What makes a university? What distinguishes a truly outstanding state-aided university from an average institution?
Obviously, there are many components and no single element will make or break the reputation or excellence of a school.
Beautiful buildings, a stunning campus, distinguished individuals in leadership positions such as chancellor or president, accomplished students, a sound graduate program, the size or amount of research dollars, fiscal support from the state, a great library, an outstanding art museum, generous private fiscal support and other factors must be considered.
However, the one essential element is an outstanding faculty and staff with a number of extremely talented, nationally and internationally recognized teachers and researchers scattered around classrooms and research facilities on the campus.
In one sense, it raises the question of which came first, the chicken or the egg, but in the case of a university, the quality of the faculty and staff is essential.
Earlier this week, four former Kansas University leaders gathered to have lunch in Lawrence with a former KU Chancellor, Gene Budig. It was an all-star collection of four individuals who offer a perfect example of the payoff for a university, its students, the state and the nation that comes with a truly distinguished faculty and staff.
The four at the luncheon were Howard Mossberg, Ed Meyen, Del Shankel and Dave Ambler, all recognized national and international leaders in their respective fields.
Mossberg served as dean of the School of Pharmacy. He was profoundly popular with pharmacists throughout the state, which paid dividends for the university in many ways. He helped assemble an all-star cast of teachers and researchers such as Takeru Higuchi, Val Stella and Ron Borchardt and he had a great understanding of the importance of attracting international talent. He had a great vision for the future.
Meyen served as dean of the School of Education and executive vice chancellor of the university, but, in the eyes of many, his most distinguished recognition came from his internationally known work in special education along with a number of outstanding individuals seeking their Ph.D.s under his leadership.
Shankel served as acting chancellor, executive vice chancellor, twice as athletic director, vice chancellor for academic affairs and chancellor, accepting each of these positions at difficult times for the university. Shankel also was a professor of molecular biosciences.
Ambler, a man of great humility, brought professionalism to the Office of Student Affairs. He received national recognition for the manner in which he designed a model for student officers along with his deep and committed interest in the welfare of students and helping make their experience productive and enjoyable.
These four men epitomize what it means to have truly top researchers and leaders. The best!
Fortunately, there have been many others over the years and many on the campus today, but these four former leaders serve as an excellence example of why KU stands out as a state-aided university.
However, nothing is guaranteed, and state legislators and state taxpayers need to realize the necessity, the importance of proper fiscal support. Without such support, KU will lose its best faculty and students and the state also will lose. Also these faculty members must have the freedom to argue, debate and raise controversial issues without being afraid of punishment.
A review of distinguished professors currently on the KU campus is impressive and represents a treasure chest of talent, expertise and academic/research leadership. These individuals — just as did Mossberg, Shankel, Ambler and Meyen — receive numerous job offers from other schools or industry, at more attractive salaries, but with special loyalty, elect to remain at KU.
The host of the luncheon was Gene Budig who was in Lawrence to be recognized Friday evening, along with former Chancellor Archie Dykes, for a scholarship program funded by the two men.
Budig has a deep appreciation for the numerous contributions of his four luncheon guests and continues to be generous in his fiscal support of the university. He not only led as an active chancellor but he continues to lead with his generous monetary contributions to a wide variety of programs at KU. He was a strong, effective proponent of the school, always working to call attention to the excellence of the institution and its faculty.
It would be wise, if more current faculty and staff members had the opportunity to become better acquainted with the former faculty and staff members such as those mentioned above because they surely would be inspired. They might well learn from the past experiences of these former distinguished leaders. It’s a pool of talent that should not be wasted.