Archive for Saturday, February 12, 2011

KU continues to face key challenges

February 12, 2011


One phase of the ticket mess in the Kansas University athletics department supposedly will be put to rest with the upcoming sentencing of those involved in the illegal, embarrassing, criminal and long-running scam.

Even so, there are many who cannot accept that at least seven people could have been involved in the moneymaking scheme over a period of several years, while there was tremendous public outrage about the actions and policies of athletics officials, and not have the problem come to the attention of the leaders of Kansas Athletics Inc. Were they deaf, blind, lazy or arrogant?

Right now, that’s all past tense.

Now, there are other situations on Mount Oread that are just as important but perhaps do not generate a similar degree of interest, concern or frustration by alumni and friends of the school.

In no particular order of importance, consider the following:

There are three major search efforts under way to fill important senior positions: deans for the law school and business school and a new executive vice chancellor to handle public relations and lobbying efforts for KU in Topeka and Washington, D.C.

University leaders selected the same headhunter firm to handle the search for the business school dean as they used to find Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little and Provost Jeff Vitter. Dean Bill Fuerst announced last fall that he would step aside as B-school dean in June.

Whether someone will be found to move into the dean’s office by the start of the 2011 fall semester is questionable. If not, this important school will be run by a stand-in.

Just how big are senior university officials dreaming in their search efforts? Are they going after an easy hire or someone who has a national reputation as a leader with vision and courage, someone who is articulate and can inspire and motivate.

The same can be asked about a new law school dean. The first search effort went belly-up and, for various reasons, had to start over. It would be most interesting to know whether U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Deanell Tacha — a KU grad and Lawrence resident — was even considered as a candidate for law dean. Of course, perhaps Tacha, who was named this week to head the Pepperdine School of Law, wasn’t interested.

Both of the law and business school efforts raise the question of whether it is essential to have a high-priced headhunter directing staff searches.

Compare the current delayed and questionable search efforts for the business and law deans with the search process for the university’s new athletic director. This small group of six individuals searched the country. They didn’t use a headhunter; they got the job done more quickly than expected without any leaks and at a total cost of about $7,000.

And they got a winner, someone who is going to do an excellent job for the university and the state.

Couldn’t a small group of business school faculty members, working with a small group of highly successful business executives who are KU graduates, use their collective networking skills to identify a handful of superior candidates for the KU job?

In addition to these senior academic positions is the search for someone to oversee public relations and lobbying efforts for the university. Unfortunately, the university has not done a good job in this effort in past years. There has been a revolving door in this office, and it has hurt the school in many ways. One of the biggest and most frequent criticisms of the university is that it does a very poor job in telling its story. KU has a great story to tell, but it isn’t being told effectively or enthusiastically by those in Strong Hall. It’s embarrassing the university does not have an effective spokesperson.

Another challenge facing KU, as well as all Kansas Board of Regents schools, is the composition of the board and the degree of involvement these men and women have in the operation of the schools they oversee.

The recent serious problems in the KU School of Business offer first-hand proof. The regents knew nothing about this matter until a group of MBA students exposed the wrongdoing. Neither the dean, the chancellor, the active provost or anyone else had told the regents anything about the serious differential tuition matter at KU.

If the chancellor and university presidents are not going to be frank and open with the regents when discussing serious matters on their campuses, how are regents to know about such instances? However, this raises the question of whether past or current chancellors and provosts knew about the situation.

Regents need to have some way of finding out what is going on at the state universities and not blindly accepting the self-serving “everything is great” reports from the chancellor and presidents.

Gov. Sam Brownback will have the opportunity to reappoint or make new appointments to the Board of Regents within the next three or four months. Few gubernatorial appointments are more important for the state than those individuals who are supposed to oversee and guide the state’s universities, community colleges and vocational-technical schools.

Hopefully, Brownback realizes the importance of a strong, knowledgeable and committed Board of Regents.

In discussing the role and effectiveness of recent regents, this writer, in a December Saturday Column asked, “Might they (the governor and his close advisers) consider a university such as KU having a board of overseers, a small group of highly-skilled, knowledgeable individuals who could help guide the university? This group could be composed of vigilant, supportive, successful people who understand challenges and could provide the regents an acute, accurate, unbiased assessment of the university’s needs and how it and its administrators are functioning. Is the chancellor effective in communicating the school’s needs, and is he or she imaginative and innovative in addressing opportunities? Does the state have strong leaders in administrative positions?”

Too many KU friends and long-time advocates are expressing concerns about the school with some suggesting the institution resembles a caged hamster frantically running on a wheel but getting nowhere.

This cannot be allowed to continue as the university plays too significant a role in the state and is engaged in a challenging effort to achieve greater academic excellence.


mom_of_three 7 years, 4 months ago

don't forget the part that the committee found the money was not misspent.

kuprof54 7 years, 4 months ago

Here we go again. No, that's not what they found. Its apparent you haven't read the report. They found that under the most liberal definition of if money was spent on things that MIGHT benefit students, the school received a neutral rating.

Don't kid yourself....if all was well and those administrators were innocent and they were good for the school, four people would still have their jobs. Bottom line, Period.

mom_of_three 7 years, 4 months ago

I did read the report. And i feel that much of this has been blown out of proportion and the MBA students, well, dont get me started. But there is a reason people think KU students feel "entitled."

Thunderdome 7 years, 4 months ago

They are entitled to have administration adhere to the DT agreement. They are entitled not to be lied to. And they are entitled not to be talked down by B-School insiders who are benefiting from the students paying a premium in extra tuition.

Phillbert 7 years, 4 months ago

It is now quite clear that Dolph does not read his own newspaper.

How else to explain his repetition of the debunked claim about some great "wrongdoing" in the business school, or more hilariously his claim that the AD search didn't have any leaks. He must have missed the LJW's front page headline proclaiming that Bubba was the guy.

Maybe KU has trouble telling its story because the major media outlet in town is led by someone who stopped listening to anyone else a long time ago.

KU_cynic 7 years, 4 months ago

Three observations:

  1. The B-School dean search is now underway, and the search effort is in a confidential stage. How can Simons possible have any information that could allow him to criticize it as unambitious, "delayed", or "questionable"? Short answer: he doesn't but rather is engaging in pure speculation that fits his ill-spirited preconceptions.

  2. Simons suggests the AD search as a model, but then critically suggests that the dean search committee won't go after "someone who has a national reputation as a leader with vision and courage." I think Sheahon Zenger is a terrific hire, and so might have been Bubba Cunningham. But how could sitting ADs at Illinois St. and Tulsa have been considered as having "national reputations"? Would Simons consider an up-and-comer dean from a similarly situated b-school an "easy hire" to be criticized from the start?

  3. Regarding the search for a public relations vice chancellor, there's no debate that KU needs the help on communicating a vision. I'm surprised that Simons hasn't harped on his long-standing gripe that the chancellor has been ineffective as a visionary leader and communicator. That's the real story, and more and more faculty at KU have written off the chancellor as coasting through her duties and effectively retiring on the job. No golden-voiced or gilt-penned vice-chancellor for PR will overcome that perception as KU seeks to move forward effectively.

kuprof54 7 years, 4 months ago

People talk to Dolph all the time in a "confidential" manner. His comments are usually spot-on, although sometimes ahead of the curve. Just b/c you can't imagine a leak getting to him, it might have. Same thing with him not being privy to any info...Because he is. I think ku would poop a brick if it knew the people who talked to Mr. Simians.

Not to mention that a HR prof is head of the bschool committee. Seems like he should be equipped and capable to conduct a basic HR function without paying a search firm to do it for him.

yourworstnightmare 7 years, 4 months ago

I disagree, KU_cynic.

There is more going on at KU right now to improve KU's quality as a research university than at any time in the recent past.

The strategic planning initiative and the faculty performance measurements are big steps in the direction to make KU better. They have not yet been completed, so the jury is still out, but this beats the stagnation and lip-service that was paid to these issues for 20 years.

I think the Chancellor is behind these initiatives, but she is delegating to others to carry them forward e.g. (the Provost).

One must also keep in mind that many in the KU faculty and administration do not like these initiatives because they might upset the little nests of mediocrity that they have built up over the last 20 years or so.

KU_cynic 7 years, 4 months ago

Where do we disagree, nightmare? I support the spirit of the changes you mention, but they are largely the work of Provost Jeff Vitter. Yes, he has the backing of the chancellor, but to many of my colleagues she's viewed as an ineffective figurehead both on campus and off. The latest evidence was her lackluster and poorly delivered "state of the university" speech. Were you stirred by that?

yourworstnightmare 7 years, 4 months ago

I agree that Provost Vitter is executing them, but the Chancellor is certainly behind them.

I didn't listen to the speech. I do agree that the Chancellor lacks fiery charisma and that her personal style is conservative and her working style is delegative and out of the spotlight. It is a mistake to say she has nothing to do with these initiatives.

Now, we may very well want a more charismatic, in the spotlight Chancellor, but it is clear that Grey-Little is pushing things forward.

I was skeptical of Grey-Little initially because I was unenthused by her speeches. It is clear to me now that she works behind the scenes and that her head is in the right place.

After 20 years of "leadership" including the ineffectual Hemenway and Shulenberger as Provost, this is a welcome change.

Charles Crawford 7 years, 4 months ago

The comment that Chancellor Gray-Little is practicing for retirement is borne out by that it is deemed necessary to hire an Executive Vice Chanellor to "handle public relations and lobbying efforts for KU in Topeka and Washington, D.C." Aren't the Chancellors main jobs lobbying and fund raising? Both require energy, stature, and charisma. Being Chancellor provides stature, at least in the beginning. But Chanellor Gray-Little's stature is declining and she appears to lack the required energy and charisma.

JustNoticed 7 years, 4 months ago

"Were they deaf, blind, lazy or arrogant? Right now, that’s all past tense."

Rather disingenuous, Dolph. It will never be over for you.

minordonor 7 years, 4 months ago

This editorial is spot on. KU faces tremendous problems and it is clear that the school’s current leadership is unfit to offer solutions that will have an immediate impact. The Chancellor has had numerous opportunities to show decisive leadership on a wide variety of issues and has instead allowed problems to fester. The Provost is no better and has likely wasted a golden opportunity to reshape the University by launching a strategic plan that is soliciting input from a whole variety of characters that have helped to cause many of the issues that KU currently faces.

In regards to the AD search it is clear that Ray Evans has a done a tremendous job. Clearly one doesn’t need to spend $150K to conduct a nationwide search for any of the positions that are currently open. The individuals in charge of the search process for both the B-School and Law School should approach Ray for advice. It’s strange to me that the B-School would even need to hire a search firm as the search is being conducted by the school’s leading HR professor. Then again I have met Professor Guthrie.

I, like numerous other alumni, am convinced that the b-school has just suffered “a lost decade” under the current Dean, who clearly should have been replaced by an interim in September. Dean Wuerst has clearly managed to harm the Schools position in the region over the last 10 years. The relationships that have been damaged and the promises that have been broken are too many to list, the fact that he was only reappointed 5 years ago as a result of the fact that too many other Deans had already left that year speaks volumes about the chronic weakness of Strong Hall.

In my opinion it is clear that the new B-School dean needs to be someone who can communicate with donors in a manner that shows to them his or her vision of the school’s future. Another academic just won’t cut it this time.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.