Saturday Column: New business school sets positive example for KU

This evening’s grand opening of Capitol Federal Hall, the new home of the Kansas University School of Business, offers a perfect example of what can be accomplished at KU with leadership, vision, enthusiasm and commitment.

Due to a number of circumstances, primarily the steady decline in state fiscal support and the lack of leadership in Strong Hall, there is a cloud of frustration enveloping the university.

However, the business school, which is surrounded by excitement, enthusiasm and optimism, presents a far different picture.

Dean Neeli Bendapudi arrived on Mount Oread in 2011 and ignited a new, positive, forward-loooking attitude among faculty, students and alumni. She said a new facility was needed if the school was to grow and achieve greater academic excellence and recognition.

She took on the challenge of raising $50 million to $60 million for a new building, crisscrossing the country to share her vision for the school, asking for financial pledges and, at the same time, being fully engaged in overseeing a re-energized group of faculty and students.

The Dicus family of Topeka and Capitol Federal endorsed the Bendapudi plan and pledged $20 million, with other alumni and friends making substantial commitments.

Today’s grand opening marks the beginning of a new era for the School of Business, but also should cause other university officials, administrators and deans to consider how their particular areas of activity could be improved and upgraded.

Granted, the current fiscal situation is serious and discouraging. It’s difficult to be enthusiastic when state support is reduced year by year, but, by one means or another, Bendapudi has been able to inject enthusiasm and optimism into the business school faculty, students and alumni, and today they have a spectacular new building that sends a strong positive message throughout the state and nation about the school and KU.

Soon after arriving in Lawrence as the new dean, Bendapudi said there were three simple goals for the business school: “This must be a great place to learn, a great place to work and a great place to invest.” She added, “All three are directly tied to the others. That said, we cannot concentrate on only one or two. We, as a school, must accomplish all three goals if we are going to continue to be a great university and serve our students.”

She has made it clear, in both her words and actions, that students should be KU’s main focus, describing students as the “customers of the university.” She says, “My job is to make it even better for our students. I think we, as an administration, can’t forget that the students pay our salary. I mean, let’s face it: Their tuition dollars are how we make a living. We are here to serve them.”

The Bendapudi philosophy has worked. This evening’s program is solid proof: a great new building, enthused faculty and students and generous private fiscal support.

Bendapudi’s successes at the School of Business are well known throughout the campus, with other deans, faculty, students and alumni probably asking themselves what they might be able to do to strengthen their own schools and departments.

It’s obvious leadership, vision, commitment and the ability to be an effective, honest communicator all are essential if those in higher education are going to be able to elevate and better their schools, departments and the university as a whole.

In today’s challenging environment, the passion and commitment of Bendapudi were strong enough to overcome all odds. Her enthusiasm and positive outlook were infectious and, with the Dicus family, Capitol Federal and hundreds of other generous alumni and friends of the school and university, Bendapudi’s dream and plan for the new business school is moving forward.

Bendapudi and those who were so generous in their support for the school and the university are to be congratulated and thanked. Their performance sends a strong message of what can be accomplished with leadership and passion.