Archive for Sunday, March 23, 2014

KU’s relations with Legislature have grown testier, officials say

March 23, 2014


— Kansas University, and the Lawrence community generally, have often had an odd and sometimes difficult relationship with the rest of the state.

Many who are from KU proudly refer to it as “Athens on the Kaw.” Elsewhere in Kansas, “Snob Hill” is the more common nickname.

But in recent years, some people say those kinds of barbs and jeers have grown into something larger, especially within the Kansas Statehouse, resulting in policy decisions and funding cuts that KU officials fear could have a lasting impact.

Last week, for example, a Senate committee deleted funding the university had sought to help finance a new education building at the KU Medical Center, something KU officials warned could threaten the school's accreditation. But Ways and Means Committee Chairman Ty Masterson, R-Andover, replied that he simply didn't buy that argument.

“I don’t feel the accreditation is in jeopardy,” Masterson said. “If it were, we could reconsider what we need to reconsider.”

And a budget subcommittee led by Sen. Tom Arpke, R-Salina, recently deleted $2 million earmarked to help KU work with pharmaceutical companies to commercialize new drugs and medical technologies. Arpke said he believed KU's budget should have been cut even more in recent years due to declining enrollment.

Source of animosity

There are several theories about the source of the cultural and political chasm separating KU and the rest of the state.

Some look as far back as the antiwar protests on the campus in 1970 and the burning of the Student Union. Others point to the obvious political differences: Lawrence and Douglas County lean decidedly liberal while the state as a whole is reliably conservative.

In 2003, for example, when the city of Lawrence debated enacting a “living wage” requirement for companies that receive local tax breaks, Rep. Mike Kiegerl, a conservative Republican from Olathe, quipped during a committee meeting: “Why should we not allow Lawrence to hurt its local economy? We all know that Marxism is alive and well only in academia.”

State Rep. Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence, said many legislators "think we are very, very liberal. I think we are liberal in that we educate people in such a way that they can think for themselves."

State Rep. Tom Sloan, one of the few Lawrence Republicans who holds elected office, said he thinks other Kansans are envious of Lawrence "because Lawrence has what most communities want: a vibrant education community, a good economic system, social opportunities."

But Mike O'Neal, a former Republican House Speaker from Hutchinson who is a KU alumnus and an avid supporter of the university, said he thinks KU is largely the source of its own political problems. O'Neal thinks KU has damaged its own credibility in the way it lobbies the Legislature.

“One example of that,” O'Neal said, is that “the university wants to increase salaries; that budget request is turned down; and as a consequence the university finds a way to increase salaries from other sources.

"And that I know was a source of irritation to members of the Legislature, that the university was going to do whatever the university was going to do anyway, with or without the Legislature. So why should the Legislature have a role in always responding to these budget requests from the university?”

More generally, though, O'Neal said, KU has been slow to realize a political reality that other Regents institutions accepted long ago: “the changing political environment and budgetary environment that we're in.”

“Unlike K-12, the state in terms of its relationship with higher ed is not the sole source of funding anymore,” he said. “The mindset of the Legislature right now is, with limited resources, what is the state's role in higher ed in terms of the funding it does provide? And, as to the percentage of funding it does provide to higher education overall, what is the return on investment?”

In other words, O'Neal said, it is no longer enough to say that higher education is generally good for society. Universities have many other sources of funding – private donations, federal grants, corporate donations – to pursue lofty goals, while legislators want state taxpayer dollars to go for specific things that produce a tangible benefit back to the state.

KU's response

KU spokesman Tim Caboni said that message is not lost on the university. But he rejected the notion that KU's relationship with the Legislature has turned sour.

“The votes may not always go in our favor,” he said, “but when you walk around the Statehouse with the chancellor, you can see she has remarkable relationships with legislative leaders.”

He also said KU has been more selective in its budget requests, seeking things it believes will produce tangible benefits to Kansas, such as the medical school building and the $2 million for commercializing pharmaceutical research.

And he remains hopeful the Legislature eventually will agree to fund those projects.

But Caboni said KU also still believes in the less-measurable benefits of having an “educated citizenry,” benefits that stretch to the economy and society as a whole.


Jeanne Swearingen 4 years, 2 months ago

Lofty goals? Like becoming teachers, engineers, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, medical technicians, businesspeople, etc. Are these the lofty goals our legislature wants to eliminate so Kansas can spend money on what is worthwhile?

Bob Zimmerman 4 years, 2 months ago

"Communications" is a two way street. Perhaps some of the difficulty lies within KU. If you have spent time with KU administrators, you could envision why legislators and the Governor's office may be having difficulty in working with KU.

Amy Varoli Elliott 4 years, 2 months ago

Is it because the KU people are educated and use big words that confuse and anger the Governor and his goons?

John Middleton 4 years, 2 months ago

That's a great attitude to take with you, Amy, when you go to the legislature and Governor to ask for more money. You'll be sure to get what you want... NOT!

MerriAnnie Smith 4 years, 2 months ago

This kind of problem is acerbated when we elect politicians who couldn't make it higher education and have a chip on their shoulders where advanced education is concerned. They not only don't value it, they want to destroy it. "If I can't succeed at college, then I'll just work to destroy it."

But there is more to this story than simple envy.

There is a pervasive mentality brought on by the far right and financed by the Koch brothers through organizations like ALEC and a few dozen others that are founded and funded by the Kochs. They push the idea that quality education is only for the elite, like them and their wealthy brethern.

Their goal is to destroy education for the poor and cause all of our tax money to go toward supporting high quality For Profit schools for the wealthier.

In a system like that, the poor and the middle class will be paying taxes to support those quality schools for the wealthy people's children, while not being able to afford those schools for their own children.

If we think we've been bought and paid for by the Koch boys already, you can be sure you're going to know it when that happens. And it is fast happening.

Every day you hear commercials paid for by Americans for Prosperity (one of their most politically active groups) spinning hate messages on all manner of things that are helpful to the poor and the middle class. They'd rather spend billions destroying help for the poor than spend billions helping the poor by paying higher taxes than they currently do in Kansas. How sick is that?

Folks, you're going to be very sorry if you continue to support the politicians like Sam Brownback, who rubber stamp bills created for the Koch boys through ALEC-- bills that promote For Profit schools and For Profit help for the poor like Medicaid and even Medicare, which is the sole medical help for many of the poor.

Miranda Cruz 4 years, 2 months ago

The real hate is on the left. They have become so blinded by their hatred for the Koch brothers that they actually protest over a charitable donation made by David Koch to a hospital. That is utterly brain sick. I think the tin foil hats are cutting off the flow of blood to the brain.

MerriAnnie Smith 4 years, 2 months ago

The far right is tough to figure out. They don't care if their children's education is being threatened by the Koch boys, and they don't care if the Koch boys write all the legislation in favor of themselves through ALEC. Your 'don't care' attitude amazes me.

And you actually call caring about your country, your children and their future hatred.

You live in a strange world, Miranda.

James Howlette 4 years, 2 months ago

Wow. That would be pretty awful, if it had actually happened that way at all. Turns out it didn't.

You're right. I bet the tin foil hats do cut off blood flow to the brain. I think you're just a little mistaken in who is donning them.

Mike Ford 4 years, 2 months ago

willfully ignore the actions of the Koch puppetmasters and blame others. very observant and intelligent.

Brandon Bohning 4 years, 2 months ago

All these problems could have been avoided if BGL hadn't de-emphasized the importance of what had been a well-thought-out, carefully planned government relations strategy that was being carried out by two experts with strong ties to the right people both in D.C. and in Topeka*.

*KU's strongest roots in Topeka were the Republican Senators that lost their primaries in 2012. Much like their poor form of governing-by-clique KU's state government relations team never felt the need to broaden their support in spite of the writing on the wall.

You can blame the Kochs all you want, and you will. I am just telling you like it is.

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