Archive for Saturday, January 9, 2010

Finding right candidates for key vacancies is critical to KU

January 9, 2010


There is growing concern among Kansas University faculty about current fiscal restraints and how these money problems may impact the institution, their jobs and their ability to provide a superior and challenging educational experience for their students.

At the same time, there is increasing concern among faculty members about the selection of a new provost for the university.

In a way, the provost’s excellence, visionary leadership and executive abilities are more important to faculty members than the activities of the chancellor.

The provost is supposed to be “Mr. or Mrs. Inside” or with the chancellor being “Mrs. Outside.” The provost is in charge of the faculty and the school’s academic excellence. The chancellor deals with state legislators, alumni and friends and helps raise money for the institution.

She is the face of the university, but the provost is responsible for the faculty and its excellence.

This is why there is growing concern about who will be selected to fill this critical role. Will it be the someone from outside KU or will someone be elevated from within?

Currently, Danny Anderson serves as interim provost, having been put in that position when former Provost Richard Lariviere left to become president of the University of Oregon. Apparently, one provost is not enough at KU because the university directory lists seven vice provosts.

According to a number of senior faculty members, it is hoped members of the search committee formed to recruit several individuals for the provost’s position will select individuals from outside KU for their recommendations. They say it is critical for the academic excellence of the school that a highly skilled and respected individual be selected for this position.

It stands to reason that new KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little should be extremely interested in the quality of those selected by the search committee and that, due to her own years as a provost at the University of North Carolina, she should be well schooled on the role of a provost and what kind of person she would like to have in this important position. She also should know who the better provosts are around the country or perhaps who her former colleagues might suggest as up-and-comers in this field.

As chancellor she should want the best — and KU deserves the best.

As noted in an earlier Saturday Column, there are a number of people within the Strong Hall administrative fraternity (some call it the Strong Hall cabal) who have wasted no time in trying to position themselves in the eyes of Gray-Little as being important to her success, as well as the success of the institution. It’s a game of self-survival, and the idea of a chancellor or executive being protected or insulated by staff is a deadly matter. Chancellors need to know and be aware of what those on the outside are thinking.

Numerous senior and highly respected faculty members acknowledge they are concerned about the actions and motives of some of these second-level individuals and whether they are helping or hurting the school in their own quest for influence and control.

In addition to the empty provost’s position, there also are vacancies in the deans’ offices of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the new School of Music. Earlier this week, Gail Agrawal, dean of the School of Law, resigned her KU deanship to become dean of the University of Iowa College of Law. The KU post was her first deanship, and many wonder what prompted her move to Iowa City when the Iowa deanship is not a major or significant step up in the excellence of law schools. It also is reported the Iowa law school faculty is in a state of disarray.

A meeting has been scheduled for Monday for faculty and administrators to name an interim dean and discuss the search effort for a new dean.

A great deal is riding on the level of leadership and vision at KU. As in most every business or endeavor, it’s the quality of excellence of leadership that makes the difference between poor, mediocre and true excellence.

KU alumni and friends and, even more importantly, KU faculty members want the best in leadership, vision and inspiration provided by their leaders.

Those with the responsibility of selecting finalists for the next KU provost and deans of the College, School of Music and School of Law are playing a big role in determining the excellence of KU. Will they present the names of individuals who can help build the university into an even better institution or settle for “comfortable,” moderately priced, average individuals, who are not likely to rock the boat? The College and law deans and certainly the provost’s office are among the top three to five positions at KU. The School of Law impacts every county and major city in the state.

Whether or not it is publicly acknowledged, these are crucial times for the university, and growing numbers of faculty are well aware of the situation. Whether or not alumni and friends living away from Lawrence are sufficiently aware of the seriousness of the matter is questionable because many seem willing to float with the tide and accept the “in house” suggestion that everything is fine on Mount Oread rather than call for KU to regain its former position as a true flagship institution for this part of the country, not just for the state of Kansas.


anon1958 8 years, 4 months ago

One of the major jobs of the provost at KU is to protect the administration from criticism or bad publicity. Long time faculty also know that an important role of the provost is to be the hatchet man for the chancellor.

In my experience, the provost and his assistants often are completely unaware of many University of Kansas regulations that they are supposed to follow and uphold. I am certainly not the only person that has experienced first hand the incompetence of KU administrators that are incapable of providing a straight answer to questions that are not what I would call difficult.

The position of provost and chancellor are not nearly as important to the operation of the university as these people advertise. The real work of the University of Kansas is carried out by the faculty and the support staff. The chancellor at KU and many other places is mostly held in thrall to the athletic department and decline to uphold the ideals of a university when they are trampled upon by the athletic director, bully donors or bad behaving coaches.

The higher administration at KU has a scornful and condescending attitude toward the faculty and are expert at playing department chairs against their own faculty. There are many faculty that will embrace the false prestige of a chair and do they dirty work of the administration until they see through the farce or just become too burned out and alienated to continue.

Paraphrasing the great philosopher Bertrand Russell

"To avoid the usual mistakes and bad decisions implemented by university chancellors, presidents and provosts, no super human genius is required."

msks 8 years, 4 months ago

Anon1958 has some good points. I have seen excellent deans fired if they were ' too friendly' with their faculty . This makes it much harder to get someone else to take the job.

Jonathan Becker 8 years, 4 months ago

RE: law school dean departure and law school rankings.

Dolph's 'rithmetic is a wee fuzzy. US News & World Report's rankings of law schools ranks Iowa 26th and Kansas 65th.

Now I am going to write this next sentence slowly, so Dolph can read it. . . .

A ranking of 26th is not equal to a ranking of 65th.

yourworstnightmare 8 years, 4 months ago

I agree with anon1958.

The administrator class at KU is entrenched, not productive, and only concerned with protecting their own positions.

The KU administration is not concerned with making KU better and more competitive. In fact, they often refuse to support productive and excellent faculty, possibly because these faculty make the adminstrators' own lackluster academic careers look, well, lackluster.

While all universities have these sorts of administrators, KU is rife with them. Like nowhere else, the administrator class at KU is entrenched and only concerned with protecting their own positions.

yourworstnightmare 8 years, 4 months ago

As an exercise, look through current provosts and deans at KU to see how many received a degree from KU.

There are many. Off hand, I can think of the the Dean of CLAS (PhD KU), the Provost (MA and PhD KU), at least two vice provosts.

Let's hope that this is because of the interim nature of the positions.

took_the_money_and_ran 8 years, 4 months ago

"The KU administration is not concerned with making KU better and more competitive. In fact, they often refuse to support productive and excellent faculty ... "

Possible translation: no support was forthcoming for a half-baked plan that would consume more overhead money than it could possibly generate.

Paul R Getto 8 years, 4 months ago

KU has been losing excellent professors and administrators to higher paying universities for generations. Not a new thing, but it is being made more difficult with the budget crisis manufactured by the friends of education in the legislature.

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