Give new KU administration a chance

December 8, 2010


On Saturday the publisher of this newspaper devoted his column to arguing for a new governance structure for Kansas University. He suggested that, perhaps, a new “Board of Overseers,” drawn, in part, from the state’s business community, be created. This board could devote more attention to the everyday operation of the university than the present Board of Regents can devote to this. I’m afraid that I must disagree not only with the suggestion, but, also, with the reasoning behind it.

There’s no question that the university has had its share of problems over the past few years. However, we have to remember that the problems that have come to the fore in the past two years were neither created nor exacerbated by the present university administration. On the contrary, the top ranks of the university administration inherited these problems and have been attempting to solve them, or, at least, so it appears to me. Indeed, there’s every indication coming from the Provost’s Office that it’s not business as usual in Strong Hall but, rather, that changes are under way. I think that it would be unwise and unfair to our new administration not to give it a chance to see what it can accomplish before making radical changes in the university’s governance structure.

One frequently hears that faculty morale at KU is low these days. I’m not really sure how one gauges that. I haven’t seen any surveys that indicate morale is lower today than it has been in the past few years. I do think that the faculty and the staff are feeling the consequences of two years without a salary increment. It’s certainly not something any rational human being would be happy about. On the other hand, I think most of the faculty and staff at KU understand the state’s economic problems. We don’t live in some secluded paradise. It’s impossible not to see the unemployment statistics and the very real pain our neighbors who are unemployed or underemployed are feeling. Most of us realize that we, too, must share in the pain. I think it’s fair to say that the nation’s morale is low, but I don’t think that a change in university governance will affect that sad fact.

To me, the strongest argument against creating another layer of administration and oversight is that it would be inefficient. We don’t need more administrators. It would also further contribute to the notion that a university is like any other business. It’s not. Any faculty member will tell you that. We’re not about profit and loss statements; we’re about educating students and doing high quality research that benefits the state and nation. And I think that we’re doing that. You cannot run a university like a steel company. It won’t work.

That’s not to say that universities shouldn’t be run effectively and efficiently. They should. But to run a university well requires an understanding of how universities are different from traditional for-profit businesses. A group of successful businessmen will not have that understanding. I think that the best thing that can be done for KU is to give our new administrators a reasonable chance to improve things. KU is a great university with a large number of dedicated alumni, faculty and staff. It has some problems now, and it has had problems in the past. But, with time and effort, those problems will be solved. KU has survived and thrived for more than a century. I believe that it will continue to survive and thrive for centuries to come.

Mike Hoeflich, a distinguished professor in the Kansas University School of Law, writes a regular column for the Journal-World.


begin60 7 years, 5 months ago

Great point about giving new administrators a chance, but something still needs to be done about KU's incompetent and unethical legal team and their neanderthal Human Resources Department.

xclusive85 7 years, 5 months ago

Care to extrapolate? What has the legal team done that is unethical and why the hate for the HR department? Are you a disgruntled employee or former employee?

Paul R Getto 7 years, 5 months ago

A board to supervise the board to supervise the board? Sounds like the old buddhist creation story. "It's turtles all the way down." Settle down, Dolph. If you really want to help KU, push your legislator to increase the Regent's funding levels.

David Crawford 7 years, 5 months ago

KU has intellectual resources that are unimaginable. To not use these resources is sinful and just plain stupid. KU has no excuse and no reasonable explanation for being mired in administrative dead-lock. The University should look within and stick to the moral high ground.

Kendall Simmons 7 years, 5 months ago

What are you talking about? Who says they are "mired in administrative deadlock"? Dolph Simon?

Of all the people to listen to about what's going on at KU, Dolph should be waaaaaaay down your list...like close to the bottom. He makes up problems. He takes a friend or acquaintence's venting about something at KU and turns it into a crisis. Chicken Little has nothing on Dolph Simon.

Dolph only wants there to be a board of overseers made up of 'successful businessmen' because he's given up on ever being a Regent. The fact that he can't see that the University is not the same thing as a for-profit business, and believes that businessmen overseeing it is the way to go ought to have been a clue.

I have a sneaking suspicion that the last thing we really need is the entire University being run like the KUAC.

HonestAbe1981 7 years, 5 months ago

I'll go ahead and re-post my comments on Dolph's article from yesterday. The state needs to eliminate the Board of Regents in its current form entirely. I'll also say that a University is a business whether anyone wants to admit it or not - with large Endowments, sky rocketing tuition, and demands for universities to produce graduates that are prepared and contribute to the economy, it has to be ran like a business.

The state of Kansas is far behind in many areas when it comes to higher education. The Regents admissions standards are embarrassing (so are the proposed new standards). Kansas is one of the least populated states in the country (a declining population to boot), and we have one governing board trying to manage and set policies for 19 community colleges and 6 regents institutions. It's a one size fits all approach, which isn't effective.

Admissions standards obviously need to be tougher, but when are other important conversations going to start taking place in light of declining state support and declining population? Why do we have duplication of programs at various universities - seems like an obvious drain on state resources. Many states governing boards ensure only one of their institutions offer architecture or engineering or business. Do we need the number of higher ed options we currently have? - I doubt it.

The Regents need to make some tough decisions. 1. Eliminate program duplication 2. Establish a pecking order for admissions. Kansas has numerous options for access to higher ed if you can't make it at the top schools in Kansas - prove yourself and then transfer 3. The community colleges need their own governing board and the large universities collectively need their own board.....I'd go so far as to say that KU and KSU need their own Regents boards - a lot of large universities have their own boards - those universities are progressive are able to make quick decisions and avoid to political BS that exists in higher ed today.

Its not rocket science - Admissions standards are the trigger point. If universities are allowed to be more selective, they have a better prepared student body. Rankings go up. With higher rankings you attract top faculty. With top faculty you attract more research dollars. Rankings go up even more - the end result is a much large return on investment to the state of Kansas.

Regents and KS politicians need to stop over thinking this stuff and stop trying to keep everything fair. This approach will continue to handcuff the state of Kansas higher education system.

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