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?