Saturday Column: Timing questioned as key leaders near retirement

Alumni and fans of Kansas and Kansas State universities face similar frustrating situations relative to two individuals who play significant roles on their campuses, as well as in the state of Kansas.

KSU alumni and fans don’t know how long football coach Bill Snyder intends to remain as coach, and KU alumni and fans are puzzled about how long Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little intends to remain as chancellor.

Both Snyder and Gray-Little are over 70: Snyder is 76, and Gray-Little is 70. Age is not the issue, but, in a way, it is.

Snyder has compiled one of the nation’s best records as a college football coach. He arrived at Kansas State in the 1980s and, within a few years, transformed the school’s football program from one of the worst in the nation to one of the best.

He worked magic on the football field.

Now, however, there is concern the university is losing star football recruits because players do not know how long Snyder will remain as coach. His tenure, in their eyes, is a year-to-year situation based on his age and health, and they prefer to commit to a school where they are more likely to have the same coach for their four or five years as players.

Because of his record and national acclaim, Snyder is almost untouchable at KSU, but news reports indicate the football recruiting effort is struggling compared to past years. A winning football program is a critical ingredient for K-State’s state and national image, and how long will alumni, administrators and fans allow Snyder to operate on a year-to-year basis that hurts the football program?

The KU situation is different in some ways but, again, focused on the question of how long an extremely important individual will remain in her position and how this issue affects the institution.

Chancellor Gray-Little arrived at KU in 2009 and will be wrapping up her seventh year as KU’s leader with May commencement ceremonies.

In her case, the questions and frustrations among faculty, alumni and state legislators are related to how long she intends to remain as chancellor.

It isn’t a case of losing football recruits, but rather the difficulty of recruiting and retaining prized faculty and building relations with state legislators.

In the eyes of faculty, legislators and alumni, does Gray-Little provide the leadership and vision they believe a flagship institution deserves? Those considering attractive offers from other schools or industry would like to know who will be KU’s chancellor next year or the year after. How long does Gray-Little intend to remain in the chancellor’s office? She works at the pleasure of the Kansas Board of Regents, and history has shown the regents are hesitant to call for changes. Does this send the signal she will remain as long as she wishes?

Chancellors play a pivotal role in the growth and advancement of a university. Their leadership, vision and skills in communicating the needs, excellence and role of a university cannot be overstated. Some excel, some get by with an average performance, and others end up being a detriment to their schools.

KU has been fortunate over the years, and Gray-Little has done a good job. Nevertheless, there are growing numbers who ask, “How long is she going to stay?”

Chancellors, like politicians, can be surrounded by sycophants who offer praise at every move and can be blamed for all manner of failures in or out of their control. It’s a tough job.

Just as KSU fans would like a definite answer as to how long Snyder intends to stay as their football coach, many KU alumni and friends, as well as state lawmakers, are asking how long Gray-Little intends to remain as chancellor.

It’s time for Snyder and Gray-Little to give some answers.