How does the state of Kansas strengthen and build the excellence of its regents system of universities?
Most every elected official in Kansas, industrial development officers, chamber of commerce spokespeople, editorial writers, candidates for public office and leaders of various schools all talk about the importance of superior colleges and universities if the state is to grow and compete with other regional states.
The Kansas Board of Regents office put out a study several years ago titled “The Impact of the Kansas Board of Regents System to the State’s Economy.” They realize the importance of excellence.
It seems to be a unanimous opinion that the quality of the state’s regents schools plays a significant role in the future of Kansas.
This being the case, there appears to be several fairly obvious methods of elevating the academic and research levels of these six universities.
It’s almost a chicken-or-egg debate as to what comes first in how to improve the institutions.
The quality of the leadership of each of these schools is critical. Visionary leadership inspires faculty, attracts superior students and faculty, enhances fiscal support and respect from state legislators and invigorates the general public.
Those serving as regents have the responsibility of overseeing the actions and policies of the schools under their jurisdiction. It is up to these men and women to make sure they know what is going on at the various campuses and that they demand performance. Unfortunately, there have been situations at the schools where regents were either unaware of what was going on or they didn’t have the courage to demand improvements.
Regents are nominated by the governor and approved by state legislators. This makes it imperative for the governor to do his utmost to nominate individuals who can, and will, make a difference, rather than use regents nominations as a means of paying off political debts or IOUs.
Years ago Kansas governors were able to select the best possible individuals from throughout the state without many limitations. Unfortunately, new rules were put into place that required that each congressional district be represented on the board, that no more than two individuals could be serving from the same district and that more attention be given to a better balance among the regents as to which university they may have attended.
Rather than trying to select the best possible individuals, regardless of where they lived or went to school, governors now have to weigh other factors when nominating individuals to serve as regents — individuals who have the responsibility of helping build better universities.
Another major player in the challenge of “how to build better universities” are those individuals serving on search committees looking for replacements of chancellors, presidents or deans.
Too many times it appears such committees have settled on “second bests” rather than “the best.” Rather than starting over and opening an entirely new search process to try to find and recruit the best, second best is the easiest and fastest route to fill the vacancy.
What voice do the regents have in selecting members of a search committee for a new chancellor or president? Should they play a bigger role?
It’s obvious that the excellence of the president or chancellor is the most important element if a school is to excel.
The late Kansas University Chancellor Franklin Murphy is a good example. He was offered numerous similar positions at nationally prestigious universities, as well as U.S. presidential Cabinet positions, but he remained at KU until accepting the leadership of UCLA and then moving on to leadership of a giant communications company.
It would be nice and reassuring to have all Kansas university presidents and chancellors receiving numerous job offers from highly ranked schools or major businesses. Such a situation offers evidence that regents schools are being led by highly able individuals rather than by academic executives content to merely serve out their time.
The governor and the regents, one way or another, are responsible for the individuals who lead regents schools — excellent, good, fair or bad.
If these educators are not doing a “good” to “excellent” job, regents should have the courage to call for a replacement.
The state cannot afford mediocre leadership at its regents institutions, and it cannot afford mediocre regents.
Those serving as regents have a tremendous responsibility, as there is a direct connection between how well they do their jobs and the future direction of the state. Gov. Sam Brownback should aim for the best, not second or third best, when making nominations for this important body. The terms of three regents expire on June 14, and one hopes the three replacements will be committed to demanding superior service from the chancellor and presidents and call for changes when the state is not getting the leadership it deserves.