Aside from talking about election results, the majority of casual conversations in Lawrence these days seem to center on sports-related events.
How good is the Kansas University basketball team, and why has Kansas State been predicted to finish first in the conference race and higher than KU in post-season play?
Will Josh Selby, supposedly last year’s No. 1 high school basketball player, be eligible to play for the Jayhawks in the coming season?
What’s wrong with the KU football team? Would former coach Mark Mangino have been able to produce more wins with current talent than new coach Turner Gill has been able to mark up?
How long will Gill last, and how much would it cost to buy out his contract in light of the very sweet deal former KU Athletic Director Lew Perkins gave the former Nebraska great?
Right or wrong, sports dominate most casual conversations in Lawrence.
As noted above, at election time, politics and political matters are major talking points among certain segments of the community but not throughout the year. Day after day, month after month, sports seem to command the most attention.
In a college town, why isn’t there more conversation and interest in education?
Shouldn’t there be just as much concern about whether Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little is doing a good job and whether she will be able to finish out her contract as there is about the football coach? If there is question about the contract Perkins offered the football coach, should there be equal interest in the contract offered and accepted by Gray-Little?
Football coach Gill emphasizes the excellence and experience of his assistant coaches at almost every press conference. Should the chancellor and new Provost Jeff Vitter be pumping up the excellence of their deans?
Consider the budget and marketing effort on behalf of the athletic department compared with similar efforts and number of people promoting and selling the KU academic product.
Earlier this week, four distinguished researchers, two from KU and two from Kansas State University, were recognized as Higuchi Award recipients.
The Higuchi Awards were established in 1981 to honor research accomplishments of faculty at Kansas Board of Regents universities.
Recipients represent the cream of the crop in the research business. They have achieved national and international recognition, the best of the best.
In sports, high school stars rated as “five-star” athletes are recruited and courted by the nation’s best intercollegiate athletic departments. Their names are all over the sports pages.
However, what efforts are made by university officials to publicize and promote the names of the school’s academic all-stars compared with the hype for athletic all-stars? How many alumni and KU fans know about Christian Schöneich, Chii-Dong Lin, Hagith Sivan and T.G. Nagaraja, who they are, where they teach and lead research, and their fields of excellence?
These are the four Higuchi Award winners recognized Wednesday afternoon at the Adams Alumni Center.
The roster of all Higuchi winners over the past 28 years is a who’s who of the greats at KU, KSU and Wichita State over this period. The same can be said about those designated as distinguished professors. They are just as great in their fields as all KU’s “greats” in sports.
They represent what universities are supposed to be about, an environment where students are inspired to take advantage of academic opportunities and where research is recognized as a vital part of the mission of research-based universities like KU.
Sports are just a part of the overall college scene. However, they are the part that receives the most attention and the most headlines and generates the most emotional reaction among alumni and fans. This being the case, the public, particularly alumni and friends of universities should take far more interest in how their schools are performing academically. If they do not measure up, they should not hesitate to call for changes, just as they do with coaches, athletic directors, etc.
How well is KU doing? How about faculty morale? How effective is the university in its lobbying efforts with state legislators?
How do the KU Endowment Association and the KU Alumni Association measure up to their responsibilities? Does KU do a good job of recruiting top students? How are its recruiting efforts and results compared with Bill Self’s recruiting efforts for good basketball players?
How do you judge the success or lack of success of a chancellor? Coaches have win-loss records; students have grades; business leaders can be measured by the bottom line of their companies.
How do you judge how a university is performing?
If Kansas fans are concerned about whether the KU football team ends up at the bottom of the conference standings this year, or if KU’s basketball fanatics worry about Bill Self’s team finishing second, third or fourth this year in the conference standings, should KU fans be equally concerned about how their university is performing and whether it is measuring up to its potential?
If not, what needs to be corrected? Why don’t people interested in the welfare of KU have the courage to speak up and call for improvements? Does the lack of far greater public concern indicate everything is great on Mount Oread or is there a sense of complacency? The competition is far too intense for anyone at KU or among alumni and friends to justify complacency.
It’s a matter of priorities and, historically, at most public universities, sports seem to generate far more public attention and emotion than the academic-research side of the schools.
Nevertheless, “all-star,” “all-American” and “all-conference” teachers and researchers should receive more recognition for their importance and role at a university.