Next month, Kansas University and KU Endowment Association officials will kick off the public phase of Far Above: The Campaign for Kansas, the university’s fourth capital campaign.
Program for Progress, the university’s first such campaign, was launched in 1964. The public goal was around $18 million, but the campaign eventually raised $21 million. At that time, this was the largest capital campaign of any state-aided university west of the Mississippi. The drive was headed by the late Stanley Learned, a Lawrence native and the chairman of Phillips Petroleum Co.
The next campaign was called Campaign Kansas and was started in 1987 with a goal of $150 million. This, too, was a successful effort, eventually raising $262.9 million and creating a foundation for giving to KU that continues today. The late Jordan Haines, a Wichita banker, chaired that campaign.
The most recent campaign, KU First, was launched in 1998 with a goal of $500 million. It ended in 2004 having raised $653 million. This drive was chaired by Forrest Hoglund, a Texas energy executive.
Although no goal has been publicly announced for the Far Above campaign, it is likely to top $1 billion, somewhere between $1.1 billion and $1.3 billion.
This sounds huge, and it is. However, all money given to the university over the past three, four or possibly five years will be counted toward the campaign goal. This would include the $300 million-plus contributed for the National Cancer Center designation for the KU School of Medicine, money contributed to KU Athletics and other millions given or pledged to the KU Endowment Association.
Chances are, the campaign will have $500 million to $600 million already in the bank, leaving only $500 million or $600 million to raise in the next four or five years to top the $1 billion or $1.3 billion target.
The endowment association, over the past few years, has been raising in excess of $100 million a year, so without any major added effort, and with the normal input of gifts and pledges, Far Above appears to be an almost guaranteed success.
The drive has been postponed too long!
One of the nation’s most respected professional fundraisers told this writer several years ago that KU had “left millions of dollars on the table due to not having a capital campaign organized and under way years ago.”
Although it appears a target of $1 billion or more looks to be almost automatic, there is concern by many that a much larger goal should be set to try to generate true “added” or “new” dollars, not just dollars that seem relatively automatic.
This year’s effort will be headed by three couples: Kurt and Sue Watson of Andover, Tom and Jill Docking of Wichita, and Mark and Stacy Parkinson of Washington, D.C. Kurt Watson is a former endowment association chair. Tom Docking is an attorney and Jill Docking is a financial adviser and former member of the Kansas Board of Regents. Parkinson is a former Kansas governor. It’s an impressive array of leaders.
However, it’s unfortunate Far Above is behind schedule.
This is due to a combination of reasons. The last three to five years of Chancellor Robert Hemenway’s tenure presented problems, and the Lew Perkins years at KU Athletics had a negative impact. Following Hemenway’s retirement, an interim chancellor was in office and time was then required for an assessment of how Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little would be accepted by alumni and friends and the effectiveness of her leadership in a capital campaign.
Also, there was much concern about who could be recruited as a highly respected, vigorous, effective fundraiser to chair the drive.
All of these situations combined to stall the campaign.
There’s no question that a capital campaign is needed if the university is to take advantage of its opportunities and improve its academic stature. For several reasons, some due to the university itself, state funding does not meet the needs. Also, added dollars alone will not guarantee a better academic institution.
This is where vision and leadership is critical, particularly entrepreneurial leadership from Strong Hall.
Where funds from Far Above are allocated also will play a critical role in whether the university uses these dollars to get the best results. New buildings attract the most attention and they are a sexy, attention-grabbing part of the campaign, but in the eyes of many senior faculty members, KU’s greatest need is for increased funding for graduate programs and to attract better doctoral candidates and outstanding faculty. Many question the manner in which KU graduate programs have been diluted by putting the entire university under a single graduate program umbrella.
Chances are, a new business school building will be high on the wish list, as well as a major expansion of the Spencer Museum of Art. One building that should be demolished is Malott Hall. Highly respected faculty members say it is a dangerous building and a disgrace. In fact, it is a deterrent to hiring faculty and attracting Ph.D. students.
KU has the ability to be much more than merely Kansas’ No. 1, flagship institution. It used to be a flagship institution of the Big 8 conference. When it became the Big 12 conference, KU shared the flagship designation with Texas. Unfortunately KU has either slipped or other conference schools have caught up or passed KU. Its goal should be to share the conference top with Texas and aim for regional and national leadership. To achieve this, there needs to be a sea change in the vision and leadership of the school. Hopefully, Far Above can and will play a significant role in injecting entrepreneurial vision, excitement and leadership throughout the campus and at the KU medical school.