As I write this, Christmas and New Year’s are just a few days off and this is my last column for 2010. The Kansas University campus is quiet, most of the students are away for the holidays, and most of the faculty are grading final exams, the grades for which are due next week. It’s a good time to reflect on the past year.
On the Hill, once again, there’s a new provost and, so far, he seems to have been a good choice. One development in Strong Hall that I think may not be as positive is the dominant focus in public statements on the university’s contribution to economic development in the state through its science and engineering research. I have no doubt that KU’s research contributes to state economic development, but I don’t think that’s the only way — or even the primary way — in which the university contributes to the state and its economy.
I think that it is extremely important to remember that our principal product is our students. KU produces thousands of educated citizens every year: doctors, lawyers, engineers, business people, journalists, social workers, teachers, etc. These are students who have learned languages to make them better able to function in a global economy. These are people who have learned history so that they can be informed citizens. They are people who have studied literature and art so that their own lives can be enriched. As important as KU research is, we must never lose sight of our teaching mission nor forget how important our graduates are to the state of Kansas now and in the future.
I write a good deal in this column about state and local politics, and as I look back on the myriad political events of the year I cannot avoid thinking that the November elections were a crucial moment in our state and national life. With the release of the 2010 census report on Tuesday, politicians in every state will be focused on gains and losses in congressional seats and electoral votes and on the task of reapportionment of congressional districts.
In many states, the November election will mean a switch in the political control of state legislatures and the concomitant advantages the winners will have because they will control reapportionment. In Kansas, the significant increase in the Republican majority will permit Republicans in the Legislature to control completely the reapportionment process, thereby giving them the ability to further solidify their dominance in state politics.
All told, this has been a significant year on every front. Unfortunately, our economy remains in trouble, and commentators are now speaking of the “Great Recession.” In Kansas, the removal of federal stimulus funding from our budget means more years of financial austerity. The battle over health reform has now spread to the courts and the future of the president’s plans is in serious doubt.
Iran and North Korea continue to be a threat to nuclear nonproliferation and global political stability, and, alas, our military forces continue to fight — and die — in Afghanistan and Iraq. The longest war in our national history continues. But every year brings new opportunities and new hope. May 2011 bring good things to the world, our nation, our state and our community. Have a good Christmas and a happy New Year.