Kansas University officials must be a little puzzled by the reaction they are getting from state legislators.
On two occasions this week, legislators have stripped from budget bills KU funding requests directed at goals specifically set forth by legislators. In both cases, KU officials made a compelling case for how the funding would benefit the state and, in both cases, legislators applied what appeared to be capricious justifications for denying the requests.
First came the action of a Senate budget subcommittee which deleted $2 million earmarked for an institute to help KU collaborate with private pharmaceutical companies in the development of new technologies and drugs. KU’s research in this field already has yielded significant benefit for the state, and, as Sen. Laura Kelly, a member of the subcommittee, pointed out, “This program will do exactly what we have been pounding the regents to do, working with the private sector.”
Her comment came as she was asking Sen. Tom Arpke why he and Sen. Steve Abrams would single the KU institute out for deletion, saying the move “looks like a personal vendetta.” Arpke denied that charge and spouted some random assertion about the cut being justified because of declining enrollment at KU.
KU officials said they hoped the funding would be restored by the full Senate Ways and Means Committee, but that committee took its own shot at KU on Tuesday by denying any funding assistance for a new medical education building at the KU Medical Center. The building is needed not only to accommodate larger medical school classes — to help address legislators’ concern about a state doctor shortage — but also to make sure the school can keep its vital accreditation.
Dr. Doug Girod, executive vice chancellor of the medical center, told committee members that the medical school’s accrediting body already had cited KU for noncompliance because of its facilities and that losing its accreditation would be a huge setback for the school.
Again, it seemed like a compelling case, but it was easily dismissed by the committee, whose chairman, Sen. Ty Masterson, said after the meeting “I don’t feel the accreditation is in jeopardy. If it were, we could reconsider what we need to reconsider.”
What accrediting group did Masterson talk to? What does he know that Girod doesn’t? On what does he base his seemingly baseless conclusion that the school’s accreditation isn’t in jeopardy?
KU officials are showing admirable restraint in the face of adversity, but they have a right to feel frustrated by the response they are receiving from legislators on issues of vital importance to the university. The people of Kansas need to hold their legislators accountable for capricious or vindictive KU budget decisions that will hurt the state as a whole.