The leader of Kansas State University said the university is continuing to push for funding from the federal government in support of the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility scheduled to be built in Manhattan.
Given the current federal climate, any project requiring new funding could be on the chopping block, said Kansas State President Kirk Schulz during a visit with the Journal-World’s editorial staff.
“We’ll have a fight every year in Washington to make sure that it stays a priority,” he said.
NBAF was among several topics Schulz touched on Wednesday:
NBAF: After years of work, the major federal biosecurity lab in Manhattan still needs federal funding secured. Schulz said $90 million committed to the project and $80 million worth of construction is set to begin next month. But the project will cost at least $650 million to $700 million, though some reports have the price tag approaching $1 billion.
“Whether it’s $700 million or $1 billion, it’s still a lot of money,” Schulz said.
As long as construction continues, he said, he felt the project’s positive momentum would continue. NBAF has allowed Kansas State to recruit world-class faculty it otherwise probably wouldn’t have been able to approach before, he said.
A friendly rivalry: Schulz said he was glad that state’s Board of Regents is recognizing that each of the state’s six state universities should be treated a little differently.
He said that Kansas University, a member of the Association of American Universities and the state’s flagship school, had different needs and a different culture than Kansas State, a land-grant institution.
The two schools, he said, could aspire to be like the University of Texas and Texas A&M University — two universities with different missions and different constituencies but both great institutions.
“Each of us, I think, can be excellent in our own sphere,” he said. “I think that’s a good thing.”
In some ways — especially in athletics and undergraduate student recruitment — the two schools compete, but there were ways for them to work together, too, he said.
Kansas Bioscience Authority: Schulz said he thought the model for the Kansas Bioscience Authority was still viable after an audit of the authority was released earlier this week. The audit questioned the activity of Tom Thornton, a former head of the KBA, saying he destroyed documents and misused funds.
The authority is tasked with using $581 million in tax dollars over 10 years to spark bioscience research and business in the state. It has distributed millions to Kansas University’s effort to pursue National Cancer Institute designation and in support of Kansas State’s effort to attract NBAF to Manhattan.
He said that just because there were some issues with a former CEO of the authority didn’t mean the whole mechanism was broken.
“Do you modify some things? Yes,” Schulz said. “Do we throw the whole thing out? Absolutely not.”
Athletics and academics: Asked about the balance between academics and athletics, he said the school recently instituted a plan to stop subsidizing athletics with state money, phasing out a $2.5 million contribution over three years, and move to a system like KU’s, which is almost completely financed through private donations.
He said the school took in $107 million in private donations last year, about $20 million to $25 million of which went to athletics.
If athletics didn’t exist, he didn’t believe that it’s as simple as saying that entire balance would be given to academics, either.
“It’s a Faustian bargain,” he said.