In 2009, a few days after the University of Kansas announced that Bernadette Gray-Little would be its 17th chancellor, a Journal-World reporter made some calls and even traveled personally to the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill — where Gray-Little had worked more than 30 years, most recently as provost — to ask colleagues what they thought of her.
Colleagues quoted in those 2009 stories said things including:
“Bernadette is not a rock star...She’s a rock.”
“She’s not going to panic under pressure, for sure.”
“She is not someone who walks in a room and feels like she immediately needs to make her presence known. She’s more reserved than some in that sense.”
At KU Gray-Little has hardly been famous for talking about herself, either, at least not publicly or without prompting.
As Gray-Little prepares to step down as KU’s chancellor (Douglas Girod will take over July 1), one thing the university did was create a website collecting all things “BGL,” chancellor.ku.edu/thank-you-bgl. There’s a timeline of her achievements at KU, a tribute video, a photo gallery, a collection of her campus messages and — the part I’m getting to — transcripts of dozens of speeches she’s given, at KU and elsewhere across the country, over the past eight years.
Perhaps the most personally revealing is one the KU community never heard or read about in the Journal-World: an October 2012 speech Gray-Little gave during convocation at her undergraduate alma mater, Marywood University in Scranton, Pa..
In that speech, according to the transcript, Gray-Little talked about being one of eight children in a poor family, sometimes unsure of where the next meal would be coming from. She talked about being a "rambunctious" child, who frequently had to stay after school and clap chalkboard erasers for punishment. She talked about how she came to go to college, then eventually led a university as its chancellor, and what values drove her.
Here's a passage from her message to the students at Marywood:
I’m not asking you to be a (Martin Luther, Jr.) King or a (Cesar) Chavez. But I am asking you to devote yourselves to the cause they worked for: a society that gives its members the chance to reach their full potential—a society that empowers the least able of us to reach our full potential. A nation that respects its pluralistic roots and that educates its people so they can be active, conscientious citizens. A nation that has the foresight to invest time and resources on a naughty little girl from a poor family of second-class citizens.
What’s more, I’m asking you to work for the common good, to create a society that reflects Christ’s teaching that we are each other’s keepers and that which we do to the least of His children, we do to Him.
A child’s success in life should not be predetermined at birth. And we must all fulfill our duty to each other.
These are the values of empowerment. They align with other values, such as respect for the uniqueness and dignity of each individual. The need to work, together, as members of a community for the benefit of all. The drive to excel in all aspects of our lives. And, as Marywood students and soon graduates, the pursuit of ideals such as truth and justice in service of the common good.
These should all be familiar, because they are all reflected in the core values of Marywood University. They’re the values that have guided my life, and are what I hope will guide yours.
For a little more — a little — about what Gray-Little has planned next, here's a story from Sunday's Journal-World in which the outgoing chancellor reflects on her time at KU and her next plans.
— I’m the Journal-World’s KU and higher ed reporter. See all the newspaper’s KU coverage here. Reach me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, by phone at 832-7187, on Twitter @saramarieshep or via Facebook at Facebook.com/SaraShepherdNews.
When Kansas University Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little vetoed Student Senate funding for a Multicultural Student Government, she cited a couple key points in a letter to Student Senate leaders. One, the student organization does not yet exist as a government. Two, university code doesn’t allow more than one government representing any of KU’s constituency groups in University Senate. (The funding she nixed amounted to about $180,000 in required student fees. MSG was slated to get $90,000 to pay officers and fund other operations, plus another $90,000 to allocate to other multicultural student groups.)
In the last paragraph of her letter, the chancellor indicated there was more to her decision than just that, however, writing “I believe that the independent student government proposed in the document sent to University Senate is not an optimal way to achieve the goals we have for diversity and inclusion at the university and, indeed, may lead to greater divisiveness.”
I interviewed the chancellor earlier this month about various KU issues, including this one. Here’s what she said.
“The letter outlines the technical reasons why, but I didn’t want to just hide behind that. I wanted to say what I thought,” Gray-Little said. “I believe the question or concern is that student government as it currently functions does not allow students who are not part of the anointed group — however that anointed is defined — to have a voice. I have heard that complaint from students in the past not based on race, so I don’t think it is a question solely that racial or ethnic groups have that experience because of being a member of a racial or ethnic group.”
Gray-Little said she suggests looking instead at what can be changed within student government to overcome that problem.
Since she came to KU in 2009, there have been two student body presidents who are black, Gray-Little pointed out. Stephonn Alcorn was just elected student body president for the upcoming school year, and Michael Wade Smith was student body president for 2010-11.
“It’s obviously not the case that you can’t get elected if you’re not Caucasian,” Gray-Little said. “I don’t think that that is the issue — or if it is, I think we’re doing fine if you look at that as a percentage.”
“I think it is something else that has to do with what goes on, who has a say, who feels they have a say, maybe how people get elected,” she said. “What I would like to work with students on is how we can go about ensuring that students have the opportunity to participate and be heard, which doesn’t necessarily mean that they get to decide what happens, but how they can be heard.
“We have university governance that’s made up of students, staff and faculty,” she said. “To change the university code … I don’t think it would be very productive in the long run to say those three elements of the university can have multiple representatives that are each working separately from one another.”
The final report of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Advisory Group formed last fall by the office of the provost calls for KU administration to support creation of the MSG and also for the current Student Senate to be “placed under immediate review.” (The report describes the Student Senate’s “exclusivity and greek life-centeredness” as a “crisis.”)
I asked Gray-Little about the advisory group recommendations, too. She said to expect a response to those recommendations around the end of the summer.
“What our effort will have to be is how to make some of the recommendations specific and not just say, 'This is a good idea, we agree with you, that’s an important goal.’ What do you actually do to achieve it? … We have to be very specific about things we’re going to do.”
She added: “I am not interested in having things that don’t work just to say that you have something.”
— I’m the Journal-World’s KU and higher ed reporter. See all the newspaper’s KU coverage at KUToday.com. Reach me by email at email@example.com, by phone at 832-7187, on Twitter @saramarieshep or via Facebook at Facebook.com/SaraShepherdNews.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.