This time of year, Kansas House and Senate members are engaged in intense study and debate trying to get new laws and regulations passed, eliminate other laws and regulations and play hard-ball politics.
There isn’t much time for reflective studies of many major and timely issues, particularly issues that have not been placed on the calendars of lawmakers.
A case in point is what to do about the out-of-date and ineffective role of the Kansas Board of Regents.
A March 2011 exhaustive study of the impact of the Board of Regents system on the state’s economy points out, “The State of Kansas invests in higher education in order to promote economic development and to enhance its citizens’ quality of life. These investments generate long-term economic benefits including productivity growth, increases in wages, new knowledge creation, and byproducts from research and development. Furthermore, within each area served by a Kansas Board of Regents System institution, local businesses benefit from access to a large pool of part-time and full-time highly skilled and educated workers. Beyond the economic impacts, institutions of the KBOR System develop human capital, defined as the accumulation of investment in the skills and knowledge, for current residents, for non-residents who move to Kansas and for individuals that gain from the institutions’ online or distance learning opportunities.”
The regents are the governing board of the six state universities — Kansas University, Kansas State, Wichita, Emporia, Fort Hays and Pittsburg — and the coordinating board for the state’s higher education system, which also includes one municipal university (Washburn), 19 community colleges and six vocational-technical schools.
The regents administer the state’s student financial aid, adult education, GED, career and technical education programs and the state university retirement plans. The board also provides private proprietary schools and out-of-state institutions permission to operate in Kansas and administers distance-learning capabilities for schools, hospitals and libraries.
Nine part-time, nonpaid individuals are supposed to oversee and manage this assignment.
Try as they may, there is no way for them to be on top of this task or assignment!
Some regents will acknowledge it is almost an impossible task. They say they might be able to do a fairly good job in overseeing the six regents universities, but the assignment of coordinating activities and practices for all 32 institutions is almost an impossibility.
Regents spend and OK hundreds of millions, billions of dollars, every year. The quality of the education at these institutions rests in their hands, and yet, this operation is out of date, ineffective, wasteful and doesn’t maximize and get the full benefit of their million-dollar budgets. The state is being shortchanged.
This criticism is not directed at any current or past individual regents, although there have been too many regents who have been appointed by governors as a payoff, IOU or political thank you.
Again the system is out of date.
This being the case, why don’t state legislators and/or the governor acknowledge the state is not receiving the best service from the regents system, not necessarily individuals serving as regents?
It would seem long overdue for the governor to appoint a blue ribbon committee to study the regents. Such a committee could have several past regents, perhaps a provost or two from peer institutions, maybe a past chancellor or president and several thoughtful, fiscally sound state legislators. It should be bipartisan and made up of individuals who merit the public’s respect.
Recent situations here on the Lawrence campus and at the KU School of Medicine offer specific examples of the regents not knowing what is going on at the various campuses. If they knew, they did not take action. They rely too much on the reassurances of the chancellor, presidents and provosts (or their counterparts) that everything is OK.
The size and scope of today’s family of Kansas Board of Regents schools have grown significantly, and it is time for a serious study of how to make this body better informed and more efficient.