Archive for Saturday, June 22, 2013

Simons’ Saturday Column: Is the Kansas Board of Regents shooting high enough?

June 22, 2013


The importance of a superior higher education system in today’s highly competitive environment cannot be overemphasized. A university with superior faculty, superior students and superior visionary leadership creates an atmosphere that affects or can color the impression, reputation and attractiveness of a state.

Competition among states for new business and industry, new residents, increased tax revenue and better opportunities for all residents is going to become even more intense in the years to come.

This is why it is so important for a state to be recognized as having truly outstanding state-aided colleges and universities. Merely run-of-the-mill or average schools severely handicap a state’s ability to grow and prosper.

This being the case, it is vital for those who play a central role in determining the excellence of a state’s universities to measure up in every respect in carrying out their responsibilities.

There are numerous individuals in this category, but chancellors and presidents of the schools, along with the regents or curators who oversee the performance of the institutions under their supervision, are the people who set the standard and have the ability to inspire, challenge and provide the vision necessary for a school to excel.

The announcement earlier this week by the Kansas Board of Regents that KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little would receive a $60,000 increase in her salary, a 14 percent jump, at a time when budgets are being cut at all state-aided schools, came as a shock to many. Presidents of the other state universities — Kansas State, Wichita, Fort Hays, Pittsburg and Emporia — also received pay increases. KSU President Kirk Shultz got a $60,000 raise, with the other leaders getting raises ranging from $15,000 to $6,000.

The timing of these raises is questionable in light of severe restraints on salary increases for faculty members at these schools. Even more questionable are the statements made by several regents to explain or justify the raises.

Regents Chairman Tim Emert said, “We have six of the finest chief executive officers that we could ever ask for. We are doing everything we can to keep them in these positions.”

This is nice for him to say and should make the chancellor and presidents feel good, but does he honestly believe the regents have the “best” chancellors and presidents they “could ever ask for”? Or is he saying these are the best the state can afford?

These are two very different matters.

Regent Dan Lykins went even further, saying leaders at the state’s universities are “six of the best and brightest people in the United States.”

The chancellor and presidents are indeed nice people, able individuals. They all have tough jobs with many challenges. But is it somewhat of an overstatement for the regents to say they are among the brightest people in the U.S., that they are the best executive officers the state could ever ask for and that these raises were necessary to keep them from being stolen by schools in other states?

If the regents believe this, then maybe one of the problems the state faces is getting regents with higher expectations for the men and women who lead their schools. It’s nice to say nice things about the chancellor and presidents, but do these regents honestly think Kansas has six of the best in the nation in those roles?

In making the announcement, the regents tried to soften the blow by emphasizing these significant pay increases were funded by private dollars from foundations or endowment associations, not state tax dollars. However, it’s a sure bet these raises would not have been made unless the regents had asked for or demanded them.

Something is out of kilter: the timing of the generous raises when faculty salaries are being pinched, the honesty or the belief of the regents that those leading the state’s universities are the “best” the state could ask for. Should the regents be looking for more talented and visionary leaders or does the state really have the best in the nation? If Kansas does have the best, do Kansas taxpayers have reason to expect better results and what are the expectations and visions of those serving as regents?

Once again, being a college president or chancellor is a tough job — but a very well-paying job! The record shows there is innovative vision and leadership at several schools but perhaps questionable vision and leadership at other schools. The regents are nice individuals who play a critical role, but do their salary actions and appraisals of university leaders raise questions about their own aspirations and expectations for the state and its system of higher education?


seagull 4 years, 7 months ago

If you really believe that Kansas needs "a superior higher education system in today's highly competitive environment" why don't you turn your editorial attention to the state legislators rather than to the Board of Regents, the Chancellor and presidents, etc of the universities? You of all people know full well that funding for higher education has decreased to the point where achieving your goal of a superior public education system is endangered. And yet you blame the victim not the cause. It is always the Regents, the presidents, the faculties that are not doing a good enough job explaining their story. It's never the legislators who are put to the fire in your columns--legislators who seem not to share your view that a superior higher education system is necessary. The legislature's intent became patently obvious this year when KUMC budget was cut so severely. What could more obviously contribute to the state than production of doctors and nurses? What higher education in this state needs is someone like you to recognize this and to publicly call to account Kansas legislators. When institutions are adequately funded--and not using the backs of students to provide the funding--then you can turn your attention back to the Chancellor, the presidents, etc.

Miles Nease 4 years, 6 months ago

Preach it, brother! Dolph always turns his ire to BGL and the Regents, when it is Topeka that is at fault.

KU_cynic 4 years, 6 months ago

Dolph, please just come out and say it: BGL just isn't that great.

yourworstnightmare 4 years, 6 months ago

Mr. Simons often fails to mention the one sure factor that helps make universities great: money.

The people of Kansas through the legislature have ensured that KU will always be operating on a shrinking shoestring budget, and raises like this, which are required to attract and maintain the best talent, are seen as obscene rather than the status quo moves that they are at other peer universities.

Instead, KU is left with those faculty and administrators who aren't good enough to go elsewhere and remain satisfied with low salaries. Mediocrity is the result.

Money isn't the only factor in achieving excellence, but it is a necessary factor. It would do Mr. Simons, the legislature, and the people of Kansas well to remember this and to act on it.

JSpizias 4 years, 6 months ago

Dolph is right on the mark. I wonder when the KU faculty will recognize a major source of the funding problem: administrative bloat where faculty who no longer perform well their basic obligations of teaching, research and service become highly paid administrators. I think it would be very informative to know how the number of highly paid administrators has changed as a fraction of the totally salary outlay for institutions since say 1975. My perception is that the fraction has exploded, as it has at many other universities. Purdue and now Penn State faculty have recognized the problem and are attempting to do something to alleviate it. One hopes that the KU faculty will decide to act. Lastly, I would say that anyone who thinks that the KU and other Kansas administrators are the very best has no experience with really top flight educational institutions (universities). ..."U.S. universities employed more than 230,000 administrators in 2009, up 60 percent from 1993, or 10 times the rate of growth of the tenured faculty, those with permanent positions and job security, according to U.S. Education Department data.

Spending on administration has been rising faster than funds for instruction and research at 198 leading U.S. research universities, concluded a 2010 study by Jay Greene, an education professor at the University of Arkansas. (From John Hechinger, Bureaucrats Paid $250,000 Feed Outcry Over College Costs, Bloomberg, Nov. 14, 2012.)"...

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