A state-aided university is a very special and unique institution. First, each state in which a university is located is unique in many ways with varying challenges, as well as opportunities, that the university is expected to address and improve.
The universities themselves share some key challenges these days, particularly how to solve the funding situation as the percentage of the schools’ budgets funded by state tax dollars continues to shrink year by year.
There are many other issues, such as how to cut the time required for a student to earn a degree, controlling the cost of going to school and the huge debts run up by many students, how to increase private funding, how to keep the schools’ physical plants safe and up to date, how best to utilize those who serve as regents or curators (more on this in next week’s column), how to attract and hold superior students and faculty and many others.
Three events at Kansas University this week touch on several of these situations and, in one way or another, illustrate how KU is indeed a special place — BUT a place that has opportunities to become an even more outstanding state-aided institution.
The three events were the announcement that School of Engineering Dean Stuart Bell will leave KU to become provost and executive vice chancellor at Louisiana State University, Friday’s retirement reception in honor of Professor Richard De George and Thursday’s KU School of Business 2012 Distinguished Alumni Dinner.
First, the Bell move to LSU. In his 10 years at KU, Bell has distinguished himself as one of the university’s outstanding deans, and his departure is a big loss. Whether he is leaving because he will be moving up the academic administrative ladder or because it is a better-paying job or, possibly, because he is unhappy or less than enthused about the KU environment or something else, it is a loss. However, it is to be expected that outstanding individuals will receive attractive job offers. KU and other schools are bound to lose a certain number of top faculty and administrators from time to time.
It’s far, far better to have a group of outstanding faculty members who are in high demand by other schools or industries than to have a faculty composed of average, so-so teachers, researchers and administrators whom no one wants.
But with Bell’s upcoming move, the focus now is on the search/selection committee that will find Bell’s replacement. This is a vitally important matter. KU has seen some selection committees come up with winners and others that have, in a way, selected the best of the lot rather than starting over to find a true winner.
KU must attract a superior individual to fill Bell’s position.
The next event was the reception honoring KU Distinguished Professor De George, who has been a member of the faculty since 1959.
De George has been with the philosophy department with particular interests in ethics and applied ethics, business ethics and computer ethics. He has received numerous awards recognizing his academic and research excellence and his national and international reputation.
His undergraduate degree was from Fordham College. He also holds a Ph.B. in philosophy from the Universite de Louvain in Belgium and a master’s and Ph.D. in philosophy from Yale University. Added to this is post-doctoral interdisciplinary training at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland.
All of this is impressive, but, in the eyes of many, both on and off the KU campus, De George’s most important attribute is that he presents the ideal image or model of what a university professor should be. He is highly respected. He stands for what is right, with his emphasis on ethics and honesty. And he conducts himself in a manner that reflects credit on the university and his profession as a university scholar.
KU could have no finer representative than Richard De George. He has had offers to go elsewhere, but he decided to remain at KU.
There are many needs in our society today, but none more important than getting individuals, in their personal lives, in business, education, government service and elsewhere, to realize the importance of ethics and honesty — not only to realize but to practice!
De George initiated this effort years ago at KU at the time Joe Pichler was dean of the School of Business. Pichler and De George had the first Business Ethics Conference in the United States, and it attracted major attention throughout the country. He and Prof. Joe Reitz taught business ethics courses at the business school and in the department of philosophy with other KU schools and departments also introducing ethics into their curriculums.
Thursday evening’s business school dinner was a winner in every respect. Two truly distinguished KU alumni, David Booth and David Murfin, were recognized for their extremely successful careers, their generosity and their continued loyalty to the university. They both did an excellent job in recalling highlights of their time as business school students and sharing their ideas of what was important in achieving their successes.
They both are modest in their manner and yet they are giants in their respective fields. The university is extremely fortunate to have them as loyal, genuinely interested and concerned alumni.
However, the real star of the evening was Neeli Bendapudi, the new dean of the School of Business. She has injected enthusiasm and excitement into the school since she first arrived on the campus last summer. She has been nonstop in her efforts to share and explain her dreams of building the school’s excellence and the need for a new building.
It was interesting to note the enthusiasm of KU business school faculty members and students who were at the dinner. They did not hide their excitement and appreciation of their new dean. Alumni of the school were eager to visit about the enthusiasm Bendapudi has injected into the school.
One prominent alumni told this writer, “I had lost my interest and zeal about the school and even the university. It was like a wet blanket had been spread across the campus, dampening enthusiasm and vision. But now, with our new dean, it’s a new day and a bright future.”
Bendapudi is going to make a vast difference at the business school, as well as throughout the university. All deans and administrators have been put on notice that their faculty, students and parents of students are going to say, “Why can’t we have a dean with the excitement, enthusiasm, skill, experience, vision and academic know-how that they have at the business school?”
The selection and recruitment of Bendapudi offers the best possible example of the importance of a good search process. By one means or another, and with the good leadership of this search committee, KU came up with a winner. The university and the state cannot afford mediocre selection committees that don’t seek the very best.
The university is likely to lose some of its best faculty, but if they do, they must look for replacements who are truly outstanding individuals. The school must perform in a manner that merits the continued support and interest of its alumni, and it must have deans who inspire and merit the respect of their faculty, students and alumni. That’s a lot of “musts,” but they are terribly important.