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.