Archive for Friday, February 3, 2012

Heard on the Hill: Honorary degree recipient — not KU’s chancellor — likely to give commencement address; KU officials seek higher enrollment through ‘yield’; financial report reveals new data

February 3, 2012


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• You never know what you’ll find on a trip to the provost’s office. Well, first and foremost, you’ll find a voluminous amount of literature. I came to chat about President Obama’s ideas for college affordability, and I did that (check out that story later), but I also left with a bunch of pamphlets and other materials. Including one on commencement.

That got me thinking about a burning question I had. Namely, if any decision had been made about who would deliver the commencement address. At KU, chancellors have given the speech since time immemorial. But, as part of a new initiative, KU will award four honorary degrees for the first time. So that could signal a big change away from the way things used to go at commencement time.

So I called Charlie Persinger, KU’s director of university ceremonies and special events and KU's guru on all things commencement.

The plan for now — and this could still change, he told me — is to have one of the four honorary degree recipients deliver a traditional commencement address. Plans currently call for the chancellor to speak, too, but she would only make “a few remarks.”

There won’t be two big addresses, Persinger told me.

And, of course, I asked which of the four honorees — Ford CEO Alan Mulally, former Republican U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, former FDIC chairwoman Sheila Bair or choral composer Kirke Mechem — would be giving the big speech.

The chancellor has sent an invitation to one of them, Persinger said, but hasn’t heard back. The programs get printed in March, so we’ll surely know by then.

• My trip to the provost’s office also cemented this for me: for those interested in seeing how KU does in addressing its declining enrollment issue, it’s all going to be about the yield.

When higher education folks start yakking about “yield,” they’re talking about the percentage of students who are accepted to the university that actually enroll.

And it’s going to be a big part of whether KU can reverse its declining enrollment trends.

Sitting in the provost’s office, Provost Jeff Vitter told me that applications to KU are up 30 percent, largely because of the new scholarship initiatives the university unveiled this year.

That’s peachy keen, but the trick is going to be in the yield. Vitter told me as much, too. All those applicants don’t mean much if efforts don’t result in more students in classrooms next fall.

• Another thing I picked up in the provost’s office was the 2010-11 annual financial report. And that’s always a source of a trove of goodies.

For example, where else would you find out that the value of all the works of art owned by KU — including the Lawrence, Edwards and KU Medical Center campuses — comes to precisely $17,266,971?

It also breaks down KU’s $403.8 million in revenue bond debt outstanding, in each individual project. (That figure includes, by the way, the debt incurred by the athletics corporation).

Lots of housing projects, a new pharmacy building here, a renovation to the Multidisciplinary Research Building there and you can get to $403.8 million before you know it.

That’s just a quick scan of the report. If you have questions you think might be covered in there, let me know, and I’ll see if I can find the answers.

As a parting thought — and I have no idea whose idea this was — but, in a few headers, the report appears to use the font Comic Sans. And that looks kind of strange in a financial report. But hey, I don’t get paid to make those kinds of calls.

• I hear Chancellor Clarke Wescoe used to sing during his commencement addresses. I might come and personally sing Heard on the Hill to you if you’ll send me a tip at


scarletbhound 6 years, 1 month ago

It's very sad that KU has apparently decided to have an honorary degree recipient deliver a commencement address. One of the great traditions at KU has been that commencement has always focused primarily on the graduates, not as at other schools on someone either with few connections to KU or someone who hasn't been on the campus for decades. This also will lead to eventual controversy. Just wait, sone controversial figure will be awarded a degree which will set off his/her political opponents and all heck will break loose. People will boycott the ceremonies in protest etc. etc. The new grads will be forgotten amid the controversy. For example, suppose Ford was involved in a tough contract battle with its union -- imagine if hundreds of workers showed up on campus to picket Mr. Mulally. The same scenario can be imagined for almost any potential recipient. This whole honorary degree idea is totally misguided. This should be the graduates' day; instead it's become an ego trip to enable the chancellor and other campus officials to hobnob with some big shot. Moreover, most of these recipients have a boatload of similar meaningless awards hanging on their "brag wall." The whole thing demeans KU and marginalizes the hard work the grads have done to genuinely earn their diplomas. Very sad.

KU_cynic 6 years, 1 month ago

Former CEO of Boeing and current CEO of Ford Motor Corp. Alan Mulally is one of KU's most professionally accomplished graduates -- ever. He's also a great friend to Lawrence and KU, and I would not be surprised if it is eventually announced that he will be a major benefactor (7-8 figures) in current KU's capital campaign.

KU should be proud of him -- and the other honorary degree recipients, and graduates should be grateful and honored to hear him address them if that were to happen.

yourworstnightmare 6 years, 1 month ago

I always suspected that KU conferred no honorary degrees and had the Chancellor give the Commencement address because of cheapness.

KU has spun it as "tradition", but the fact of the matter is that speakers cost money.

yourworstnightmare 6 years, 1 month ago

The comic sans font is annoying.

It brings a whiff of unseriousness to any document or presentation.

It is symptomatic of the increasing unseriousness of our society, that everything, including important and professional items and behavior, must be light-hearted and gay.

To those who use comic sans in professional settings: Beware. You only undermine your seriousness and professionalism.

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