Thursday’s formal announcement that the Kansas University School of Medicine had received the highly prized and prestigious National Cancer Institute designation is great news! This will pay dividends for patients. It helps focus added attention and recognition on the excellence of KU researchers here in Lawrence as well as at the medical center. It is likely to result in increased federal and private research dollars awarded to KU, and it will help in the recruitment of world-class researchers. It adds another mark of excellence to the academic and research excellence of the university. The entire state benefits from this recognition.
It is right that the spotlight at this time focuses on current major players in the effort to attain the NCI designation, but others also should be remembered.
Early in his tenure as Kansas University chancellor, Robert Hemenway made attaining the NCI recognition his No. 1 goal.
Obviously, Dr. Roy Jensen, director of the KU Cancer Center, has played a critical role with his tireless efforts to attract talented researchers and encourage private fiscal support, as well as his work as the public spokesperson for the effort. In addition, there were those on the KU campus here in Lawrence, such as Val Stella and his associates, who, through their recognition as world-class researchers in cancer-related areas, added greatly to the KU effort.
The danger of naming this or that person who played a significant and important role in the long effort is that many deserving individuals are not named. This certainly is the case at the KU Medical Center, here in Lawrence and for many volunteers.
Also, the NCI effort probably would not have been successful without the generosity of many who made major fiscal contributions. Hemenway noted it would be an expensive project, and recent reports indicate close to $400 million has been earmarked for the effort. The Hall family of Kansas City has been particularly generous and the Kansas Bioscience Authority has been a major source of funding.
The names and efforts of those mentioned above have emerged in the past few years, although the Hall family has a long history of being extremely generous and helpful to the university.
Unfortunately, but understandably, the efforts and foresight of individuals who helped set the stage for the cancer center effort years ago are forgotten when in fact they played a critical role.
Sen. Pat Roberts is one such individual. Roberts, former outstanding KU medical school faculty member Dr. Mike Welch, former KU School of Pharmacy Dean Howard Mossberg, the late KU professor Jim Roberts, KU’s Bob Barnhill, Kansas State University’s Ron Trewyn, former KSU president Jon Wefald, and former Kansas legislators Kenny Wilk, Nick Jordan, Dave Kerr, Kent Glasscock, and many others played major roles in setting the stage for Thursday’s announcement at the Hemenway Building at the KU Medical Center.
Clay Blair served as chairman of the Kansas Board of Regents and he and his fellow regents realized the state and its universities needed to receive more federal and NIH funding if they were to be competitive with other states. Blair and others visited with Pat Roberts about the situation; he delved into the matter and was told Kansas did not have the infrastructure and state-of-the-art research facilities needed to merit major federal funding.
Roberts took the lead on this effort. He, Blair, Wilk, Wefald and others arranged the first meeting of the Kansas House and Senate out of Topeka on the Kansas State campus. Roberts, Welch and Blair addressed the legislators stressing the necessity of more fiscal support to build modern research facilities if the state was to be competitive. Later Roberts addressed legislators in Topeka emphasizing the need for increased state funding. This eventually resulted in funding for the Hemenway Building at the Medical Center, the Bioscience Research Institute at Kansas State and the composite research program at Wichita State.
Roberts, Welch and Blair did a superb and effective job in calling the legislators’ attention to the need for a major increase in funding for research facilities, and they did not let up. They kept the pressure on the state lawmakers.
It has paid off in many ways, but there is no justification for relaxing. The competition for federal research dollars is even more intense today, and if Kansas is to remain competitive, it must have an up-to-date infrastructure and superior university faculty, researchers and facilities.
Unfortunately, some at the university here in Lawrence, as well as some at the medical center, have been critical of Roberts for breaking the news about KU getting the NCI designation. They did not like, and they continue to let it be known they don’t like, Roberts’ actions in announcing the NCI award before KU could set up Thursday’s well-staged public show in Kansas City.
This being the case, some might wonder, with justification, why Roberts wasn’t one of the dignitaries seated on the stage Thursday afternoon. Was this a way for KU to show its anger at Roberts?
The fact is, Roberts was invited but he was on the U.S. Senate floor Thursday morning delivering a long and flattering speech about KU being awarded the NCI designation and giving credit to those who played a significant role in the accomplishment. KU has a great and valuable friend and supporter in Sen. Roberts, and KU people should be far more careful, and smart, in not belittling Roberts and his support of the university.
Once again, congratulations to those who played such an important role in bringing about the NCI designation: those who set the stage and started the effort in the 1990s such as Roberts, Welch, Blair and others; those who pushed the drive in recent years such as Jensen, fellow staffers at KUMC and researchers here on Mount Oread; and major financial contributors such as the KBA, Kansas Legislature, the Hall family, the Masonic Foundation and Annette Bloch. It’s a great story!