Archive for Saturday, February 1, 2014

Saturday Column: University faculty could be great legislative resource

February 1, 2014


The relationship between Kansas University and the Kansas Legislature is not good. Consequently, both the state and the university are being shortchanged.

In past years, this relationship has been better — probably due to a number of reasons such as a better national and state economy, better leadership from the university, a more positive attitude among state lawmakers relative to higher education, a more demanding and performance-oriented Kansas Board of Regents and, perhaps, more support for higher education by the public.

In recent years, the misunderstanding, mistrust, acrimony and back-biting between KU leaders, faculty members, state legislators and, to some extent, the governor’s office seem to have intensified.

The arrogant attitude and manner of some at KU to suggest they can’t make much headway with lawmakers because many don’t have a college education, is wrong and dumb! Legislators, as well as a sizable portion of the state’s population think KU officials consider themselves and act as elitists. Many on Mount Oread look at Kansas and think the state and its needs end somewhere not too far west of Topeka. They don’t consider the needs of western Kansas.

It’s not a healthy situation.

A few days ago, a news story told of a memo sent to KU faculty members reminding them to check in and get an OK from senior KU officials before “engaging with our elected or appointed government officials on university business.”

The KU officials responsible for this message said it was sent merely to inform employees about the university’s policy regarding lobbying. The news story added, “Because KU employs its own lobbyists at the state and federal level, the university is subject to federal lobbying disclosure laws. University policy requires that faculty and staff provide an account of all time and money spent lobbying on behalf of KU.”

The key to this situation is: What should be considered lobbying? Is it wrong for a faculty member to talk to a lawmaker about his or her salary or express concern about the academic offerings or behavior of teachers or administrators on Mount Oread?

A few years ago, this writer hosted a gathering of state lawmakers and KU faculty members and, during the conversation, one of the senior faculty members, one designated as a distinguished professor, noted he was prohibited from going to Topeka to talk with state legislators without getting an OK from the chancellor’s office.

This caused the state lawmakers to voice serious concern, saying they would welcome and appreciate hearing from faculty members and didn’t like the idea of KU faculty being muzzled or gagged.

This incident caused this writer to visit with various KU distinguished professors and with state legislators about a plan for the state to take advantage of the knowledge, skills and experience of distinguished faculty members, who could aid lawmakers in their decision-making efforts. In this exercise, lawmakers would realize the excellent information and advice available from the distinguished professors, as well as other faculty members, and that these teachers and researchers are valuable assets to the state.

All sides — faculty members, the university, state lawmakers and the state — would be winners. There would be greater appreciation of the talents of faculty, and faculty members would realize and appreciate the challenges facing state legislators.

The plan would be to have all distinguished professors who are willing to participate list their particular areas of excellence or field of study and agree to be called upon to visit with legislators or testify before various legislative committees.

Legislators would have a list of these faculty members and could select someone available to provide information and background on any number of issues that come before the Legislature.

This relationship could also be developed between lawmakers and distinguished faculty members at Kansas State and Wichita State.

It seems a win-win situation. KU distinguished faculty members have said they would be glad to participate in such a plan, but, for some reason, there has been little movement by KU officials, only talk.

It seems KU, state legislators and the regents fail to realize or appreciate the excellence and value of the distinguished professors at KU as well as at KSU or Wichita.

Right or wrong, athletics captures the headlines these days, with the academic side of the universities seldom being in the spotlight — or at least being placed in a lower-wattage light.

The importance of excellence in teaching and research, along with talented students, cannot and should not be underestimated. The pool of nationally recognized talent in the distinguished professor fraternity, here at KU, as well as at KSU and Wichita, is an asset that should be tapped and utilized at every opportunity.

Kansas lawmakers should be using this asset, and KU officials should make it easier, more convenient to access these professors, rather than create roadblocks.

These professors could be far more effective “lobbyists” for KU and higher education than any outside, hired individuals.


Linda and Bill Houghton 4 years, 2 months ago

This prohibition is probably to present a unified message to the legislature, rather than several different, and potentially conflicting, opinions.

Jack Martin 4 years, 2 months ago

There is no policy requiring faculty and staff to get permission from the Chancellor's Office or Public Affairs to interact with legislators, but Public Affairs does send an annual e-mail reminding faculty and staff of a couple of things.

First, the University of Kansas has reporting obligations for federal lobbying. Second, KU's government affairs team is available to provide assistance when faculty and staff are contacted by policymakers. Many faculty and staff appreciate having background on the members or committees they’ll be appearing before, particularly if it is their first time testifying at the Legislature.

In the Statehouse, KU's state relations director is the primary point of contact for legislators, and is often approached with follow-up questions after testimony. By maintaining coordination, the university can quickly respond and keep building relationships. For example, earlier this session Rick Levy, JB Smith Distinguished Professor of Constitutional Law, briefed legislators on Kansas' corporate agriculture statutes. And this past week, John Poggio, professor of educational psychology and research, testified to a joint House-Senate committee about predictors of post-secondary educational success.

Now, in terms of the spotlight placed on academics, I will again ask how many staff members this newspaper is sending to cover the basketball game in Austin, Texas, versus the one reporter assigned to cover all other aspects of KU.

The university has a news service dedicated to covering academics and research, and if the LJW's coverage is leaving you wanting, then might I suggest signing up for KU Today? You can do so at

Jack Martin 4 years, 2 months ago

I forgot to mention that if one is looking for a list of KU distinguished professors and their areas of expertise is a great resource.

Additionally, has details on the statewide reach of the university's faculty, staff, students, and programs.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 2 months ago

"The arrogant attitude and manner of some at KU to suggest they can’t make much headway with lawmakers because many don’t have a college education, is wrong and dumb! Legislators, as well as a sizable portion of the state’s population think KU officials consider themselves and act as elitists."

Some of the things that come from the mouths of legislators as one sits in the chambers leave a lot to be desired.

If legislators are not informed on matters they should take it upon themselves to become informed by the informed instead of wealthy campaign contributors such that ALEC represents with back door legislation that is designed behind closed doors.

This current administration in Topeka is not about bridge building nor working together. It's about the ALEC agenda. The corporations associated with ALEC want to own the entire education system. Yes public education and higher education. Then ALEC can inundate our children with information ALEC believes in. BEWARE. AND they see trillions of education profit dollars going to their bank accounts.

Which brings about another issue.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 2 months ago

The privatization thinkers see a ton of easy profit either by way of public school tax dollars or through school loan dollars. Not to mention the reckless financial industry is on this bandwagon…….school loans cannot filed under bankruptcy protection = guaranteed monster profits.

Tuition costs at public and private colleges were, are and have been rising faster than just about anything in American society – health care, energy, even housing. Between 1950 and 1970, sending a kid to a public university cost about four percent of an American family's annual income.

Forty years later, in 2010, it accounted for 11 percent. Moody's released statistics showing tuition and fees rising 300 percent versus the Consumer Price Index between 1990 and 2011.

After the mortgage crash of 2008, for instance, many states pushed through deep cuts to their higher-education systems, but all that did was motivate schools to raise tuition prices and seek to recoup lost state subsidies in the form of more federal-loan money. The one thing they didn't do was cut costs. "College spending has been going up at the same time as prices have been going up," says Kevin Carey of the nonpartisan New America Foundation.

This is why the issue of student-loan interest rates pales in comparison with the larger problem of how anyone can repay such a huge debt – the average student now leaves school owing $27,000 – by entering an economy sluggishly jogging uphill at a fraction of the speed of climbing education costs. "It's the unending, gratuitous, punitive increase in prices that is driving all of this," says Carey.

Ripping Off Young America

Richard Heckler 4 years, 2 months ago

ALEC GOP people keep talking about how universities have too much money and want them to cut costs so they keep tax dollars under that guise.

Instead ALEC wants to give those tax dollars to wealthy white collar corporations as corporate welfare aka wealthy tax dollar moochers. ALWAYS question the motivation of ALEC and Sam ALEC Brownback.

Paul R Getto 4 years, 2 months ago

Relax, Dolph. Once it becomes KOCHU, all the problems will be solved.

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