stopped to wish her well during an early-morning jaunt along the Kansas River.

“We have been overwhelmed by the welcome, by the generosity,” she said. “I am even more delighted and more convinced than I was yesterday that this is a wonderful place to be, and the right place for me.”

She takes over the job from Chancellor Robert Hemenway and will be immediately faced with two top vacancies in university leadership at KU in the provost’s office and at the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, along with a state budget crunch and other challenges.

But Gray-Little, currently provost and executive vice chancellor at University of North Carolina, was started off in the right direction, said several of the attendees of the event Saturday.

She reiterated priorities she outlined Friday, which resonated with Susan Lunte, a distinguished professor in the chemistry department.

“I think her priorities of research, undergraduate education and the Cancer Center are all good priorities,” Lunte said. “I think she’s got the message for, definitely, what we need.”

The event attracted a number of KU faculty and staff members and even a handful of students.

One such student, Ken Thomas, who will be a junior majoring in communications studies next semester, said Gray-Little’s appointment as the first black and first woman chancellor marked a great day in KU history.

“I came out today to show my support as a student, and hope to wish her good luck and a great term as chancellor,” he said, adding he hoped she could attract a more diverse student body and raise the graduation rate among those students, as she has stated.

Gray-Little spoke to the overflow crowd on the sixth floor of the Kansas Union before participating in a press conference and then returning for a meet-and-greet session.

In addition to revealing some aspects of her personality — she enjoys dancing, for example — she reiterated her commitment to fundraising, research and undergraduate education.

Gray-Little, who is 64, said that to expect that she would be chancellor for 20 years would be unlikely, but that she intends to be chancellor as long as “I and the regents think that I am doing a good job.”

“I certainly expect this to be my last professional position,” she said. “My commitment will be here.”

Glee Smith, a Lawrence attorney, former state senator and former member of the Board of Regents, attended the event Saturday and said he’d heard great things about Gray-Little from his son-in-law, James Moeser, who was the chancellor at UNC who appointed Gray-Little as provost.

“I think she’s a great candidate,” Smith said, praising her “ability to listen to people and decide things after she gets all the necessary opinions. I think she’s well-trained in this.”