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Topeka The head of a subcommittee that is reviewing Kansas University's budget lobbed several pointed criticisms of KU administration during a discussion on Wednesday with KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little.
State Sen. Tom Arpke, R-Salina, said the anti-NRA tweet by KU professor David Guth was hurting KU in the Legislature and in fundraising efforts.
"I'm personally sorry to see he is still employed at the university," said Arpke, who is chairman of the Senate Ways and Means subcommittee on education.
Arpke said he didn't want to restrict Guth's freedom of speech but that sometimes what people say or write has consequences.
Guth was placed on administrative leave in September after a Twitter post following the shootings that left 13 dead at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. Guth wrote: “The blood is on the hands of the #NRA. Next time, let it be YOUR sons and daughters. Shame on you. May God damn you.”
The post angered many who thought Guth was wishing death on the children of National Rifle Association members. Guth has since apologized and has said he did not mean that he wanted children to die.
Guth’s leave has since ended, and he’s been put back to work on administrative duties.
State Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, a member of the subcommittee, criticized Guth's tweet but said legislators shouldn't hold KU to a different standard than themselves.
"What he did was wrong, absolutely wrong, but I know a lot of our legislators that have also said awful things and they're still employed," Kelly said.
Arpke then criticized an email by Tim Caboni, KU vice chancellor of public affairs, that instructed faculty and staff to speak with the public affairs office before talking to government officials about university business.
"That concerns me greatly," Arpke said. "I think that really reduces the freedom of speech of faculty or any administrative staff people to contact legislators to make sure we are getting the information that we need."
But Gray-Little said that was standard practice and didn't represent a change of policy.
She said if someone from KU is going to represent the school in speaking to a legislator, then that person should inform university administration.
Arpke also criticized KU for recent tuition increases and its low graduation rate relative to peer institutions.
The six-year graduation rate for students who entered KU in the fall of 2006 was 64.1 percent, according to testimony provided by Gray-Little.
That compares with 89 percent at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 75.6 percent at Indiana University and 71 percent at the
University of Missouri-Columbia, which are some of KU's peer institutions.
Arpke also said the bite tuition takes out of an average Kansas family's budget has nearly tripled since 1990.
"That is a very difficult hump to get over," he said, especially if there are two or more children in college at the same time.
But Sen. Kelly said it was unfair to criticize KU and other schools for raising tuition when the Legislature cut KU by $13.5 million last year, and the state's share of total higher education funding has been declining for years.
"We have to be partners with our regents universities," Kelly said. "We can't just put it all on them and say it's your fault, you fix it, without doing our part, and our part is giving them the money to do what we're asking them to do."