With Kansas University fall semester classes due to start within a few weeks, it’s reasonable for those deeply interested in the welfare and success of the school to wonder who will be driving the KU school bus during the 2010-11 year.
This question is justified due to the seemingly rudderless direction and control of the school the past few years.
It is unfortunate the last three or four years of the Hemenway administration were not strong, visionary and aggressive. There was far too much drifting and floating.
This being the case, faculty, students, parents, taxpayers and those genuinely interested in the school had hoped the next KU chancellor would provide the missing enthusiasm, vision, communication skills and leadership so vital to the school.
Unfortunately, the hunger for those attributes continues.
The mess in Allen Fieldhouse is a disgrace, with reports or findings from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Internal Revenue Service yet to come. The ticket scandal, along with the arrogance and ego of some within the department has dishonored the department and the university.
It continues to be a puzzle why Hemenway extended the athletic director’s contract and sweetened bonus arrangements.
With the AD’s salary among the top of all university athletic directors, it is disappointing, as well as frustrating and maddening, to see KU’s poor position in the annual national “Director’s Cup” standings as well as the KU record in the Big 12.
It seems reasonable to think if the AD is one of the country’s top-paid athletic directors, the school’s athletic performance record also should be near the top of Division I schools.
Guess what? In the just-compiled Director’s Cup scorecard of Big 12 schools, as well as in the national rankings of 278 Division I schools, KU’s performance is a disgrace.
In the Big 12, KU ranks next to last, with Kansas State at the bottom. In the national ranking, KU places 73rd.
As usual, Stanford University leads the Director’s Cup, with Texas A&M at No. 5; Oklahoma, 14; Nebraska, 15; Texas, 20; Oklahoma State, 32; Iowa State, 33; Baylor, 38; Texas Tech, 40, Missouri, 48; Colorado, 66; KU, 73; and Kansas State, 131.
One of the reasons KU ranks so low is that it does not provide as full a sports package as other schools.
Considering the salary or earnings of KU’s athletic director, it would seem a few new programs could be added to KU’s competitive menus merely by making some cuts in the AD’s salary.
By the way, KU’s ranking and accomplishments in the Big 12 should raise some concerns when comparing Perkins’ salary and the size of his staff to salaries and staff in other athletic programs in the Big 12.
Nationally, KU ranked 65th in 2003-04, 72nd in 2008-09 and 73rd in 2009-10. KU’s record has gotten worse in the past six years, not better.
Will Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little take more control of what goes on in the athletic department or allow Perkins to run the show however he wishes?
Also, when will she start the search for a new athletic director? Is there a possibility Perkins would be encouraged to leave earlier than the previously announced 2011 retirement date?
Another matter of concern is what has been disclosed recently about questionable actions in the KU School of Business.
Some years ago, the Kansas Board of Regents OK’d a program that allowed various schools within the university to charge “differential” fees on top of regular tuition. Under this plan, a dean was expected to form a student oversight committee to have a voice in how the added money was allocated.
A number of students in KU’s master’s in business administration program have raised questions about the failure of the KU dean to maintain a student oversight committee and expressed concern about how the dean has spent the additional tuition money, which amounts to well over $1 million.
According to the students, the dean and others within the school — and some in Strong Hall — have tried to stonewall this matter and act as if there is nothing wrong or out of line.
Students agreed to the differential fees, but they did so expecting the added hundreds of thousands of dollars would be spent to improve the academic excellence of the school rather than primarily to help fund the school’s administration.
The School of Business is just one of many KU schools that collects the differential tuition, and the scheme amounts to millions of dollars.
Are deans abusing these funds, and who has been on top of the situation? Is this more evidence of the provost’s lack of control and awareness of what is happening on the academic side of the university?
In addition to the questionable use of differential tuition dollars in the business school, there also is the question of how and why KU’s school was dropped from the prestigious Center for International Business Education and Research program.
KU was one of 31 U.S. universities to have this association, and regardless of how KU business school officials try to pooh-pooh this loss, it is a major blow to the school and to students and faculty interested in international business. According to some close to the program, the CIBER loss did not have to happen. It could have been saved.
This raises the question of whether the provost’s office is as knowledgeable and involved as it should be in how the overall KU academic program is operating. How powerful, involved and influential will KU’s new provost, Jeffrey Vitter, be in the operation and development of the university?
Generally speaking, the provost operates as “Mr. Inside,” overseeing the academic side of the university, with the chancellor filling the role of “Mr. or Mrs. Outside,” dealing with the public, legislators, fundraising etc.
The question of who is driving the KU bus remains unanswered, but many are asking if a new, strong, respected provost might move into the driver’s seat, providing the vision, smarts, communication skills and energy to be a powerful driving force for the university.
Justified or not, there is concern about Gray-Little’s ability to be an effective, inspirational leader. There have not been many times in the university’s history when the need for strong, visionary leadership has been as great as it is today.
Most KU fans want Gray-Little to succeed and take firm control of the school. However, as one knowledgeable observer said to this writer, “She must jump in with both feet. This is not just a run-of-the-mill job. It calls for a strong leader. Does she have the ability to be a visionary and true leader, or is she just reacting to situations?”
This question of leadership and whether Vitter might move into the driver’s seat is timely and critical.
Unfortunately, there is a small cadre in Strong Hall that seems to have a goal of trying to protect or insulate the chancellor from the “outside” where she might hear the concerns or worries of loyal KU supporters. They are not doing the chancellor any favors, and the real motivation for their actions may be to try to cement and protect their own positions with the chancellor.
The coming school year is critical for KU. Will there be new vigor, excitement and enthusiasm, along with better faculty morale?
Will Chancellor Gray-Little supply the leadership and vision the university deserves and needs? Will the chancellor take control of the athletic department? Will a new provost be better informed and involved in the institution and be on top of situations that have surfaced in the School of Business?
Lastly, will the new provost turn out to be the major engine driving the KU bus — both on the academic road and on the off-campus, public, legislative and alumni trafficway?