Saturday Column: Review of universities must be taken seriously

October 5, 2013


In the next week or so a group of Kansas legislators will begin a tour of each of the Kansas Regents’ six institutions: Kansas University, Kansas State, Wichita State, Fort Hays State, Emporia State and Pittsburg State, along with the Kansas University Medical Center.

The tour is designed to give lawmakers an on-site and up-to-date view of each campus operation and the opportunity to visit with administrators, faculty members and perhaps students.

Prior to this upcoming visit, each administrative office of these schools received 80-plus questions dated Sept. 12 from the Kansas Legislative Research Department. The questionnaire was to be completed and returned “at least one week prior to October 15.”

Each school received the same questionnaire requesting specific information relative to budgets, revenues, expenditures, funding sources, who determines priorities, the university’s mission for growing the institution, enrollment matters, tuition, academic performance, faculty and staff matters, community college relationships and on and on.

It would be interesting to compare the answers from each of the institutions to see whether there is significant duplication or overlap of efforts and programs, what distinguishes one school from another and the levels of successes or failures between one school and another.

It’s hoped that legislators on the tour will make every effort to have this six-university examination be a true and exhaustive study and not merely a cosmetic, make-everyone-feel-good exercise. It’s hoped that information mined from the questionnaire plus the on-site visits will eventually bring about an improved, up-to-date, more effective state-funded system of higher education. Kansas taxpayers, students and the state itself deserve and need the best possible system if Kansas is to grow and prosper.

In addition to the thorough check by state legislators, those serving as Kansas Regents should take a close look at the answers to the questionnaires along with the observations of the lawmakers. Unfortunately, regents often times don’t know what is going on at the various schools. They are told wonderful-sounding stories of success by chancellors and presidents, but they seldom crack down on the chancellors and presidents demanding better performance. How many times in recent years have chancellors or presidents been fired? How many deans have been fired? During this same time frame, how many athletic coaches have been fired for poor performance?

It’s understood several ground rules have been suggested before the tour gets underway.

For example, no one at KU is supposed to refer to the university as being Kansas’ “flagship” institution. Apparently this restriction or censorship is supposed to keep from hurting the feelings of other Kansas schools.

Likewise, no one associated with Kansas State is supposed to say anything claiming KSU is the No. 1 choice of Kansas students even if facts show KSU has a higher percentage of Kansas students than KU.

At some time Kansas and its citizens need to get far more serious about their universities. KU is indeed the state’s flagship research institution, and at one time it was the flagship institution of the Big Six, Big Seven or Big Eight conferences. Then Texas schools entered the conference, other current Big 12 conference schools improved and upgraded their operations, and KU no longer is the conference’s flagship institution. In fact, over the past 20 or so years KU dropped in various rankings such as the U.S. News & World Report survey. Why is that? There was slight improvement this year, but it is going to be a tough challenge to climb higher. It can’t be accomplished without strong support from the state Legislature, the governor, the regents, visionary leadership in Strong Hall and excellent, not just easy, hires when vacancies occur.

The same is true relative to Kansas State. KSU alumni and friends, administrators, Kansas Regents and state legislators should do what they can to have their school be among the top land grant schools in the nation. Their veterinary school should rank among the best with grant and research monies equal to, or surpassing, such funding at Iowa State University or Colorado State University.

Both KU and KSU should aim to rank high in their respective areas — higher than they do today.

Having said this, here are a few statistics that should make loyal, proud Jayhawks feel good, at least as they apply to the Kansas scene, not necessarily to the entire Big 12 Conference scene:

According to recent reports, the average ACT composite score for entering KU freshmen for the academic year 2013 was 25.1 compared with a 23.9 for KSU entering freshmen. In fact, this gap widened in the 2012-13 year compared with academic years ’08, ’09, ’10, ’11 and ’12.

Also, the four-year graduation rate at KU for 2007 first-time freshmen graduating four years later is considerably higher than the rate of 2007 freshmen at KSU. This also holds true for the five-year and six-year graduation rates between the two schools.

Both schools are good, but they can and must get better. In fact, they will have to get better if Kansas, as a state, has much hope of reversing its dangerous downward slide in its population.

Better schools, better students, better faculty members, better research and better leadership, along with visionary, long-range solid thinkers in the state Legislature and strong, visionary and smart governors all are essential if Kansas is to grow and take advantage of its many assets and opportunities.

One more time, KU is indeed the state’s flagship university!


down_the_river 4 years, 8 months ago

A very timely and important challenge to all of us who recognize the importance of KU to our community and our State. One picky detail, however, near the end of the commentary is a statement about reversing the downward slide in population in Kansas. While the city of Lawrence may have actually lost population in recent years, I believe the population of Kansas has continued to grow, albeit not at the rates we've seen in previous decades. The result of this slowing of our growth rate has meant the loss of a seat in Congress. Perhaps that's the background fact that heightens Mr. Simons concerns.

Paul R Getto 4 years, 8 months ago

It’s hoped that legislators on the tour will make every effort to have this six-university examination be a true and exhaustive study and not merely a cosmetic, make-everyone-feel-good exercise.

Do not bet on this. Sir. The purpose of the tour is to cut support for higher education. The No Nothings are in charge again.

deec 4 years, 8 months ago

According to the census, the state has had an increase of 1.1% since 2010. It appears that the bulk of the increase other than babies being born is those dreaded foreigners. "As of 2012, Kansas had an estimated population of 2,885,905, an increase of 15,519, or 0.5%, from the prior year and an increase of 32,789, or 1.1%, since the year 2000.[2] This includes a natural increase since the last census of 93,899 people (that is 246,484 births minus 152,585 deaths) and a decrease due to net migration of 20,742 people out of the state. Immigration from outside the United States resulted in a net increase of 44,847 people, and migration within the country produced a net loss of 65,589 people.[18]"


KU_cynic 4 years, 8 months ago

"It’s understood several ground rules have been suggested before the tour gets underway."

For example, university representatives should not refer to Luddite, creationist, bigoted, small-minded, vindictive, self-serving legislators as such, even though that would be as descriptively accurate as referencing KSU's enrollments of Kansas natives or KU's "flagship" status.

yourworstnightmare 4 years, 8 months ago

"It’s understood several ground rules have been suggested before the tour gets underway."

Yes, I imagine there will be much that will go unsaid, as legislators check their emails or play Fruitcrush as KU officials are speaking.

Legislators have already made up their minds, as evidenced by a cut to the budgets of institutions that has already gone into effect.

These visits are post-hoc cover for legislators that have already passed legislation based upon their ideologicaly driven preconceived notions.

Barbara Emert 4 years, 8 months ago

Couldn't agree more. As proof just look at the schedule these "already decided, slash and burn legislators are only doing a drive by look at the largest university in the state. Not even stopping on the Lawrence campus to get off the bus. Just want to few the "opulence" that's been paid for by private donations. But they will be back with hands out for free basket ball tickets.

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