According to Wichita news reports Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle is trying to promote some better communication between legislators and state university leaders to help solve their budget differences.
“It’s like we’re all a big family, and we’ve had this family fight,” Wagle told the Wichita Eagle. “Now we need to talk.”
Wagle added that she would ask other legislative leaders later this month to appoint an interim committee to visit the six state universities.
That would be a good start.
It was clear during the last legislative session that lawmakers and university leaders weren’t on the same page when it came to higher education funding. Universities thought they were clearly expressing their funding needs, but, as Wagle reiterated this week, “My senators didn’t feel like they got the information from universities that they wanted.”
The result was a budget that seemed almost punitive to universities and the Kansas Board of Regents, who felt forced to offset funding cuts with increased tuition, which was exactly what legislators didn’t want.
This is a standoff that must, for the good of the state, be called off. Appointing an interim committee could be a step in that direction. It’s important that the members of that committee are willing to approach this issue with open minds and not be driven by preconceived ideas or political agendas.
University leaders also should approach this idea with open minds and a helpful attitude. This could be a great opportunity to share information that could give legislators a better understanding of the challenges universities are facing.
It seems that, right now, the relationship between legislators and universities doesn’t include enough respect and credibility. Perhaps some one-on-one meetings and campus visits can help build the level of understanding that’s needed to help move the state’s higher education system forward.