The 100th anniversary of Homecoming at Kansas University and related events of last week bring to mind the influence and impact that generations of KU faithful have bestowed on the university since its founding in 1866.
To the casual observer, a KU Homecoming might be defined only by a parade of colorful floats and a football game when, in fact, months of planning by the KU Alumni Association, students, and university departments culminate in a full week of activities welcoming back alumni and celebrating the history and traditions of our proud university.
It is no coincidence that the KU Endowment Association hosted key leadership and donor events during this week while announcing that more than $708 million has been raised toward the $1.2 billion goal for the Far Above capital campaign, or that a large number of alumni gatherings graced campus and city restaurants, or that Rich and Judy Billings from Colorado have never once missed a KU Homecoming since graduating from KU in 1957. KU is extraordinary because our alumni honor the tradition of staying involved with the university long after taking the graduation walk down the Hill.
While the university understandably appreciates alumni as donors to its goals and key objectives, alumni also provide critical expertise to many areas of a complex university, serve as tradition keepers and as a source of institutional memory as administrations change. They also serve the university’s interests throughout the state and nation by serving as local volunteers through the KU Alumni Association—an organization that was founded nearly 130 years ago.
Since 1883, with the grit and determination of the pioneers who settled the state, alumni have chosen for KU a higher place in the educational hierarchy. And, during difficult times for KU, alumni serve as a stabilizing force or as a conduit for change that ensures the continued prosperity of the university. As key stakeholders, alumni have the power of influence. And, on occasion, that influence is not always well received by campus leaders.
I am reminded of several years ago, when the university administration decided to shut down the steam whistle that signaled the end of the class periods, owing to the fact it would save $3,000 annually on utility costs. Within days the whistle was turned back on because of the flood of alumni complaints and offers to cover the costs associated with this long-standing KU tradition.
Most recently, the KU administration has done excellent work in vetting alumni opinions on key issues, particularly with respect to KU’s new admissions standards, which take effect in 2016. Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little and others traveled the state, hosting focus groups of key alumni. Not all were in favor, but their voices were heard as KU leaders explained the importance of increasing the standards.
When thinking of the best public universities in the country, think of KU. And be reminded, more often than just during Homecoming, that alumni of the university have made a great impact on that reputation.
The KU students who are on campus today represent the alumni of tomorrow who will inherit the influence and responsibility to ensure the value of their own KU diploma increases for the good of those of us who have gone before them and for those who will follow.
Rock Chalk, Jayhawk!