Officials of Kansas University and the other five state universities will have exactly the right audience when a group of state legislators come to visit later this year.
Earlier last month, some legislative leaders had expressed a desire to appoint an interim committee assigned to visit state university campuses. The goal was to start a dialogue with university leaders and report back to the Kansas Senate and House about what they had learned.
However, when members of the Legislative Coordinating Council got together last week, they decided to skip the middle men and send the Legislature’s key budget decision makers straight to the university campuses. The council approved six days of meetings to send members of the House Appropriations Committee, the Senate Ways and Means Committee and legislative leadership to visit all six state university campuses as well as one community college and a technical school.
This represents a real opportunity for university leaders to speak directly to the people who will negotiate and finalize budgets for their respective institutions. It should give legislators the chance to air their complaints about what they view as unduly high university spending and unjustified tuition increases that hurt Kansas students. By the same token, university leaders will be able to explain to legislators why their level of spending is necessary and why, when legislators cut university budgets, it only contributes to the need for higher tuition revenue.
It’s also an opportunity for state legislators to see how important our state universities are to the state’s economic health and quality of life.
For a number of years, it seems it has been difficult for state legislators and university leaders to get on the same page when it comes to budgets. Legislators are suspicious of the information they get from universities, and universities are frustrated by their inability to get their message across. The results can be seen in decisions like one made this year to make Kansas, according to the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, one of just five states in the country that cut funding to state universities rather than increase its investment in higher education.
Senate President Susan Wagle said she hoped the university visits would result in “two-way communication” between university and legislative leaders. That’s a good goal. Hopefully, the legislators’ tour, which is likely to occur this fall, will result in concrete benefits for higher education.