As the 2013-14 school year at Kansas University nears an end, what’s the mood across the campus? Are faculty members excited and enthused about the future — their futures as well as the university’s — or are they worried and concerned?
Visit with a number of individuals and you’ll get a number of different answers, but, generally speaking, they are confused and frustrated and, at the same time, believe the university has an opportunity to become a truly outstanding state-aided institution.
They are concerned Kansas legislators apparently do not recognize the potential of the university, the talent, skills and expertise of the faculty and how the institution could be playing a much larger role in the development and enrichment of the state.
There is tremendous loyalty to the university, particularly among the older teachers and researchers who receive numerous, more attractive offers from other schools but elect to remain on Mount Oread. However, these individuals fear many talented younger faculty members will leave for other positions unless legislators and the Kansas Board of Regents demonstrate or provide hard evidence, not just lip service, that they recognize the importance of the faculty by significantly increasing fiscal support for the school.
They are worried about efforts to control what they can say and the idea that some in the Legislature or among the regents suggest there should be severe penalties if they say anything that might bother or upset a lawmaker, a student, a student’s parents or an average Kansan. A university should be a place that encourages free speech, not controlled speech.
They wonder whether the current debate in Kansas about whether to end tenure for K-12 teachers might trigger an attempt to end tenure for KU faculty members.
If this were to happen, faculty members said, great numbers of KU people would leave for other jobs, and it would be extremely difficult for KU to recruit and attract top faculty members.
They point out there is considerable difference between tenure for K-12 teachers and university faculty. Not to disparage elementary and secondary teachers, particularly in a university town such as Lawrence, where there is an abundance of teachers and a waiting list of people wanting to teach in the Lawrence system, but KU is searching and recruiting nationwide in a highly competitive environment for top teachers and researchers. Eliminating tenure would severely damage KU’s chances of attracting nationally recognized faculty.
They suggest faculty members know little about how they will benefit from KU’s current $1.2 billion capital campaign. They read about record amounts of money being raised by the KU Endowment Association but have little idea how this may improve their own positions or how many new faculty or facilities may be added.
They find it difficult to understand why they are not able to visit with Kansas legislators about academic problems or issues facing the state — issues on which they have extensive knowledge and could be of help to lawmakers — or why they are not used to help the state solve or improve any number of matters.
Likewise, why must they get an OK from KU Endowment or KU officials before they can ask potential donors for a contribution?
Of universal concern, is the amount of money devoted to athletic programs and the promotion and marketing of athletics while so little money is used to market and promote academics.
And, as might be expected, there is considerable concern about the leadership in Strong Hall, opportunities for faculty members to visit with senior administrators and how KU’s administrative situation compares with that at other schools.
Many faculty members question just how much the regents know about what is going on at the six universities they oversee. Regents receive periodic reports from chancellors, presidents and provosts, who want to present the best possible picture, but how many times do regents have the opportunity to visit with students and teachers?
When regents do visit university campuses, the visits are carefully arranged, timed and programmed rather than giving regents the opportunity to hear the concerns of teachers and students.
Again, the large majority of faculty members are complimentary of KU. They are glad to be here BUT they are confused, puzzled and frustrated and want to know more about what is going on. They want visionary, bold leadership. They want the school to be given the chance to flex its muscles and demonstrate its true colors. They want to have academic freedom and not feel they are controlled. They want the support and confidence of state legislators.
The school has been on a treadmill for too many years, and faculty members want sufficient, well-directed and properly used resources, along with open and accessible leadership to help the institution achieve its potential.