Topeka Lew Perkins may soon have company in the leadership ranks at Kansas Athletics Inc.
KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little has agreed to consider adding outside members to the board of directors for the university’s athletics department, a change she has discussed with her own bosses on the Kansas Board of Regents.
Gray-Little told regents Thursday that she wants to be sure that the board at Kansas Athletics Inc. — and boards for other organizations affiliated with the university — has “the kind of membership that can provide the guidance that’s needed.”
The department’s current board has six members, led by Perkins as athletics director and including only others who are on the university’s payroll: the provost, student body president, a vice provost, the faculty athletics representative, and the university’s chief business and financial planning officer.
Regent Ed McKechnie said he would welcome outsiders’ perspectives, noting that it takes “a very special person to be both a CEO and a chairman of the board,” and that “we ought to separate those powers” at Kansas Athletics.
“You want to have a board pushing and challenging, versus one just to bring forward recommendations to approve. I think this (change) makes a lot of sense.”
Gray-Little’s appearance Thursday before the regents came as Kansas University continues to grapple with the fallout from a ticket scandal that already has led to the resignation of five department employees and one paid consultant, all of whom have been implicated by a university-sponsored investigation blaming them for stealing up to $3 million worth of basketball and football tickets that were in turn sold for personal gain.
A federal investigation remains ongoing, one that has involved the IRS, FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. And Athletics Director Lew Perkins has agreed to retire at the end of the next academic year, as he works to clean up the ticket mess and also deal with his own report that he’d been blackmailed by a former employee — a report that has led to a possible ethics investigation surrounding his acceptance of $15,000 worth of loaned exercise equipment used at his home.
Regent Gary Sherrer, who would be elected regents chairman later in Thursday’s meeting, reminded Gray-Little that she had “inherited” the ticket problems at KU.
Gray-Little acknowledged the problems, a day after regents had conducted her one-year job review.
“This will make me think twice about how happy one should be about inheritances,” she told regents, mustering a smile amid laughter in the regents meeting room.
Added Jill Docking, a broker who stepped down Thursday as chairwoman: “Well, that was just the estate tax you just got.”
Gray-Little told regents that the university had filed a claim with its insurance carriers, seeking to recoup some of the money lost when nearly 20,000 regular-season tickets for basketball and football games were stolen during the past five years.
The university also is moving forward with plans to hire a forensic auditor to heighten oversight of athletics operations, she said, given that previous reviews by outside auditors had failed to uncover the problems.
“It’s clear that a regular-type audit was not adequate,” she told regents.
Gray-Little said she would expect to have all recommended changes in systems and additional safeguards against fraud in place within three months. Regents instructed her to present them with another report in September.
Sherrer, a former lieutenant governor, said that Gray-Little was “on the right track” in addressing the problems in athletics.
But she’ll need to work hard on changing the culture within the department, he said, one that allowed thefts to continue for years, apparently without anyone willing to do anything to stop it.
“You have to have the right procedures, and you have to create the right culture,” Sherrer said, during a break in the meeting. “And you have to have the right governing group. I think she’s recognized that. Now, the test is: Will this happen soon?”
Sherrer, and his fellow regents, will be looking forward to the next report.
“We’re not dropping the issue,” he said.