Archive for Sunday, September 16, 2012

Rankings matter

September 16, 2012


Not too many years ago, Kansas University was the academic flagship of the former Big Eight Conference. There was a friendly competition with Colorado University for this title, but, for years, KU had been the overall top school.

Today, in the current U.S. News and World Report magazine’s national university rankings, the only schools ranked BELOW KU in the old Big Eight are Kansas State and Oklahoma State. All the other schools — Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa State and Oklahoma — are now ahead of KU.

In the current Big 12 Conference, Texas, Baylor, Texas Christian, Iowa State and Oklahoma are ranked ahead of KU, which is followed by Kansas State in a tie with Oklahoma State and then Texas Tech and West Virginia, tied at the bottom of the conference. The schools that left the Big 12 — Texas A&M;, Colorado, Missouri and Nebraska — all scored higher than KU.

Soon after his arrival at KU, former Chancellor Robert Hemenway said one of his major goals was to elevate KU into the top 25 state-aided universities and then into the top 25 of all universities, public and private.

In the intervening years, under Hemenway and now Bernadette Gray-Little, KU has not advanced in the U.S. News rankings. It has fallen further behind.

KU alumni, faculty and students, along with Kansas taxpayers, state legislators, members of the Kansas Board of Regents for the past 15 years or so and governors during this period should be embarrassed, ashamed and mad that Kansas’ two major universities have slipped so low in the national rankings. What has happened? In previous years, KU was ranked in the top 50.

Obviously it isn’t a lack of money because contributions to the KU Endowment Association have grown year after year. Here again, however, in years past the KUEA was a leader in the old Big Eight, and now, other schools have caught up with or passed KU in private giving.

Clearly it is a matter of leadership and vision or the lack of leadership and vision. Unfortunately, KU has not had the leadership it deserves. Some of the regents know this but have not done anything.

An environment of excitement and enthusiasm used to permeate the Mount Oread campus and among KU alumni and friends, who were proud of the academic excellence of the school and its leaders. Unfortunately, many have lost their swagger about the school and its leaders.

Yes, there are areas of true national excellence at KU. Programs in pharmacy, special education, biosciences and public administration are examples of such excellence.

The School of Business offers an excellent example of how leadership can make a huge difference in the enthusiasm of faculty, students and alumni. Leadership was lacking at the school, but with the new dean, Neeli Bendapudi, the business school is sure to grow in excellence, relevance and national stature. Again, leadership is essential.

Far too many at KU, even some among the regents, try to pooh-pooh the U.S. News rankings. They claim the magazine’s listing is “a hoax.”

This is wrong and dangerous thinking because rankings do make a difference. They make a difference to parents, students, faculty members, potential financial contributors, prospective students, legislators and the general public.

Based on past statements, Gov. Sam Brownback is very serious about the rankings and has made it clear he wants to raise the rankings of the KU School of Medicine and KSU School of Veterinary Medicine. He appointed three new regents with this and other issues in mind.

KU should strive to be the best and not settle for the 105th spot in the national ranking of universities. The school deserves visionary, stimulating leadership. Too many people in past years, too many chancellors, faculty members and loyal KU supporters, have worked hard and been generous in trying to help KU achieve excellence. They do not want excuses; they want performance and they want the necessary changes to reverse the downward slide of KU in national rankings.


msezdsit 5 years, 7 months ago

Rankings are very arbitrary and really shouldn't be used as any sort of measure of quality. The effort that Brownback has put forth to stifle education in Kansas is the real measure.

jaywalker 5 years, 7 months ago

That's an extraordinarily embarrassing post.

Jack Martin 5 years, 7 months ago

"KU should strive to be the best and not settle for the 105th spot in the national ranking of universities."

The author of this piece and the leaders of the university share this goal, as the objective of the Bold Aspirations strategic plan is to ensure the University of Kansas is recognized in the top-tier of public international research universities.

As the LJW's earlier news article on this topic pointed out, many of the priorities of Bold Aspirations, such as increasing the percentage of students who stay at KU and earn their degrees, are also measures US News looks at when making its rankings.

We are almost one year into the implementation of Bold Aspirations. You can read the plan and see regular updates at

Thomas Bryce Jr. 5 years, 7 months ago

I think KU is having an Identity Crisis. Do you want KU to be a Top Notch Research and Academic Institution or a Party/Sports School( a.k.a. Diploma Mill)? I have been here since '95 and I have seen the Athletic Dept. Double and triple in size and pay for its administrators. I see what the decision is by the Regents and KU. They trade Higher enrollment for true Excellence. Sad. There was a time when KU was known as The Athens On The Kaw. Why isn't knowledge important anymore? I guess they have an App. for that too!

ashmole 5 years, 7 months ago

As always, I hate to admit it, but the LJW is right about the weak leadership at KU. Bernadette Do-Little is a nothing and does not command respect among other university presidents, let alone KU faculty. The provost is using the standard script for upper administrators - strategic plan, tightening belts, refocusing resources on targeted areas, fiddling with the curriculum - but has the vision of a technocrat, not a leader. KU looks poised to continue treading water.

It is no coincidence that both KU and KSU are at the bottom of the barrel of the rankings in the Big 12. The Kansas legislature and much of the Kansas population is hostile towards higher education and suspicious of quality. The state's overall comfort with mediocrity inevitably rubs off on its universities, no matter how good the faculty, how active the fundraisers, or how hopeful the students.

yourworstnightmare 5 years, 7 months ago

I agree with your latter paragraph but not your former.

While possibly on the "technocrat" side, both BGL and Vitter are making things happen. They just don't fly a flag about it. I certainly prefer this to someone like Hemenway, who talked a big game and then did absolutely nothing to achieve those goals. I think KU could actually use some technocratic leadership, leadership to accomplish goals instead of grandiose speechifying with little real action.

Time will tell.

yourworstnightmare 5 years, 7 months ago

It is no secret or mystery how KU can rise in the rankings. USNWR lists their criteria quite explicitly, although it is unclear how these are weighted to come up with a final ranking:

Entering GPA and SAT/ACT scores, Acceptance rate (KU is at 93%!), Monetrary resources support per student, Faculty quality, Percent of freshmen retention, Percent of graduation in six years.

Efforts are already underway at KU to address the first two and the last two, but many of these have been delayed for four years to allow Kansas high schools to prepare students for the new admissions standards.

took_the_money_and_ran 5 years, 7 months ago

The KU retrophilia case is totally unconvincing to me, and totally useless as a basis for deciding anything about what to do in the future. Research universities are in an arms race. What it cost to have a bunch of propeller driven airplanes that weren't much more complex than automobiles, and the number of countries that could compete at that level, is different than the number of countries that can spend $1.45 trillion on the joint strike fighter program. A decade ago, some farsighted people at KU were talking about a future where the gap between the have and have-not universities would keep widening and only about the top 75 research universities would really matter. The only thing I think has changed in the interim is that ten years from now, it will be more like only the top 50 really matter. It seems to me that KU's realistic choices fall between being mediocre at everything or good at a short list of things.

yourworstnightmare 5 years, 7 months ago

And let me guess. These farsighted folks of yore chose the easy and cheap things to "excel" in, such as teaching, and left that hard old research to other more relevant universities.

Bob Forer 5 years, 7 months ago

"Harvard on the Kaw" has always been a myth created by Kansans with a marked inferiority complex. KU has, is, and will always be a mediocre University. But if you really want to learn, you can get an decent education at KU at a somewhat reasonable cost.

As an aside, the leadership at KU is horrid. And it has been for quite some time.

KU_cynic 5 years, 7 months ago

Kansas is a state of relative stagnant population growth and -- commensurate with low population growth but exacerbated by low growth of private sector employment -- tepid state-level GDP and tax base. Meanwhile, more vibrant states have invested to make their flagship university even more elite and selective (look at UT-Austin, for example). In addition, the number of formerly "second-tier" state universities whose enrollments and budgets match or exceed KU's have grown dramatically. Just yesterday, for example, K-State (enrollment of 24,000 and shrinking) played a football game against University of North Texas (enrollment of nearly 36,000 and growing). Please tell me why it isn't inevitable that the North Texases and Kent States of the academic world won't eventually begin to out-compete KU and KSU for students, faculty, research funding, and -- eventually -- high-priced athletics that require a broad fan and donor base to sustain through the never-to-end sports arms race?

One solution would be to eliminate some redundancies in programs at KU and KSU and increase investment in each university's relative strengths. Meanwhile, the second-tier of state-supported universities needs to shrink in terms of spending and perhaps number. Keep and strengthen community college spending to make sure that every Kansas student -- regardless of background or resources -- has an entry point into the system. The alternative is to keep playing nice politics by spreading resources across the system top-to-bottom, ensuring a future of relative mediocrity at the top.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 7 months ago

The focus in the local media appears to be athletics. Gray-Little is up against stiff competition.

Tons of donated $$$$$ find their way to KU athletics Inc hmmmmmmmmmm

Our local developers and city government push this and think KU sports will create another housing boom backed with extreme inflationary prices. They still believe it is the key to "shop till you drop" retail success even after 30 years of failures.

Too much about Lawrence is all about Jayhawk sports not Jayhawk academics. KU sports can be fun but without a ton of academic students supporting KU where would Jayhawk sports be? For that matter where would Lawrence be?

Believe it or not the greater lions share of KU is about academics.

Where are the crowds in the streets celebrating the 3,5 or unheard of 19 KU students that received a Rhodes Scholarship last year (numbers out of thin air)? Or celebrating the 129 graduating students who maintained a 4.0 throughout their KU career?

Make no mistake about it academic students make KU and spend a ton of dough in our community. Where is the celebration? Where are the safe well lit walking and biking routes? Lawrence could be among the top ten college cities for safe walking and biking.....but city hall keeps saying NO. Could be among the top 5 bike racing communities but it is not. City Hall is asleep at the wheel.

Boulder may not be the top sports school but it ranks high in academics. Ranks high in snowboarding and skiing opportunities as well.

Make no mistake about it the politics of Sam Brownback is NOT doing KU or any university any favors. Public education either.

Kendall Simmons 5 years, 7 months ago

Does Dolph even think about what he's saying?

"The School of Business offers an excellent example of how leadership can make a huge difference in the enthusiasm of faculty, students and alumni."

OK. I was expecting him to provide actual evidence of his claim. Yet what do we get?

"Leadership was lacking at the school, but with the new dean, Neeli Bendapudi, the business school is sure to grow in excellence, relevance and national stature."

Excuse me????

How the heck does Dolph Simon's wishful matter how sure he is of it...translate into actual fact? Jeez...any business school worth its salt would teach its students to not jump to conclusions the way Dolph just did.

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