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Meet your new KU reporter

Greetings Heard on the Hill Readers,

Last week I joined the Lawrence Journal-World’s staff and will soon take over the Kansas University beat and Heard on the Hill blog from Matt Erickson as he moves on to other things and other places.

Since I came aboard, Matt has been taking me around campus to introduce me to as many deans and administrators and faculty as he can wrangle up in mid-summer. He’s been a phenomenal help in getting me up to speed. His efforts hopefully will make the transition as smooth as possible for me, for the folks who regularly have to field my questions, and for Journal-World readers.

The university is a huge and fascinating institution. Big research universities like KU generate vast amounts of knowledge and, like all universities, they enjoy a rich intellectual life. For someone who loved learning new things in college and preferred studying to going out to the bars, it's amazing and a little ridiculous that I get to write about research and university events for a living.

I've also walked into the job during a dramatic transition for KU and colleges across the country. Federal and state cuts have strained university budgets, forcing higher ed institutions to find new sources of revenue and to scale back their basic research and services. The country collectively holds about $1 trillion in student debt, a statistic that worries many and puts pressure on colleges to prove their value. Online education and other technologies have opened new models of curriculum and degree-getting that some think could disrupt higher education the same way that the Internet has disrupted media companies, along with just about every other kind of organization.

A big part of my job will be monitoring these trends as they play out on the hill. Of course, KU is also unique in many ways, and I'm excited about giving readers a window into the personalities and daily goings on at campus.

A little bit about me, if you're curious: I have lived in Lawrence on and off for about 7 years, all told. I did my undergraduate work in economics and creative writing at KU, a double major that confused and distressed my peers in both schools. More recently I reported for the Kansas City Star's business desk and for a digital news startup called the Missouri Business Alert. I did my master's work in journalism at (please no judgment) the University of Missouri.

I began my own higher education kind of late. Before attending KU, I worked as a waiter, bus boy, fry cook, janitor, video store clerk, warehouse drone and fast food worker. I got a lot of experience from those jobs and worked with great people, but I must say newspaper work is quite a bit more exciting.

So that's all by way of introduction. All of you out there in Journal-World-land, please don't hesitate to reach out if you have questions, comments or pertinent information. Matt will surely be missed, but I will do everything I can to keep you all informed and engaged. Let me know if there's anything I can do to better accomplish that.

And if you really want to get things off to a rollicking start, you can send your KU news tips to bunglesbee@ljworld.com.

Sincerely, Ben Unglesbee, The New Guy

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    Former KU CLAS dean Wilcox chosen to lead University of California Riverside

    After being considered for several other university executive jobs, a former KU administrator has been picked to lead the University of California Riverside, the Los Angeles Times reports today.

    Kim Wilcox, a former dean of KU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences as well as a former president of the Kansas Board of Regents, still has to be confirmed by regents before he'll officially become chancellor at UC Riverside. He left KU in 2005 to become the provost at Michigan State University, where he stayed until this summer.

    Much to my confusion, Wilcox earlier this year was a public finalist to be the executive at two different public universities that go by the abbreviation "UW," the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Wyoming. He was also the candidate for another executive job, the chancellorship at the University of Hawaii-Manoa, in 2012.

    UC Riverside has about 22,000 students. Wilcox's boss will be Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano when she becomes president of the University of California system in September.

    Leading a university is a pretty big job, I suppose, but I'd argue that no job is more important than that of a Heard on the Hill tipster. You can apply by sending a KU news tip to merickson@ljworld.com.

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    Panda Express, Indian food among new dining options coming to KU campus in fall

    It looks like the KU campus will be a bit of a new food frontier this fall, with a number of on-campus dining changes on the way.

    Don't worry — your Crunchy Chicken Cheddar Wrap isn't going anywhere. But in addition to the remodeled Mrs. E's dining hall on Daisy Hill (read about it in the KU Today edition, coming in August), there will be a few new tastes available at the Kansas Union and the Underground area in Wescoe Hall.

    First up is a name you might recognize: Panda Express. The quick-service Chinese restaurant chain, fresh off its first Lawrence location opened earlier this year, will come to the Kansas Union, as well.

    You can get your Kung Pao chicken and other such delights on the third floor of the union, near the KJHK radio station headquarters. Construction on the location will start soon, and officials hope for it to open in October, said Claudia Larkin, a KU Memorial Unions spokeswoman.

    The Panda Express will be separate from the main food-court area in the Union, called The Market, but that's going to be changing, too. A few of the "concepts" there — the counters that serve different types of food — will be switched out for new ones.

    The Quesarito counter will become Serrano's Latin Cuisine, Fresco will change to World Kitchen International Cafe and the Corner Bakery will now be Sweet Baby Jay's Bakery. (Must be a James Taylor fan over at KU Dining Services, I suppose.)

    Also new there will be a spot for the most important meal of the day, called the Early Bird Breakfast Bar.

    Those new concepts, all created by KU Dining Services chefs, will feature a lot more fresh, made-to-order cooking, Larkin said.

    "It will have a big freshening-up," she said.

    And down Jayhawk Boulevard at Wescoe, an Indian food option is coming to the Underground dining area. It's called Cafe Spice, and it's a food-service chain that to this point has been located mainly in the Northeast. Larkin said it would feature a lot of vegetarian and vegan options.

    These changes are largely based on a recent survey of students by Dining Services, she said.

    "We knew that Indian food would be popular," Larkin said. "We knew that Panda Express would be popular."

    Indian food would definitely rank high on a survey of Heard on the Hill bloggers' dining preferences. They are also hungry for KU news tips, which you can send to merickson@ljworld.com.

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    New service allows people to feed KU parking meters from their smartphones, no coins needed

    FRIDAY UPDATE

    I've got an update from the KU parking folks: This smartphone meter system is up and running now. So you can go ahead park to your heart's content, coin-free.

    ORIGINAL POST

    If you find yourself parking on the KU campus during the day from time to time, but not so often that you want to buy a parking permit, that may mean you're often digging around for coins to feed one of the 277 parking meters on campus.

    But by the time the fall semester starts next month, you'll no longer have to do that, if you don't want to. You can save your coins for flipping, scratching off lottery tickets or pretending to find behind children's ears.

    That's because of these green stickers that perhaps you've seen stuck to the front of campus parking meters this summer, which a tipster asked about:

    From in front of the KU student recreation center.

    From in front of the KU student recreation center. by Matt Erickson

    The stickers mean that you can use a service to pay for the meters electronically, using a credit card, from your phone. The service, called Parkmobile, has a smartphone app you can use to pay, or you can use the actual phone part of your cellphone to pay, using the phone number listed there.

    To do that, you have to register an account with the company, giving it your license plate number and a credit card on file. Then, enter the number on the sticker, or scan the QR code shown, to let it know where you're parking.

    "We were looking for a way to make it easier for people to buy some time," said Donna Hultine, director of KU Parking and Transit. She said the service is not active yet at KU, but it will be by the time the fall semester begins, on Aug. 26. The stickers are coming to all of the campus's long-term parking meters, the biggest concentration of which is near the Ambler Student Recreation Fitness Center and the Watkins Memorial Health Center.

    As visitor parking rates on the campus have risen over time, parking meters have experienced less use, Hultine said.

    In August 2012, the hourly rate — for long-term parking meters or the garages near Allen Fieldhouse and the Kansas Union — rose to $1.50. (Starting Aug. 1, the rate in the garages will rise to $1.75 for the first hour and $1.50 per hour afterward.)

    That money goes to fund staffing and maintenance for Parking and Transit, such as the resurfacing of the lot across from KU's engineering buildings this summer. (That lot, by the way, will now have permeable pavement that will allow water runoff to go into underground retention areas, helping to create a rain garden on one end.)

    "We've got a lot of crumbling asphalt across campus," Hultine said.

    But Hultine hopes the new electronic system will encourage more people to use the meters, even if they don't have six quarters jingling around in their pockets.

    The service will also notify you when your meter's about to expire with a text message providing a 15-minute warning, Hultine said. You can extend the meter from your phone, wherever you are.

    You will, though, have to pay a 35-cent fee for each transaction. That's the Parkmobile company's cut of the deal; the actual parking fare will still go to KU. And people can still feed the meters with coins if they like.

    "I just really hope that it helps people to avoid getting tickets," Hultine said.

    Parking and Transit will also use the technology to open an entire new lot, the one just east of Memorial Stadium, to visitors (lot No. 94 on this map). Right now that lot is available only with a campus permit during the day, but starting in August visitors will be able to use the Parkmobile service to park there using a virtual meter. KU won't even have to install any physical meters, which Hultine said cost about $600 a pop.

    Hultine said KU might do that with more permit-only lots in the future, too.

    KU will be the first place to use the service in the state of Kansas, said Tina Dyer, a Parkmobile spokeswoman. You can also use the service in some privately owned lots in Kansas City, Mo.

    The company started in Europe in 1999 as a call-in service, and it opened its U.S. operation in 2008, based in Atlanta. It's expanded rapidly in the past two years, Dyer said, spreading to a lot of college campuses.

    "It's perfect in a university setting," Dyer said, "especially because most of the kids have smartphones."

    Amazing what you can do from your phone these days. You can also use it to send a KU news tip to merickson@ljworld.com — and there's no fee, if you send it today! (Or at any later time.)

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    KU budget deleted scenes: school-by-school cuts and a possible hours reduction at Watson Library

    Over the weekend, we updated you on how KU is dealing with, and worrying about, its state funding cuts this year. These two bits didn't quite fit in that story, but they might be interesting for folks on the hill:

    • If you read the story, you saw that the KU administration told the different academic units on the Lawrence campus to cut their budgets by varying percentages.

    Tim Caboni, KU's vice chancellor for public affairs, told me the higher-ups determined the percentages based on the different schools' research productivity and on whether their enrollment was growing or declining. (Research was the bigger part of the equation, accounting for two-thirds of the calculation.)

    The better each school was doing in those areas, Caboni said, the smaller the cut it received (at least by percentage). He said the administration did it this way to preserve what it considers most important, and that leaders hope it will serve as a "motivator" for schools to improve in those areas.

    Anyway, because of all that, it might be interesting to see the full list of percentage cuts by school. Here you go, starting with the highest:

    -School of Journalism: 0.97 percent

    -School of Music: 0.89 percent

    -School of Business: 0.87 percent

    -College of Liberal Arts and Sciences: 0.84 percent

    -School of Social Welfare: 0.82 percent

    -School of Architecture, Design and Planning: 0.72 percent

    -School of Pharmacy: 0.69 percent

    -School of Education: 0.6 percent

    -School of Law: 0.45 percent

    -School of Engineering: 0.4 percent

    • One academic unit I left out of that list was the KU Libraries, because I'm giving it its own little section here. The libraries' cut was the same by percentage as the CLAS, 0.84 percent, and because of their sizable budget, they had one of the biggest cuts in terms of dollar amounts, at more than $100,000. (The College's cut, about $900,000, would dwarf all others on that list.)

    I was curious how a cut like that might affect the libraries. The most noticeable effect for a lot of folks on campus could be a reduction in hours at KU's second most popular library, Watson Library.

    Rebecca Smith, an executive director for the libraries, said leaders were considering closing Watson at midnight each weeknight instead of 3 a.m., allowing for a staff reduction. So if that's your go-to late-night study spot, you may have to find a new one. They haven't made a final decision on that, though.

    The main way the libraries will deal with the cuts is to leave some vacant positions unfilled, Smith said. That means there will be fewer librarians available to do things like training students on research, helping faculty gather information and archiving KU research. (Smith noted that an academic library these days is far from just a "book depository.")

    To me, anyway, the ways that this year's budget cuts will show up in the lives of people on campus are more interesting than percentages or dollar amounts, so let us know if you see a way that's happening. And get those KU news tips to merickson@ljworld.com.

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    KU researchers hope to draw attention to financial-aid ideas in Washington next week

    There's a chance you could see some KU researchers in the news on Monday, when a group of KU social welfare researchers is going to present a report about financial aid in Washington, D.C., with the help of the policy group the New America Foundation.

    More details will be in their report, but I wrote about the group, the Assets and Education Initiative, earlier this year. The idea these KU researchers advocate, and what I imagine they'll be pitching in their first biannual report next week, is that America would be better off if it focused financial aid for college students less on loans and more on government-funded savings accounts that would be created at birth.

    When I talked with the initative's director, William Elliott, about what to expect, he noted that this will be happening while financial aid is a frequent subject in the news, thanks to the recent doubling of subsidized federal student loan rates. For him and his colleagues, he said the aim would be to shift that conversation to the bigger picture, asking if student loans are really the best way to make higher education more accessible in the first place.

    "There are different ways of thinking about the college debt situation, and how we can potentially maximize the dollars that we're already spending," Elliott said.

    He says people should think not just about providing aid so students can attend college — they should think about providing aid that will help students be more successful in college and in their lives afterward. And his research has suggested that college savings accounts for children, even ones smaller than $500, would do just that.

    Elliott says a contingent of four people from KU will spend Monday in Washington rolling out their report and hoping to draw some media coverage, and on Tuesday they'll meet with some U.S. senators and their staffs.

    Your KU news tips are like a college savings account for me: They correlate strongly with my future success. So send 'em to merickson@ljworld.com.

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    KU links: Research cuts, rising loan rates and missing butterflies in Canada

    It seems that news mentions of KU tend to slow down a bit during these summer months, so our little links roundup here has become an every-few-weeks feature for now.

    But here are some assorted KU quotes, mentions and other bits from around the Internet from the last few weeks:

    • Steve Warren, KU's vice chancellor for research and graduate studies, called the federal cuts to research funding a "slow-growing cancer" at a roundtable event Wednesday in Washington, D.C., as reported by Inside Higher Ed. (Or, if the Huffington Post is to be believed, he called them a "slowly growing cancer.") Warren talked to us about that very same subject earlier this week.

    • Another KU official sounded off in a letter to the Chronicle of Higher Education last week about another hot-button higher-education issue of the moment: student-loan interest rates. Melinda Lewis, a policy director for the Assets and Education Initiative in KU's School of Social Welfare, wrote that whether or not loan interest rates rise, a better mechanism for helping children succeed in college would be government-funded savings accounts.

    I wrote about the KU researchers studying that concept back in February. You might see some more media coverage of their ideas next week, when they'll be presenting a report in Washington, D.C.

    • Also on the subject of student-loan interest rates, the Kansas City Star talked with KU student Tyler Childress about the loans he has piled up.

    (In case you haven't seen, by the way: Congress has not yet reached an agreement to keep rates on subsidized federal loans from doubling to 6.8 percent.)

    • The Canadian Broadcasting Corp. talked with KU monarch butterfly expert Chip Taylor about why monarchs have been rare in the province of Ontario so far this summer.

    • The KC Star also talked with Lisa Pinamonti Kress, KU's admissions director, about how KU tries to recruit minority students after the U.S. Supreme Court's recent ruling on race-based admissions.

    Now that I've listed them all out, I see most of those links contain a fair bit of doom and gloom. Sorry about that. Cheer me up by sending a KU news tip to merickson@ljworld.com.

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    Which Twitter accounts do new KU students need to follow?

    Back when I started college, I needed to know where I could eat dinner, how to pick up my football tickets and where I was allowed to park (almost nowhere). I did not need to know about Twitter accounts that I needed to follow, because this was about 8,000 social-media years ago, when Facebook was still available exclusively for college students, MySpace was actually a thing some people used and Twitter did not exist.

    But things are different now. There are 28,000 students at KU, and it seems like there are at least that many KU-related Twitter accounts. But which ones are must-follows for KU students? (Besides @LJW_KU, of course.)

    That is not a rhetorical question. We're working on a "Field Guide" for new KU students that will be part of our KU Today edition (coming in August!), and I'm putting together a list of the Twitter accounts that any KU student worth his or her salt should be following to get a comprehensive KU experience.

    So please send me your nominations. I have some ideas, but I want to hear from you. A couple of guidelines:

    • I know a lot of you probably follow all manner of Twitter accounts related to KU sports. But I don't want this list to be totally — or even mostly — sports-related. So extra points will go to suggestions outside of the sports world.

    • I want this list to be based on your suggestions, but I'll be making the final selections. That means that no "parody" accounts — ones that purport to be a "fake" version of somebody else — will make it on the list unless they are legitimately funny and not dumb. And from what I can tell, that counts out about 99.5 percent of them.

    With those things in mind, fire away. What Twitter accounts do new KU freshmen — or maybe even new KU staffers or professors — need to follow to get the hang of life on the hill? Email your suggestions to me at merickson@ljworld.com, chime in via the comments below or let me know on, well, Twitter (@LJW_KU).

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    KU engineering students take fourth in race car contest

    This past weekend was the big payoff for a group of KU School of Engineering students who work year-round, sometimes putting in 80 or more hours a week, to design and build a Formula-style race car from scratch.

    After a first-ever overall championship at last year's Society of Automotive Engineers Formula competition in Lincoln, Neb., this year's Jayhawk Motorsports team followed it up by finishing fourth overall out of 80 registered teams at this year's contest.

    And this year was a first for the squad: It built not one but two cars from scratch over the course of the year, one with a combustion engine and one that's entirely electric. (In the past, they've re-made old cars into electric models, rather than building one anew.) And their electric car finished third in a separate competition.

    "It wasn't first like last year," senior Jordan Faltermeier told me, "but it was a great achievement for building two cars."

    These competitions aren't just a race. In fact, the cars don't even move for the competition's first two days, when they're scrutinized by judges checking for various technical requirements. And before the students race their cars, judges pore over them some more to examine their noise levels, brakes, stability and other things.

    The "fun part," though, is, yeah, a race, Faltermeier said: a one-lap time trial, conducted on an airport runway.

    "There were a lot of fast cars," he said.

    Some of the students on the team are seniors using it as a class project, and others are underclassmen volunteering their time just so they can have some experience by the time they get to take the lead. They spend countless hours designing, building, testing and repeating, to make sure their vehicles are as close to flawless as they can get.

    "With engineering, you're going to fail," Faltermeier said. "But as long as you can learn from that failure and improve, then you can be a good engineer."

    With blogging, I am going to fail — unless you send me some KU news tips at merickson@ljworld.com.

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    Breaking down the private funds that pay the KU chancellor’s salary

    If the comments on this story and the interactions with the @LJW_KU Twitter account last week are any indication, many of you had some thoughts and feelings about last week's Kansas Board of Regents vote to award a pay increase to KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little, along with the chief executives at the state's other public universities.

    One important detail, amid declining state funding at KU, is that the $60,000 raise for Gray-Little will come entirely from private funds. That means the privately paid portion of the chancellor's salary is approaching the state fund-paid portion: About $272,000 will now came from state funds, with about $221,000 coming from private funds.

    That left me with a question: What are those "private funds," exactly?

    Well, they come from the KU Endowment Association, but it's a little more complicated than that.

    First, some history. KU chancellors' salaries consisted entirely of state funds until 10 years ago, in 2003, when Chancellor Robert Hemenway began to receive an additional $50,000 per year thanks to a $1 million donation from a KU graduate. That donor, Charley Oswald, of Edina, Minn., also donated $1 million each to Kansas State and Wichita State universities.

    Each donation created a professorship fund — like ones used to pay additional salary for distinguished professors — to bolster the salary of each university's chief executive.

    Ten years later, that fund at KU provides about $70,000 of the chancellor's salary, said KU Endowment President Dale Seuferling. The rest of her salary — and all of the $60,000 increase the Regents approved last week — comes from the Endowment's Greater KU Fund, to which donors can make unrestricted gifts "to advance the university for a variety of purposes," Seuferling said.

    A big majority of gifts to the Endowment come with specific instructions for their use, but some donors give money that the Endowment can use for any purpose at KU, with the approval of the Executive Committee of its Board of Trustees. Those go into the Greater KU Fund.

    For the current fiscal year, which ends a week from today, donors have made 2,921 unrestricted gifts to the Endowment totaling about $2.3 million (an average of $800 per gift), according to numbers that Seuferling shared. The totals for restricted gifts are much higher: 80,576 gifts that add up to about $128.7 million, with an average gift of about $1,600.

    For the coming year, around $151,000 of the chancellor's salary will come from the unrestricted fund. Over time, Seuferling said, the Regents have asked for privately funded increases to the chancellor's salary that exceed the amount available each year from the fund established by Oswald's donation. Those increases require approval from the Endowment's Executive Committee.

    So, in sum, here's how the chancellor's salary will break down, roughly: $272,000 from state funds; $70,000 from the Endowment fund created to pay some of the chancellor's salary; and $151,000 from the Endowment's unrestricted fund.

    Gray-Little's new base salary of $492,650, by the way, would rank 34th among public university leaders in the most recent survey on that subject published by the Chronicle of Higher Education (though that survey was for the 2012 fiscal year, and she'll make that salary in the 2014 fiscal year, so obviously other leaders' pay may have increased since then, as well). Her then-base pay of about $429,000 ranked 60th in the survey for that year. (Overall, she was the 86th highest-paid executive on the list, but that includes retirement and severance payouts, among other factors.)

    The Regents said the raises for Gray-Little and the other leaders were designed to make their pay more competitive nationally, and this one would appear to do that.

    I'm sorry if you didn't expect your Monday to include so much math. I'll stop throwing so many numbers at you, but only if you send me a KU news tip to divert my attention. Send 'em to merickson@ljworld.com.

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