On eve of chancellor’s inauguration, KU student newspaper criticizes Girod in front-page editorial

photo by: Nick Krug

Dr. Douglas Girod, executive vice chancellor of the KU Medical Center, is congratulated by Jennifer Sanner, senior vice president for strategic communications and advocacy and editor of the Kansas Alumni magazine, after Girod was named as the 18th chancellor of the University of Kansas on Thursday, May 25, 2017 at the Lied Center. At right is Girod's wife, Susan Girod.

It’s “now or never” for Chancellor Douglas Girod, reads the headline of a scathing staff editorial on the front page of Thursday’s University Daily Kansan.

The lengthy piece, authored by the student newspaper’s editorial board, offered a blistering critique of Girod — with which the university administration, later Thursday, said it “respectfully disagreed.”

Girod took over as chancellor at the University of Kansas last July. More than 290 days into his tenure, Girod “has not announced a single significant initiative to better the University,” the student journalists wrote.

Now, on the eve of his Friday inauguration as chancellor, the Kansan is calling on Girod to use the ceremony as an opportunity to more clearly outline his vision for KU.

“Girod must show that he is ready to make meaningful, substantial change in his speech this week, or he will cement his administration as utterly ineffective and set the University on a path to nowhere,” Thursday’s editorial said.

Chandler Boese, the newspaper’s editor in chief, said the piece marks a departure from the editorial published before former Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little’s inauguration in April 2010. Gray-Little used her inauguration ceremony to outline specific reforms for the university, among them enhanced financial aid, an online tool for students to track their graduation progress and an early-warning system to identify students struggling academically.

That editorial was intended as a “report card” on Gray-Little’s performance at the time, Boese said. But Girod hasn’t “given any solid plans” for the Kansan to evaluate in the same way, Boese said. That’s why she and her editorial board — managing editor Erin Brock, opinion editor Danya Issawi and business manager Baylee Parsons — made the decision to publish Thursday’s editorial after much discussion, Boese said.

“I think it is our obligation to offer opinions on important issues on campus,” she said. “And I think looking at our chancellor, and complimenting him or criticizing him when needed, is part of our job.”

The Kansan’s editorial criticized Girod as maintaining the status quo, saying that his most notable actions as chancellor “have all been reactionary or continuing the work of others.”

“He’s appointed two people who have been at the University for years to vital positions without any formal committee, application process or public input,” the editorial board wrote, without naming the two people. “He’s backed up the continued employment of football coach David Beaty and Athletics Director Sheahon Zenger despite yet another humiliating season. He’s overseen the reform of out-of-state scholarships, but it was set in motion long before he came on board.”

The editorial board wrote that Girod frequently talks about areas like “student experience,” “outreach” and “research enterprise,” but has yet to provide any details beyond those buzzwords. The Kansan also accused Girod of showing “no interest in getting to know students or faculty.”

“As students, we need something to latch onto,” Boese later elaborated.

When asked if university leadership felt the editorial was fair in its criticism, KU spokeswoman Erinn Barcomb-Peterson said administration “respectfully disagree(d)” with the students’ assessment.

“We applaud these four students for expressing their opinion, and we embrace the commitment, reflected in their expression, to strive always to make KU an even better place,” Barcomb-Peterson wrote in an email. “In this particular instance, however, we respectfully disagree with their assessment. Chancellor Girod has enjoyed visiting with countless students during his first nine months on the job, and he looks forward to visiting with many more.”

One of the more biting criticisms in the Kansan editorial was the assertion that most students “wouldn’t even recognize him if they saw him, he so infrequently appears outside of Strong Hall,” the university’s main administrative building. But the piece also offers a few suggestions to Girod, including the idea that he start offering office hours, hosting coffee events and hanging out around campus, among other things.

He could also get a Twitter account, the students suggested.

“I don’t think we’re trying to say that this is the end of the line for Girod,” Boese said, pointing out the editorial’s intended “hopeful” tone. “This isn’t the end of his tenure, but we need something else from him, and I think (the inauguration) is the perfect venue for him to show us what kind of chancellor he can be.”

Chancellor Girod’s inauguration ceremony will take place Friday at 2 p.m. at the Lied Center, 1600 Stewart Drive. The event is free, though the deadline for ticket registration passed last month. For more information, including a complete schedule of inauguration events, visit www.inauguration.ku.edu.