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Archive for Saturday, November 13, 2010

KU provost taking low academic ranking seriously

November 13, 2010

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Finally there is someone at Kansas University in a senior administrative position who believes rankings are important — in academic achievements as well as in athletics.

For years, U.S. News & World Report has compiled numerous rankings of American universities, public and private, and how various schools and departments within these schools rank in comparison with other schools.

This annual report enjoys tremendous interest among high school students, their parents, state legislators who appropriate money to help support public institutions, various philanthropic organizations and those who are generous in their giving to public and private universities, faculty members who are interested in how their particular school or department measures up with similar programs at other universities, and college presidents and chancellors.

They realize tens of thousands of students and parents make decisions relative to colleges and universities on how the institutions are ranked in the U.S. News report as well as in other publications that rank academic institutions.

And yet, year after year, KU officials have downplayed the significance of these reports, suggesting it is wrong to place too much emphasis on the standings.

There always seemed to be some reason to dismiss the importance of academic rankings.

At last a senior KU official, new Provost Jeff Vitter, has made it clear rankings are indeed important, very important, and that he intends to do what he can to see KU’s rankings start to climb.

The Association of American Universities is the nation’s top association of research universities — public and private. The 63-member schools represent the best of the best.

KU was an early member of the AAU, perhaps the first in the old Big Six, Big Seven or Big Eight conferences. KU was looked upon as a leader among state-aided universities.

However, according to Vitter, KU now ranks in the bottom quartile among AAU schools in several key metrics, including federal research expenditures, national academies memberships, doctoral degrees granted and a number of research citations.

He points out KU ranks 57th among all the 61 AAU members in the United States in the U.S. News & World Report rankings and 31st among the 35 AAU public schools.

Furthermore, less than one-third of KU students graduate in four years and KU’s six-year graduation rate is 60 percent.

Vitter said, “KU’s a great institution, but we also have to take a realistic look at where we are to reach the next level of excellence.”

The former Texas A&M provost said he is concerned many non-AAU schools are outperforming KU in key areas and that AAU membership is not guaranteed. With other schools invited to join and other schools leaving the organization, KU must make sure it is not dropped from the prestigious association.

Previous KU officials have set high goals for the university, such as KU moving into the top 25 of all state-aided institutions and that once this goal was achieved, work to join the top 25 of all American universities, public and private.

This all sounded good, for a time, but growing numbers of KU friends started to wake up to the fact the school was dropping, not rising, in rankings in various categories. There always was some qualifying excuse offered by KU officials and the suggestion too much emphasis is placed on magazine rankings.

Vitter makes it clear KU must get better, particularly in light of tougher competition throughout the country and also within the state.

The quiet-spoken Vitter has had a rude awakening in his first months at KU, such as the embarrassing situation at the School of Business. He had nothing to do with the mess and it would have remained a mess if it hadn’t been for the courage, concern and commitment of several business school graduate students. These MBA students called attention to highly questionable actions within the school and questioned if business school students, who had paid more than $32 million in extra differential tuition to the school over the past six years, were getting what they had been promised or guaranteed in an improved and expanded educational program.

The matter was serious enough that Vitter and others called for an independent audit of the business school programs as well as similar programs at other schools within the university.

It also was sufficiently serious that the students asked that business school dean William Fuerst be fired. He “resigned” shortly thereafter but will remain a member of the faculty.

The “review” or “audit” was made public this week and if not a whitewash, it was at least an effort to paint the school and its senior officials as complying with “most” of the requirements called for in the differential tuition agreement and that the students’ concerns were overplayed.

It’s obvious there were serious problems within the business school and it’s too bad school and university officials still will not acknowledge the seriousness of these situations.

The business school matter illustrates there hasn’t been the degree of oversight there should be by those in the chancellor’s and provost’s office and by deans.

The business school situation is a mess. One of the MBA students who attended a meeting this week of students and Vitter told this writer those at the gathering were not impressed with the provost’s handling of this matter, or his awareness, at least publicly, of what has been going on at the business school. However, he said, “nearly everyone agreed that Provost Vitter has inherited an incredibly difficult position.”

He cannot be held responsible for the lack of leadership in recent years and poor faculty morale. And he cannot change things overnight. It’s going to take time but it is critical that changes are made.

There are hopeful signs such as Vitter’s concern about how the university ranks among AAU schools and his determination to make improvements. It’s hoped he will set high standards for the deans of all schools and not accept complacency and/or mediocrity.

As Vitter said, “KU’s a great institution, but we also have to take a realistic look at where we are to reach the next level of excellence.”

Vitter is the man in charge of the academic side of the university. The chancellor is more involved with off-campus affairs of the institution, but Vitter’s effectiveness will play a significant role in how the university is viewed and judged by off-campus alumni and friends.

It is hoped those interested in the welfare and excellence of the university will realize and appreciate the courage of a handful of students who were sufficiently concerned about what was going on, and had been allowed to go on within their school, to stand up and call attention to the situation and demand corrective actions.

They have performed a tremendous service on behalf of the university.

Comments

LJD230 4 years, 1 month ago

Dolph states:

"Vitter is the man in charge of the academic side of the university. The chancellor is more involved with off-campus affairs of the institution, but Vitter’s effectiveness will play a significant role in how the university is viewed and judged by off-campus alumni and friends."

Allow me to rewrite Dolph's comment:

Grey Brown Little was" the woman in charge of the academic side of the university. The chancellor is more involved with off-campus affairs of the institution, but Vitter’s effectiveness will play a significant role in how the university is viewed and judged by off-campus alumni and friends."

Anyone care to argue that UNC is NOT a world class university? And the former provost was?

LJD230 4 years, 1 month ago

"The matter was serious enough that Vitter and others called for an independent audit of the business school programs as well as similar programs at other schools within the university."

The “review” or “audit” was made public this week and if not a whitewash, it was at least an effort to paint the school and its senior officials as complying with “most” of the requirements called for in the differential tuition agreement and that the students’ concerns were overplayed.

"It’s obvious there were serious problems within the business school and it’s too bad school and university officials still will not acknowledge the seriousness of these situations"

"The business school situation is a mess. One of the MBA students who attended a meeting this week of students and Vitter told this writer those at the gathering were not impressed with the provost’s handling of this matter, or his awareness,..."

And yet in the writer's opening drumroll he opines: " Finally there is someone at Kansas University in a senior administrative position who believes rankings are important — in academic achievements as well as in athletics."

Bob_Keeshan 4 years, 1 month ago

And who hired Vitter?

Oh yeah, that incompetent woman chancellor did.

At least Mr. Simons is bound to lose weight from the steady diet of crow he will be consuming.

Thunderdome 4 years, 1 month ago

Wow, that's an incredibly sexest way to phrase that comment. Let me counter by saying that most of KU's problems are attributable to the old white guy club that is prevalent throughout the university.

pat1888 4 years, 1 month ago

And you think Dolph doesn't qualify as a member of the old white guys club? You'll take support from just about anyone at this point, huh?

Bob_Keeshan 4 years, 1 month ago

That isn't a counter, you know. Your #1 supporters are members of the old white guy club.

Phillbert 4 years, 1 month ago

Maybe you can get KU to pay $50,000 for an independent report explaining sarcasm to you. Then another $50,000 for one on irony.

Thunderdome 4 years, 1 month ago

Toe - Are you going to fund privatization?

pat1888 4 years, 1 month ago

Are you going to pick up the tab on the external review? Stop acting like you give a damn about the lack of funds in public education.

Thunderdome 4 years, 1 month ago

I didn't commission the review. Talk to the Dean and Provost about that issue. I do care deeply about public funding and believe that it should be used wisely which does not include giving the Associate Dean of the Business School approximately $60,000 in raises since 2005. Also, to clarify, DT is not public funding. Students pay it directly and, therefore, should receive a full accounting of its use. If the Dean had been providing the biannual reports as required, the review would not have been necessary. Technically, the $50K should come out of his bloated salary.

yourworstnightmare 4 years, 1 month ago

I agree with Mr. Simons 100%.

Provost Vitter's initiatives are just what KU needs.

For 30 years, KU has stagnated in mediocrity; mediocre administrators expecting nothing from a mediocre faculty. No goals. No vision. No aspirations to get better or excel.

Is it any wonder KU ranks at the bottom in research and graduate education?

Luckily, KU still has a reputation of being a good research university. This reputation is fading fast in the light of data, however.

It is time for KU faculty and administrators to justify their existence: to show how they are contributing to the research and teaching missions of KU. Those found wanting must be given a chance to improve. If they do not improve, they should be replaced, encouraged to retire or take another position, or fired.

voevoda 4 years, 1 month ago

KU faculty "justify their existence" every day, yourworstnightmare. They justify it by teaching excellently, contributing to the growth of knowledge in their fields, and by keeping the university running smoothly. And they do so despite a too-high percentage of ill-prepared and poorly-motivated students, insufficient research funding and technical support, and constantly changing higher administrators who reinvent the wheel.
KU ranks below where it belongs because the rankings are beauty contests that favor old, private money. The outrageous anti-intellectual behavior of prominent Kansans further undercuts our credibility. Universities in blue states get ranked higher, partly because they are in blue states (or at least, purple states), and partly because historically, Democratic state administrations have funded public education at a higher level. So KU has a lot of strikes against it from the outset in the rankings race. Can Vitter--or any provost--change things? Probably not, unless he is a lot more successful convincing the state legislature than any of his predecessors have been. Unlike Mr. Simons, I've been told that Vitter is already part of the problem, rather than the solution. That remains to be seen. My best guess? He'll be gone before he has much chance to accomplish anything.

Thunderdome 4 years, 1 month ago

I think most students agree with you about a vast majority of faculty members. They work hard to provide relevant undergraduate and graduate instruction. Your points about the state and the Provost's opportunity to make real headway are also relevant. However, the Business School has had an extra pot of money for nearly seven years with which they could have hired additional faculty members and taken other steps to make the school more successful. Unfortunately, many of the younger, bright tenure-track faculty members have been driven away. At this point, there are 18 fewer faculty members than there were in 2004 and all because of a vengeful, spiteful administration that is more concerned about tuition dollars than educating our future leaders. Hopefully, Provost Vitter will stay and fight to weed out bad administrators and put KU faculty and students on a path to success across the entire campus.

Kendall Simmons 4 years, 1 month ago

Out of curiosity, who has told you that "Vitter is already part of the problem"???

That's the problem with Dolph's constant complaining...he never tells us where he get his 'information' from, even though he would obviously like us to believe that it's from people who are 'in the know'.

But it's equally obvious from what he writes that he mainly gets his "information" from people who are NOT privy to what actually is going on up on campus and in Strong Hall. People who are NOT actually in a position to be able to make sound judgments based on the facts.

Even in this complain... (cough) opinion piece, this is obvious.

I mean, he's taking the personal opinion of an MBA student about other's opinions of a meeting Dolph wasn't even at and, apparently, turning that opinion into "proof" that the Business School is "a mess". That the auditors' report "was at least an effort to paint the school and its senior officials as complying with “most” of the requirements called for in the differential tuition agreement and that the students’ concerns were overplayed" rather than an impartial assessment of the facts.

However he doesn't provide ANY evidence whatsoever that this is true! He doesn't even claim to have read the darned report! Nope...that MBA student's negative opinion was good enough for Dolph to, yet again, malign KU.

So we're supposed to believe him when he complains over and over again about things based on nothing more than the opinions of other unnamed people who allegedly happen to agree with him?

Dolph could have said that there's still room for improvement or that, while there have been problems, definite actions have been taken to improve things but more needs to be done. But, nope! The Business School is a "mess". And the auditors' report was, basically, a "whitewash".

Well, I say "hogwash".

yourworstnightmare 4 years, 1 month ago

Indeed, many faculty at ku are hard working, dedicated researchers and teachers. They have nothing to fear in a performance review. Generally it is those with reasons to fear a performance review who are afraid of it and oppose it.

It is time to raise standards and hold all at ku accountable for their performance.

voevoda 4 years, 1 month ago

Why do you assume that KU faculty aren't* reviewed for their performance? In fact, they are, every year; this is mandated by the university. That includes not only untenured professors but also tenured professors, including the most senior ones. The ones who don't measure up are directed to improve or retire. If very few tenured professors are removed from their jobs, it is because a) they have proven themselves in order to get tenure in the first place; b) the slackers improve, or they retire, so there is no need to fire them.

Cait McKnelly 4 years, 1 month ago

In response to the headline: "But...but..but..we're third in the NCAA!!!!"

WRH63 4 years, 1 month ago

Mr. Simons keeps stroking the MBA students’ egos by calling them courageous, baiting them into continuing with their baseless claims. What’s next? Are the students going to buy an ad or run a letter and claim they never wanted an audit? Are we going to see a whole new set of allegations? Come on Mr. Simons. Quit using these students to generate your endless need for fodder to sling against KU. And students, remember that real courage requires the humility to take responsibility for one’s errors. Man-up boys. Admit your mistake and move on.

Thunderdome 4 years, 1 month ago

The only mistake was hiring the Dean and Associate Dean at the Business School. Mr. Simons is not using the students. If you think this is over, you are sorely mistaken. Strap in...this is just the beginning. You can't bilk students for $37 million and expect for it to just go away.

Kendall Simmons 4 years, 1 month ago

PLEASE!!! Please give us factual evidence of the "bilking" of students. Don't just 'pull a Dolph' and give us your personal opinion as 'fact'.

As we get the details (not from Dolph, of course), this become less and less of a 'scandal', and more and more simply a situation that could have been handled better and is now being improved upon.

There were certainly errors in judgement. Not keeping student involvement active was stupid.

But claiming the students were bilked requires something more than Dolph Simons' personal opinion as your evidence.

yourworstnightmare 4 years, 1 month ago

The business school mess is just that, a mess allowed to fester by a complacent administration and a "creative" dean.

I don't know the content of the original differential tuition agreement, but I think the students are saying that agreements were broken; that funds meant to support student education and programs were spent on other things. These other things were not necessarily criminal or personal, but just not the things promised in the agreement.

I agree. The use of the word "bilking" by Mr. Simons is inflammatory and presumptuous.

The point of the story, though, is that Vitter plans to take steps to make KU better in rankings. This includes increasing research productivity. Mediocre and complacent KU faculty should take notice and start doing their jobs instead of resting in the "no expectations" mediocre zone of the last 30 years.

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