Archive for Saturday, November 6, 2010

Academic all-stars deserve same attention as top athletes

November 6, 2010


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.


Richard Heckler 7 years, 6 months ago

Now if only the same amount of free money would flow to the academics in need of support.

Where is the "Williams Fund" for academics?

independent_rebel 7 years, 6 months ago

If such a thing would work, merrill, it would already exist.

KU_cynic 7 years, 6 months ago

I'll see merrill's comment and raise it:

KU should allow donors to academic programs to earn points toward athletic ticket privileges on an equal basis as gifts to athletics itself.

Such a move would help to restore balance to warped sensibilities.

texburgh 7 years, 6 months ago

Bravo! An excellent idea. This happened to my dad with his Alma mater (in another state). He was told he would lose his season tickets because of his lack of contributions to the athletics department and that his large annual donations to academic programs would not count. He'd been giving on the academic side for years. He told the athletics department what they could do with his football tickets and has never gone back. Why is it that our universities no longer seem to understand their primary mission - academics?

parrothead8 7 years, 6 months ago


"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?," asks the guy who owns the paper that publicizes the athletic all-stars, but not the academic all-stars.

Duh. Try being a journalist. Go to campus. Interview officers of student clubs. Find the academic all-stars and publicize them instead of expecting "university officials" to do your job. University officials are too busy trying to run a university under a "business" model imposed on them by people who don't understand what a university is supposed to accomplish.

Phillbert 7 years, 6 months ago

I had two sports-related sections in my newspaper this morning, the usual Sports section and a special section just about the football game. Strangely the LJW always seems to forget to put in the Academics section.

Oh, and Dolph, you've written this column before:

cato_the_elder 7 years, 6 months ago

Jeff Vitter so far appears to be an effective administrator with a no-nonsense approach. If he's really capable, we'll probably lose him in the near future because of our loss of stature in recent years. Hopefully, he can help KU regain some of its former elan while he's here.

voevoda 7 years, 6 months ago

Jeff Vitter is on a career track to be a university president. KU is just a stop on the way. Whether KU treats him well or not, he will be gone within five years.

PugnaciousJayhawk 7 years, 6 months ago

Five years? I don't think he'll last that long. By my count he's already alienated the faculty at two Schools. The man needs not only a new personality but a new wardrobe as well.

texburgh 7 years, 6 months ago

Solomon and Phillbert are right on. Where was the LJW article on the Higuchi award winners? Front page above the fold? No, that space is reserved for athletics! The LJW is a major part of the problem, feeding the "athletics only news bias" I would think the simple thing is for Dolph to change the editorial policy tonight. Starting tomorrow athletics stays in the sports section and academics will be featured in section A every day.

You can do it, Dolph. Quit pontificating and ACT.

voevoda 7 years, 6 months ago

Mr. Simons, Here's the problem in a nutshell: Even in a column that is supposed to be about "academic all-stars," you talk as much--and in greater detail--about athletics. Even when you talk about academics, you do so in the form of snide questions, implying that KU is a huge failure. If you want to promote academics at KU, try doing these things: 1) Write a column praising KU's academic achievements wholeheartedly, without a single question mark or derogatory comment. 2) Present the facts correctly. LIn and Nagaraja are at K-State, so they aren't directly relevant to the issue of KU's respect for academic excellence. 3) Take the lead in donating money to KU's academic programs. Create more prizes--there are more than two faculty members who deserve recognition for research each year. 4) Publish flashy stories about academics with the same regularity and space you devote to athletics.
I'm not the only one who is tired of your repeated jabs at KU, Mr. Simons. If you can't think of something new to say on the topic, just talk about other things.

equalaccessprivacy 7 years, 6 months ago

KU does not recognize truth-tellers as allies. It will only have truck with those who buy into its uncivilized lies. Since even the Regents are bought and paid for there's little help for the criminals running that stellar anti-intellectual palace on the hill or those at their mercy.

yourworstnightmare 7 years, 6 months ago

Let's look at reality. People simply do not care about academics in the same way they do sports.

Therefore, the market, including Mr. Simon's own newspaper, give much coverage to sports, because that is what people care about.

There are two ways to take advantage of this. First, raise the profile of the academics side through front page reporting and articles about how these efforts create jobs in Lawrence.

Second, leverage the KU sports interest into help on the academic side. A good suggestion made by someone else was to allow academic giving to count toward ticket privileges.

This would certainly not go over well with the athletic side. But does the tail wag the dog? I daresay at KU it probably does, so this idea will not happen.

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