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.