Times change, sometimes for the better, sometimes not for the better.
A recent Heard on the Hill blog by Andy Hyland on the Journal-World’s LJWorld.com website told of a major change at Kansas University. Hyland reported that Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little would not be delivering the annual State of the University address this year.
Instead of the address, usually delivered in Budig Hall, the annual assessment of the University in the chancellor’s eyes takes the form of an 8.5-minute video released by KU on Monday.
The blog reports that switching to a video was the chancellor’s idea. The KU spokesman said the video has two advantages. First, it is available to all KU campuses, and, in addition, alumni and stakeholders get to watch. Secondly, it’s possible to show the students, faculty and staff who are responsible for the stuff that’s being talked about.
The blog points out that the State of the University speech hasn’t been a long historical event, although past chancellors have used the annual faculty-staff convocation, now called the all-university convocation, to outline the chancellor’s assessment of how KU is doing and what challenges lie ahead.
Unfortunately, for one reason or another, attendance has been poor at these events and has been growing poorer year by year. In fact, when chancellors have addressed the faculty, the percentage of faculty in attendance has been embarrassing. Perhaps one of the reasons Gray-Little decided a video presentation was a better idea was the likelihood that attendance at a live speech would be embarrassingly low.
“State of the University 2012” is a good show — a slick, well-produced, video that gives an excellent, thumbnail overview of the university. The precisely scripted and narrated presentation by Gray-Little is sure to be used in the upcoming capital campaign for KU. Such an effort is long overdue as KU has been far too complacent in telling its story.
Granted, thousands of KU alumni, faculty, students and friends will see and hear the message — many, many times more than would have seen and heard the chancellor in a routine “state of the university” address. What would have been better, however, would be for the chancellor to present her remarks live to a Lied Center audience. If the chancellor is eager to show the individuals responsible for positive, helpful actions or achievements on campus, she could have invited them to share the stage with her.
An inspirational, visionary message by Gray-Little along with a video in a packed Lied Center could do wonders for the university as well as for the chancellor. Lawrence area friends and supporters of the university, as well as students and faculty, want to see the chancellor in person delivering a powerful and compelling story for the school. They like to see and judge the degree of enthusiasm of the chancellor and his or her ability to inspire and excite an audience about the university and its future.
Maybe the reason attendance has been dwindling is that chancellors have not been delivering exciting, visionary, inspiring speeches. Chances are attendance would be up if there were reason to believe the university’s leaders could be counted on to deliver a talk that had become a “must” for faculty and students. The talk or program could be spiced up by having others, in addition to the chancellor, participating and playing a big role in telling the university’s story. The event could, and should, be used to rally support for the school. KU faculty members and students need reasons to become excited about the university and where it’s headed. Morale is not as good as it should be!
Maybe the 8.5-minute video will do the job, but something has been lost when faculty and students, alumni and friends cannot have a firsthand, in-person, ringside seat to watch and hear their chancellor in action. A short video, no matter how well done, doesn’t have the same impact.