By now, the word probably has gotten around state university campuses about the renewed and growing interest or concern by many relative to the Kansas Board of Regents and higher education in Kansas.
Here are some of the questions or issues being discussed.
The terms of three members of the nine-member Board of Regents expire this spring. The members can be reappointed or they can be relieved of their positions on this very important board.
What will Gov. Brownback do? Will his actions on this matter serve as a clear signal of what he expects of the regents and their roles/policies concerning the six state universities they oversee?
Will the governor play a bigger role in the affairs of the regents?
Will the regents be expected to know more about what is going on at state universities? It’s pretty obvious they have been blind to many matters or they have been kept in the dark by university leaders.
The regents are starting an effort identified as a “360” study or program designed to help them have a far better understanding of the performance of the Kansas University chancellor and presidents of the other five state universities. Questionnaires will be sent to alumni association officers, endowment association executive committee members, faculty, townspeople, students and others asking their opinions about how the chancellor and presidents are doing and their thoughts about the universities. The questionnaire about KU probably will be going out in about three or four weeks.
All answers are anonymous, and, hopefully, this project will help regents be more aware of what is going on rather than relying so much on reports from the chancellor and presidents.
Some regents believe their most important job is the hiring of a chancellor or president, and they are beginning to realize they also have the responsibility for terminating university executives when they don’t measure up. The thinking is that perhaps they should sometime openly fire a senior university administrator rather than to privately “encourage them to retire,” so these leaders realize the regents mean business and expect their wishes to be carried out.
For this reason, it is likely the regents soon will establish some metrics by which they can judge whether these leaders are getting the results necessary to elevate the excellence of their institutions.
In past years, the regents really haven’t had a yardstick to measure the performance of these administrators. Likewise, it’s likely the chancellor and presidents will be asked to establish specific goals rather than dealing in generalities. Generalities, such as attracting more students, achieving national excellence, retention of students, graduating more students, raising more money, elevating the excellence of the faculty, etc. It’s understood the regents want specific goals and targets they can use to determine whether the chancellor and presidents have been successful.
There is concern among regents, as well as among many on the university campuses, about what Brownback is likely to initiate relative to higher education.
There are few appointments a governor makes that are more important than his choices for the Board of Regents. These men and women affect the entire state in many, many ways. They can play a tremendous role in the excellence of the schools they oversee, and a governor reveals the importance he or she attaches to higher education by the caliber of the individuals appointed.
Are they men and women who merit the respect of the public? Do they have a record of achievement? Do they know something about the issues and challenges facing higher education? Do they merit the respect of state legislators, or are they merely friends of the governor or individuals put on the board as a payback for political favors? Are they tough, and do they have the courage to fire a chancellor or president?
We’ll know more about Brownback and his level of concern and interest — and the role he may decide to play in regents’ policies and actions — based on his handling of the three upcoming vacancies on the Board of Regents.
Some KU faculty members suggest there is a glaring need for at least one person on the board who is “academically agile,” someone who knows what higher education is all about, someone who knows what goes on at universities and cannot be fooled by grand-sounding generalities, someone who knows what questions need to be asked to get to the bottom of complicated situations and giant egos.
In regard to a goal often cited by chancellors and presidents about retention and higher graduation rates, there is an accompanying concern by faculty members of this goal being achieved by lowering academic standards. More students usually means more money for the schools, but perhaps, “more students” and “better retention” are achieved by lowering the standards and lowering graduation requirements.
Higher education takes a big slice out of the state’s budget, and the public, as well as the governor, has every right to demand superb performance by chancellors and presidents as well as by the regents.
The next three or four months are likely to be anxious times for university administrators, faculty members and those serving as regents.
Just how invasive or active will Brownback be in higher education? What will he do about the three vacancies on the board? What message will he send to the overall board relative to higher education and what he expects of the university chancellor and presidents?