What is Lawrence’s future? What’s the future of Kansas University, and how do the futures of these two entities affect the future of Kansas?
Will Lawrence, with KU, remain a typical college town in many respects or will the city and KU find a place among America’s best? The late KU Chancellor Franklin Murphy used to point out there would be a “forest of universities in the Trans-Mississippi West, but within that forest there will be a few giant redwoods. We want KU to be one of those redwoods.”
How many people in Lawrence, at the university or even in Topeka are thinking about the so-called “big picture” — the future of the city and KU 20 or 30 years from now, not just in the next year or two?
Rochester, Minn., is a city of about 107,000 population about 80 miles southeast of the Twin Cities, Minneapolis and St. Paul. It is the home of the Mayo Clinic, one of the country’s foremost medical centers.
Through the joint efforts of leaders at the Mayo Clinic, Rochester city officials and Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, a revitalization plan for the city of Rochester and the Mayo Clinic was designed to pay major dividends for the entire state and its taxpayers.
“Destination Medical Center,” a $6 billion makeover is a two-decade effort intended to double the size of Mayo Clinic and transform Rochester into a “hip, attractive destination” in its own right.
The state is putting approximately $550 million into the deal, Rochester is committing around $500 million in improvements, and a $3.2 billion capital campaign is underway at Mayo Clinic with a large portion of the funds earmarked for “Destination Medical Center.”
A news report said, “Over the next two decades, Mayo hopes to turn its already renowned facility into a global health destination on a par with the best health care center in the nation. To woo patients and top doctors, it wants that facility to sit in a city with a vibrant and diverse economy and all the charm and appeal of Portland, Ore., Madison, Wis., or Austin, Texas.”
In other words, Mayo officials, Rochester leaders and the Minnesota governor know there are a handful of truly top medical centers in the U.S. but they are committed to having “Destination Medical Center” become the true giant redwood among the country’s most highly respected medical centers. They already are good, but they want to be the best, to separate themselves from the others.
The governor is enthusiastic about the project and how the clinic’s growth in excellence and innovation will encourage new medical research startups throughout the state.
Dayton has one pet project in the package and that is a high-speed rail line between Rochester and the Twin Cities, a train that could whisk patients, their families, shoppers, doctors, research executives, etc., from the Twin Cities to Rochester considerably quicker than current transportation.
Rochester’s mission is to upgrade the city in every manner: new and better hotels, restaurants, entertainment facilities, recreation opportunities and convention sites and major improvements in retail outlets.
Those involved know “Destination Medical Center” will be a challenge, but the governor says, 20 years from now, “Rochester is going to be better, it’s going to be newer, it’s going to be more attractive, it’s going to be more dynamic and it’s going to have more people.”
He added, “Not to say there are not going to be challenges along the way. The challenges with expansion and further development and growth are far preferable to the ones on the other side. I think it’s a fabulous opportunity for Rochester.”
The governor’s chief of staff has been appointed to chair the “Destination Medical Center” board. The project is the largest economic development effort in the state’s history.
Mayo CEO Dr. John Noseworthy said, “Health care is under attack. It is too expensive, it’s too inefficient in this country, and Americans spend too much money and struggle with their medical bills.
“Mayo Clinic is leading the charge to change that. We’ve been here for 150 years … we are completely committed to our patients and to our staff and to our community.”
Again, the clinic, the city and the state all want to distinguish themselves and transform Rochester and the Mayo Clinic into the world’s leader, with the entire state benefiting in numerous ways.
Why couldn’t this be a model for Lawrence, KU and the state of Kansas? Lawrence’s population is approximately 90,000, and the university attracts thousands of visitors a year. The university already is recognized as one of the nation’s top two or three schools in special education, pharmaceutical chemistry and public administration, and other schools and departments are ranked among the top 10 at the nation’s state-aided universities. Some schools, such as the School of Business, are making major advancements in national rankings.
Why not make the commitment to make these schools and departments the best in their respective fields, not the runner-up — the best faculty, best students, best doctoral programs and top facilities — and bring other programs up to the top tier?
Could officials in Topeka be convinced of the tremendous payback for the state if KU enjoyed this excellence and reputation, which, in turn, would help attract superior students, faculty and researchers and increase the likelihood of attracting new industry and research to the state and Mount Oread? It can’t be done, however, without dynamic, powerful, committed leadership.
Mayo Clinic has tens of thousands of patients and their families coming to Rochester every year for health care. They want top-flight modern hotel/motel facilities, excellent restaurants, top-line retail establishments and first-class recreational facilities.
KU already attracts tens of thousands of visitors to Lawrence for various athletic events. Why not have them come to Lawrence for something other than seeing a player dunk a basketball or score a touchdown? Why not come to Lawrence for a great and pleasurable two- or three-day stay to enjoy other activities? Programs at the university, the opportunity to learn more about advances in various academic and research areas and perhaps the time to get a medical checkup at either an expanded Lawrence Memorial Hospital or the excellent nearby KU Hospital. Or perhaps work in a visit to the Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center to discus a myriad of mental health matters and do some shopping at a number of updated Lawrence stores.
KU officials could aim to separate themselves from other state-aided universities around the country or in the Big 12, just as Dr. Noseworthy wants to elevate the Mayo Clinic to even higher levels of excellence in health care delivery. He says health costs are too high, that health care is under attack and that it’s too inefficient.
Doesn’t this sound familiar relative to the costs and inefficiency in higher education and the frustration and anger of students and their parents?
Lawrence has undergone exercises such as Horizon 2020 and other efforts to plan for the future, but too much time is spent trying to decide matters such as whether it’s in the best interest of the city to ban couches on the front porches of local homes rather than setting future goals for the city — and the university.
What is KU’s plan for the future, 20 years from now? Does the Kansas Board of Regents have a definite plan and a method to achieve truly national or world-class distinction? How about the city? Will it continue to rock along dealing with situations as they arise, or could there be a truly challenging long-range plan that would test the resolve and commitment of all residents? How about the state and what it could do to help transform Lawrence and KU into one of the nation’s best university and host city combinations — by all measurements?
If Rochester, the Mayo Clinic and the state of Minnesota can develop and initiate a plan to become a “giant redwood” of American medical care and research, what’s to keep Lawrence, KU and the state of Kansas from dreaming, committing and initiating their own “giant redwood” plan?