Posts tagged with Kansas University

Watch this space: Heard on the Hill is back

Astute Journal-World readers may have noticed something recently. And the ones who like reading my stuff might have been worried.

My byline has been MIA for a while, and so has Heard on the Hill.

Good news (at least for those in the “like reading my stuff” camp), I’m back. If you follow me on social media you already know this, but my husband and I welcomed our second baby — another girl! — in July. With baby 10 weeks old, chubby, happy, holding her head up and seeing well enough to be entertained by things besides my face, I came back to work a few days ago.

I was just in time for University of Kansas Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little’s big announcement that she’ll be stepping down next year.

My colleagues handled reporting the other big KU stories while I was out, including following the university’s budget situation and pending lawsuits related to campus sexual assaults. In coming weeks I’ll share in Heard on the Hill some other interesting things that transpired at KU since July, along with others that are sure to be unfolding each day.

Also while I was out, as you probably know a new company took ownership of the Journal-World. Fortunately for me, our new owners recognize how important covering KU is to this community and the state. Probably the biggest change to KU news coverage that you’ll notice as a result of that transition: Instead of calling the school Kansas University on first reference — as has been the Journal-World’s style for who-knows-how-long — my stories now refer to it as the University of Kansas.


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— I’m the Journal-World’s KU and higher ed reporter. See all the newspaper’s KU coverage here. Reach me by email at, by phone at 832-7187, on Twitter @saramarieshep or via Facebook at


Former KU dean named president of University of Alabama

A former Kansas University engineering dean has been named president of the University of Alabama.

It’s actually a homecoming for Stuart Bell, who spent 16 years at the University of Alabama — first as assistant professor of mechanical engineering and, later, as department head — before he worked at KU, according to a University of Alabama announcement.

At KU, Bell was dean of engineering from 2002 to 2012. His time at the school included the construction of Eaton Hall and the attraction of several major engineering gifts. Bell left KU in 2012 to become provost and executive vice chancellor at Louisiana State University, a post he held until being hired at the University of Alabama.

Bell’s appointment as president of the University of Alabama began this month, according to the school’s announcement. He and his wife, Susan, have three adult children, Stuart, Stacy — a University of Alabama graduate — and Stephen.

Stuart Bell (photo courtesy of University of Alabama)

Stuart Bell (photo courtesy of University of Alabama) by Sara Shepherd


Brownback subscribes to 60 percent plan, but provides no details on how much that will cost

Kansas Board of Regents Chairman Kenny Wilk said he was delighted to hear Gov. Sam Brownback adopted one of the regents' main goals — getting 60 percent of Kansas adults to have some kind of post-secondary degree or work-related credential.

Wilk, a former Republican legislator who was appointed to the regents by Brownback, said more money will be needed to hit that target.

Currently, about 52 percent of Kansas adults have a degree or credential. The state produces 42,000 degrees and credentials per year, according to the regents. To get to the 60 percent level by 2020 will require 53,000 per year.

"At some point, you are going to have a resource question," Wilk said.

The 60 percent goal has been part of the regents' Foresight 2020 strategic plan that was originally adopted in 2010.

In announcing his support of that goal, Brownback made no mention of how much he thought it would cost to get there. He vowed to "provide stable funding for our universities, community and technology colleges."

Higher education funding in Kansas remains at below pre-recession levels and suffered another hit in 2013 when the Legislature passed and Brownback signed into law cuts to universities that resulted in Kansas University taking a $13.5 million cut.

This year, the Legislature and Brownback approved a budget that will restore approximately half of last year's approved "salary cap" cuts for the current budget year, and all of those that had been cut for the next budget year. That means an additional $4.07 million for the KU Medical Center, and $163,703 for the Lawrence campus. But the bill does not restore the 1.5 percent across-the-board cuts from 2013.

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Another professor in tweet controversy

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has apparently revoked a job offer to a professor who went to Twitter to criticize Israel over the bombardment of Gaza.

The incident is reminiscent of the controversy last year when Kansas University professor David Guth wrote tweets critical of the NRA after a mass shooting.

Guth is still employed at KU, but criticism of his tweets led to a state policy in Kansas that allows the chief executive of a public university to terminate professors who use social media in a way that is contrary to the best interests of the school.

In the Illinois controversy, Steven Salaita, a former Virginia Tech English professor, wrote numerous tweets critical of Israel.

Here is one of the tweets: "When will the attack on #Gaza end? What is left for #Israel to prove? Who is left for Israel to kill? This is the logic of genocide."

Salaita had been notified of the job offer from Illinois last year, but recently the offer was rescinded after the tweets appeared.

Here is a link to a story on the controversy in The Roanoke (Virginia) Times. link text

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Another setback in KU’s quest for Med Center expansion

In recent days Kansas University officials have faced new setbacks with legislators on some key initiatives, but certainly not for lack of effort or focus.

For much of the past year the university's public affairs office and top administrators have been trying to persuade lawmakers to help fund a new KU Medical Center facility that would help train more doctors.

They've talked, they've tweeted, they've gone on road trips around the state, they've invited lawmakers to the Med Center. They've even tapped KU alumni for help spreading the word about the health education initiative.

It's rare to hear KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little or Tim Caboni, KU's chancellor for public affairs, give a talk without mentioning the state's shortage of doctors and KU's role, as the only state university with a medical school, in training them.

But the university hit another road block this week after the Kansas Senate Ways and Means Committee approved a capital improvement plan that excluded KU's long-sought-after Med Center facility.

KU has requested the Legislature release a $25 million FICA tax refund linked to the medical center, and provide $1.4 million a year to help retire $15 million in bonds. The remaining funds needed for the building would be paid with private donations and internal funds, KU has said.

The $75 million building would would allow KU Med to expand capacity by 50 additional medical students and add new technologies and teaching methods that KU has said are necessary for accreditation.

Committee Chairman Ty Masterson, R-Andover, didn't see it that way. Masterson told the Journal-World Tuesday, "I don't feel the accreditation is in jeopardy. If it were, we would reconsider what we needed to reconsider."

Caboni was on his way to speak about KU at a Rotary Club event in McPherson Kansas — a fairly typical road trip to spread the KU gospel — when he heard news of the committee's decision.

"The state has a certain need for more primary care physicians, and the University of Kansas is the one institution in the state that can help solve this challenging problem," Caboni said. "The decision today also unfortunately puts at risk the accreditation of the state's only medical school."

He said his public affairs team and fellow administrators plan to regroup after the decision. "We will continue to talk about it across the state," he added.

A senate subcommittee also excluded an item listed in Gov. Sam Brownback's budget to help establish the Kansas Institute for Translational Chemical Biology.

The $2 million Brownback had set aside for the research center would help support labs working on drug discovery and other research aimed at fighting a range of health problems.

Caboni lamented that decision as well. "Without seed money, it makes it difficult to build the center," he said. Pointing to competition in recruiting top faculty, he said, "It's important to us that the talented faculty that do this work have the resources that will keep them at the University of Kansas."


Sorting out the legal issues of the regents’ social media policy

Last week the Kansas Board of Regents announced the names of a work group created to review the social media policy that the board approved last month. The policy, for those returning to campus from holiday hibernation, allows presidents of Kansas public universities to discipline, up to firing, employees for social media posts that conflict with the best interests of the university or its ability to provide services.

That the regents agreed to review the policy has done little to quiet those who have vocally opposed it. With the work group set to report back to the regents in April, that leaves at least four months, and quite possibly more, for it to sit in the regents' policy book in its original wording.

Distinguished professors from Kansas State University and Kansas University have asked the regents to suspend the policy while under review. Last week the faculty senate presidents of regents universities also asked the regents to suspend the policy.

The regents refused. Regents chairman Fred Logan explained their position, saying they had passed the new rules on social media use "in good faith."

Not everyone agrees. Philip Nel, a K-State distinguished professor of English, and a vocal critic of the policy who has helped organize multiple faculty responses to it, wrote in a recent blog post that he originally thought the policy "must have been a mistake." He writes:

Unlike previous Boards, this one had — for instance — been asking the Kansas Legislature to fund the state universities in Kansas. Adopting a social media policy that suspended freedom of speech and (in effect) eradicated tenure was surely because the hastily passed proposal was ill-considered.

His thinking has changed, though.

Before voting on its new social media policy, the Kansas Board of Regents ran it by the Kansas attorney general's office to make sure it stood on solid legal and constitutional ground. Confident in its constitutionality, the regents passed the policy unanimously in December.

The fact that the regents took the policy to the attorney general Nel takes as evidence that the policy was not a blunder or hastily crafted and little-thought-upon blip:

The policy is not a mistake, but a carefully executed plan to muzzle free speech. This is why the Board passed the policy as faculty and staff were grading exams and preparing to leave town (indeed, many had already left town). This is why, though the policy has been panned with near unanimity from both within and beyond Kansas, the Board is not backing down.

Logan said last week that he believed that the policy is a re-statement of existing law. But whether the policy could survive a legal challenge in court is an open question.

The constitutional issues involved are fairly nuanced and complicated. Although I suppose if these things were simple and straightforward, we wouldn't need courts or lawyers. In a conversation earlier this month with Rick Levy, a distinguished professor of law at KU, pointed to parts of the policy that could potentially be challenged on legal and constitutional grounds.

Levy, who is always careful when talking about the policy to point out that he is not expressing any opinion one way or the other, said, "Normally the state cannot discriminate or take action against speakers based on the contents of their speech." That's a core First Amendment protection. But there are some exceptions to it. One being speech that is, as Levy explains, "directed toward inciting imminent unlawful" behavior.

That provision to free speech comes with standards. Such speech must be likely to provoke unlawful conduct, and the speaker must have intended for the speech to incite unlawful behavior, Levy said. (Without those standards you'd get a lot of perverse legal and social outcomes. Imagine J.D. Salinger being on the hook for Mark David Chapman's murder of John Lennon because of Catcher in the Rye.)

The regents seemed to address speech inciting illegal behavior in their social media policy. Included in the types of improper social media are any posts that "directly incites violence or other immediate breach of the peace." But Levy said this "doesn't match the standard directly. It may be broader or permit action under broader grounds" because it "does not clearly require intent or likeliness" in its wording.

Another potential issue relates to the "void for vagueness" doctrine in constitutional due process. Under the doctrine people are "entitled to fair notice of whether your conduct is valid or not," Levy says.

The regents policy allows university heads to punish employees for any social media post that "impairs discipline by superiors or harmony among co-workers, has a detrimental impact on close working relationships for which personal loyalty and confidence are necessary, impedes the performance of the speaker's official duties, interferes with the regular operation of the university, or otherwise adversely affects the university's ability to efficiently provide services."

Under a constitutional challenge to the policy, the regents would have to prove this gives university personnel adequate information about what kinds of speech would cause them to be disciplined or fired, Levy said.

Finally, there's the question of whether faculty and employees at a university are subject to the same legal precedents under free speech law as other public employees. The regents policy appears to apply principles that came out of the Gracetti v. Ceballos Supreme Court decision, in which the court decided that when employees make statements "pursuant to their official duties" (very similar language can be found in the regents policy), they are not engaged in civic speech protected by the First Amendment.

Levy said that, because of language in the court opinion, lower courts have typically ruled that those principles don't apply to universities, where teaching and scholarship have a unique function among other government activities.

Head spinning yet? All this of course could be sorted out by regents once the work group reports back. If not, there's a chance it could go to court to be sorted out.

If you have your own legal opinions on the matter or, better yet, KU news tips, send them along to


KU’s Studio 804 gets shoutout from industry

A national industry publication recently praised a project by Kansas University's Studio 804 as one of the best of 2013.

Based in KU's School of Architecture, Design and Planning, Studio 804 puts students to work on every phase of a building's construction. That actually includes construction -- hammer, nails, cement, waking at sunup and the rest.

This year's team is currently at work on an addition to Marvin Hall that will house the 100-plus-year-old building's first-ever lecture room.

In late December, a previous Studio 804 project, the engineering school's EcoHawks Research Facility on West Campus, made its way onto the magazine Architect's list of the "Very Best Projects of 2013."

EcoHawks is a student research program run out of KU's engineering department that focuses on alternative energy in the transportation sector. The Ecohawks facility on West Campus was meant to help test new energy technologies on vehicles, including different methods of charging electric cars.

The upper part of the building is composed of aluminum strips woven between horizontal tubes that had to be hand-welded at the corners. The aluminum came from surplus supplies left over in the aircraft industry. The glass came from a failed building project in Kansas CIty, Mo.

Staff of Architect, which is published by the trade group American Institute of Architects, singled out the EcoHawks project as a "beautifully crafted pavilion, made all the more laudable by the fact that it was crafted entirely by the students of Dan Rockhill-led Studio 804."

Rockhill is a distinguished professor of architecture at KU and the instructor and executive director for Studio 804. Rockhill has said that Studio 804 gives architecture students a chance to get their hands on materials they use in designs as well as an opportunity to learn firsthand about the process of construction, a phase of building that finds most architects sitting on the sidelines.

Rockhill described to Architect how the class organizes the workload of the construction process. It's not quite as simple or easy as drawing straws:

I start design the first day of class in late August. The goal is to lock down the design as soon as possible, begin construction documents, and get consultants involved. We’re required to have consultants—we’re not treated differently than any other professional firm working on a project on campus. I start by asking every student to declare an area of interest. So somebody will rather meekly say “I’ll sign up for structure” or “I’ll sign up for siding”—basically you take Master Format and dice that up. But it’s not as though if you signed up for structure you sit back in your lounge chair after we get the frame up. Everyone is a part of everything.

Neither can I sit back in a lounge chair and wait for the news of the day to happen (much as I might enjoy that). That's why I need your KU news tips. Send them my way at

Studio 804 students at work on the EcoHawks facility. Photo courtesy of KU School of Architecture, Design and Planning.

Studio 804 students at work on the EcoHawks facility. Photo courtesy of KU School of Architecture, Design and Planning. by Ben Unglesbee

The EcoHawks Research Facility on West Campus is a Studio 804-built project devoted to researching alternative energies for vehicles. Photo courtesy of the KU School of Architecture, Design and Planning.

The EcoHawks Research Facility on West Campus is a Studio 804-built project devoted to researching alternative energies for vehicles. Photo courtesy of the KU School of Architecture, Design and Planning. by Ben Unglesbee


Greetings from Antarctica

As you might have noticed from a Journal-World story today, the Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets (aka CReSIS) has been busy.

As it does most years, CReSIS has sent out multiple teams to the Arctic and Antarctic regions to collect data on ice formations that will hopefully lead to more and more precise models of what the world's glaciers will do to sea levels as climate change continues and ramps up.

The Operation Ice Bridge team, an ongoing collaboration with NASA, has returned from Antarctica already. But the center still has teams funded by the National Science Foundation currently in Antarctica that are due back later this month.

John Paden, a courtesy associate professor of electrical engineering at Kansas University and a member of one of the Antarctic teams, said in an email that he and colleagues arrived at the McMurdo base in Antarctica on Saturday after camping out on the ice for weeks doing research.

Paden, along with Stephen Yan and Zongbo Wang, both of whom are also research faculty with CReSIS, were part of an airborne survey team. Since December, they have been collecting data from a DC-3 Basler aircraft equipped with radar equipment developed by CReSIS, as well as testing a new unmanned aerial vehicle (see today's story for more details).

I asked Paden to detail the trip in an email for readers. Writing from McMurdo, here is what Paden had to say (with some abridgments):

We fielded a number of systems this season including a small unmanned aircraft system (UAS), a new lightweight high frequency radar sounder onboard the UAS, a new version of an autonomous ground sensor called a geoPebble, a ground based radar system, two ultra-wideband radars and a Google-donated camera system onboard the Basler...

Since there were so many projects going on at our camp, including support for two aircraft and a large ice runway, we had a large camp with a galley, science tent, and six (wonderful) staff members to run the camp including a full time cook. This meant that most days we had lunch and dinner served by Sarah Sturges, a veteran field camp cook with many years of experience, and only had to help out with shoveling snow for drink water and kitchen clean-up duty or “house mouse” as it is known down here. And even though we sleep in regular unheated tents, our work space in the science tent has two stoves, plenty of power supplied by the camp generator and some furniture for setting up our equipment and working…

The two most exciting results for me this field season were about what we were able to see at the ice bottom. With the new radar system, our resolution improved 10 times over our previous system and is allowing us to see layers and features that were previously unresolvable... We also used a new method for increasing our imaging area of the ice bed by steering the transmit radar beam as we fly. We were able to create preliminary images of a few areas using this method while still in the field. Many of the flights were done on the “grounding lines” of the ice streams. The grounding line is where the ice goes afloat and is supported by ocean water underneath. Right now, it is thought that the grounding lines play a pivotal role in how a glacier or ice stream responds to changes in climate. Simulations of ice flow suggest that there are hinge points on the ice bed that catch the glacier and prevent the grounding line from moving rapidly upstream leading to a collapse of the glacier. One of the purposes of the new radar is to measure these grounding lines with fine enough resolution to create realistic models of the glaciers around Greenland and Antarctica.

Beyond that, we were fortunate to have really amazing camp staff who took care of so many things for us so that we could focus on our research. Also fun were the Christmas dinner and New Year’s dinner that everyone helped make and celebrate. For five of us, this was our first experience in Antarctica, and we got to enjoy stories and learn from veteran camp members, which was one of the best parts of being there. Despite a comfortable galley and science tent, being so far from anyone else and any kind of immediate support can be daunting, and having experienced and personable staff members made us all feel a little more at home in the Antarctic field camp.

A photo of the CReSIS Antarctic camp taken from the Basler with a camera donated by Google. Photo courtesy of John Paden and CReSIS.

A photo of the CReSIS Antarctic camp taken from the Basler with a camera donated by Google. Photo courtesy of John Paden and CReSIS. by Ben Unglesbee


For the children, please take your finals this week

For those of you on the hill in the throes of Finals Week at Kansas University, take heart. There is a social media revolution afoot to end finals altogether.

Well, that's not entirely accurate. The revolution is trying to end just one final, in one class, at one particular university. And it's not Kansas University.

Also, I might as well tell you: The revolution has already failed.

In recent weeks students of Communication Studies 498 at the University of Nebraska Lincoln took to Twitter to persuade the world to persuade their instructor to cancel "Exam #2." Using the class hash tag, students were able to get hundreds of people to post thousands of messages asking the world to help get their final canceled. Among the tweeters and retweeters pitching in were UNL football players and comedian Larry the Cable Guy. A Lincoln Journal Star story from Sunday featured the class and its efforts.

A quick disclosure here: The class happens to be taught by my brother-in-law, Dr. Jordan Soliz, a Kansas University graduate and now an associate professor of communication studies at UNL.

The class, titled "Communication in the Digital Age," looks at the role social media plays in identity construction and social relationships. It included discussions about the influence of social media in political and social movements such as those in the Middle East collectively known as the Arab Spring. As part of the course requirements, Soliz had his students engaging in Twitter throughout the semester to get them more deeply involved in the course's material. Apparently inspired by Twitter's potential to cause change, they tried to wield it to get their final canceled.

Soliz declined to axe the exam.

A response video by Soliz on Youtube featured earnest-looking children holding signs imploring the students of Communication Studies 498 to take Exam 2. If you're looking for inspiration this Finals Week, or just need a short study break to be manipulated by sad-faced children, take a look.

And we here at Heard the Hill want to echo the children in saying: Please take Exam 2, and also send your KU news tips to


KU events this week: Michael Dirda and the Post, Halloween concert, a cult classic filmed in Lawrence and more

Up on the hill Kansas University and company are dishing out ghoulish thrills and intellectual candy this week. If you have time between costume balls and Halloween parties, here's some stuff to do:

*Tonight night from 5:00-6:30 p.m. at the Big 12 room in the Kansas Union, Pulitzer Prize-winner Michael Dirda will talk about his life at the Washington Post, the world of books and publishing, as well as literary journalism. Dirda is a book critic for the Post in addition to having penned a memoir and four collections of essays. He won the Pulitzer in 1993 for his literary criticism, plus a bunch of other prestigious awards. Seating is free but limited. (Note: I'm trying to start a rumor that he will present his talk in a Carl Bernstein costume. There's some candy corn in it if you can help spread the rumor. And there's a whole bag in it for Dirda himself if he actually comes dressed as Bernstein.)

*At noon Wednesday in the Ecumenical Christian Ministries building, Jeremy Farmer, CEO of Just Food, will speak about issues in the food system that have contributed to rises in obesity and malnourishment among the poor. Just Food is a nonprofit that aims to tackle food insecurity in Douglas County.

*On Wednesday visiting lecturer Robert Wuthnow, a professor of sociology at Princeton University, will look at the role religion has played in Kansas political activism from John Brown to Dwight Eisenhower. Wuthnow will speak at 4 p.m. in the Kansas Union's Woodruff Auditorium.

*If your Wednesday is still open after that, you can mosey on over to the Dole Institute of Politics on West Campus for PBS producer and director Mark Zwonitzer's talk on Richard Ben Cramer, who wrote a tome on Bob Dole. You can hear Zwonitzer talking about Cramer writing about Dole at 7:30 p.m.

*But perhaps you'd rather attend something spookier, and more tuneful. At the same time as Zwonitzer's talk, the Lied Center will host the KU Symphony Orchestra's Halloween concert, which will feature bat- and ghoul-related selections. Kansas public radio's Mark Edwards will emcee. Show up earlier and you can take part in the community costume contest. Tickets are $8 for adults and $6 for children. If you can't make up your mind whether to attend, consider this: They'll be playing from Danny Elfman's score of the Michael Keaton Batman movie.

*On Friday the KU Film and Media Studies department will be showing Carnival of Souls, an indie cult classic directed by Herk Harvey and shot largely in Lawrence. The film, made on a budget a hair over $30,000, is about a woman who survives a car wreck only to find herself haunted by ghosts. Doors at 100 Old Father Studios, where much of the movie was filmed, open at 7 p.m. Seating will be limited and tickets cost $10 at the door. Proceeds will go to benefit the department.