It’s clear that some members of the Kansas Legislature aren’t happy with Kansas University, but they shouldn’t allow their concerns to color their judgment on a funding decision that will have a big impact on the state of Kansas and its residents.
Kansas — especially the rural parts of the state — are facing a shortage of doctors. The KU School of Medicine is a vital source of those doctors. In order to increase enrollments and maintain the quality of its programs, KU needs a new medical education building at its Kansas City, Kan., campus. Legislators need to step up and help KU finance this building.
Lawmakers have given KU authority to issue $75 million in bonds to finance the building but have approved no funding to help repay those bonds. KU officials are asking lawmakers to consider returning to KU the $25 million the university paid in Social Security contributions for its medical school residents. When it was determined those contributions weren’t necessary, the money was returned to the state, and KU would like to put that money toward the new building. KU also is seeking about $1 million a year for the next 15 years to help cover the costs of the new building. The remaining $35 million for the building would come from university funds and private donations, according to KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little.
The building is needed, Gray-Little said, so that KU can add about 50 students to its medical school class and update equipment to keep up with new training standards. Without the building, KU’s ability to attract top students and maintain its accreditation may be in danger.
Gray-Little was prepared to make KU’s case Tuesday to the Legislature’s Joint Committee on State Building Construction, but that meeting was canceled because of an extended debate in the House chamber. When she returned to Topeka Wednesday to speak to the Senate Ways and Means Committee, she was greeted by the kind of negative attitude toward KU that might derail funding for the medical school building. One member of the committee renewed his criticisms of last summer’s Twitter post by a KU professor, as well as pointing to tuition increases and comparatively low graduation rates at KU.
The Twitter post was regrettable, but it shouldn’t influence decisions about KU funding. Also, KU is not alone in the tuition and graduation rate situations. Other state universities in Kansas also are raising tuition in response to reduced state funding — and the number of freshmen who graduate within six years actually is substantially higher at KU than at other Kansas Board of Regents universities.
Whatever concerns state legislators have about such matters shouldn’t keep them from providing funds for KU’s new medical education building. According to the latest statistics on the medical school website, almost half of the active physicians in Kansas were trained at KU. Those doctors practice in 91 of the state’s 105 counties. Training doctors is one of KU’s most vital and tangible benefits to the state. For the good of Kansas, legislators need to support that mission.