A group of influential Kansas legislators has spent the last 10 days traveling around the state visiting state university and community college campuses. We hope that today’s final stops on that tour — at the Kansas University Medical Center and KU’s Lawrence campus — will prove to be the highlight of their tour.
In the last several years, legislative and state university leaders haven’t always been on the same page when it comes to how the state should fund and operate its higher education institutions. Too often, communication between legislators and university leaders seems to miss the mark, leaving both groups frustrated. The lack of communication leads to a lack of understanding and a relationship that has become increasingly adversarial.
That situation is simply bad for the state. State legislators and state universities should have a shared interest in operating a higher education system that serves both individual students and the state as a whole. That system should provide affordable post-secondary opportunities for Kansas students as well as cutting-edge research that feeds the Kansas economy.
Both legislators and KU officials may be somewhat wary as they approach today’s public meetings. They need to put that wariness and their preconceived notions about one another aside and have an honest discussion about the future of higher education in Kansas. Legislators submitted 80-some questions to the officials at all the state universities, and KU officials have responded with 52 pages of answers. It’s a lot of information, which almost certainly includes statements with which legislators can both agree and disagree.
So, even if they have to agree to disagree on some issues, KU and state officials need to look for principles on which they can agree and move forward. Today offers a great opportunity for legislators and university officials to look beyond isolated incidents like the political statements of one professor and consider the big picture that is KU and the role it should play in the state. KU is the state’s flagship university that educates thousands of students and conducts important research. The KU Medical Center operates the state’s only medical school and has just won a major designation as a National Cancer Center.
These are efforts that everyone in the state should embrace and support. Higher education should be a top priority for Kansas, and the potential for that system can only be realized by legislators and university leaders working together as partners, not adversaries. It would be great if this month’s tour, and especially today’s visits, set the stage for that kind of cooperative effort.