Earlier this week, Kansas University Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little delivered a “state of the university” address, her first such presentation.
The chancellor’s assessment of the current state of affairs at KU followed similar presentations by Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback on the state of affairs in Kansas and this week’s address by President Obama on how he views the state of affairs in this country.
The chancellor, governor and president all face severe challenges within their respective jurisdictions, and there are no easy, painless solutions to the problems. Money seems to be the principal problem, how to raise more money for more programs, how to reduce expenses without severely damaging essential programs and how to inspire or motivate citizens to strive for excellence.
Gray-Little focused on several specific areas in her presentation: how to attract and hold students by increasing the number of four-year scholarships, how to elevate the university’s position relative to the prestigious Association of American Universities, and the ongoing effort to update the university’s general education requirements and methods to create a new system to measure faculty research and its input and importance to the state.
Money, a lot of money, is needed if Gray-Little and the university are going to be able to address the challenges noted by the chancellor.
This places even more importance on the long-delayed university and KU Endowment Association capital campaign. Is there sufficient enthusiasm and excitement about the university to encourage alumni and friends to be generous in their giving when the drive gets under way, and will prospective donors feel confident university leaders will spend their dollars in an effective manner for projects that resonate with those giving the money?
This writer has long believed “excellence” will make the difference between those schools that grow in stature and respect versus those that merely drift with the tide, those where leaders and representatives talk the talk but really walk in circles with little forward movement.
KU should be and can be a true leader among state-aided universities, but something has to be done to excite and enthuse the general citizenry about the excellence of the institution and what it means to the future development of the state. This spark and excitement has been lacking, actually absent, in recent years, and Gray-Little’s acknowledgment that KU is lagging behind its peers in the AAU offers ample proof of this stagnation.
The chancellor presented a grocery list of important accomplishments, goals and challenges, but this writer believes the recruitment and retention of truly distinguished faculty deserves higher priority. You have to have a great faculty to have a chance of being a great university. Of course, here again, money is a major part of the problem. The other part is the commitment to go out and seek the very best, elevate the excellence of the faculty and not settle for the easiest hires.
KU has a number of distinguished faculty members already on the Mount Oread campus and those at the KU Hospital and medical school in Kansas City, but it needs more.
Top-flight, stimulating, highly respected faculty members would seem the best way to attract and hold the upper tier of high school students, as well as attract superior doctoral students. Excellence in the classroom and laboratories appears the best way to encourage state legislators to realize the importance of the university and encourage alumni and friends to be generous in their fiscal support of the school.
Granted, it’s the old question of which comes first, the chicken or the egg, but money and visionary leadership go hand in hand relative to KU’s current problems. Also, as has been pointed out time and time again, KU does a lousy job of telling its story.
The chancellor cited many areas of excellence and achievements of the school’s faculty, but how many people throughout Kansas have any idea or appreciation of this excellence?
There is great frustration among many KU alumni in that they want “their school” to be a leader, one of the best, and they can’t figure out what’s holding it back. The disgraceful situation in the athletics department was an embarrassment, and many are concerned about the apparent inability to fill open deanships and other important positions with true and acknowledged leaders in their respective fields.
It’s good Gray-Little delivered her state of the university assessment. Hopefully it will cause those interested in KU to give serious thought to what is needed to elevate the school to higher academic and research positions and national recognition.