As the Journal-World’s Kansas University reporter, I was busy this year. Numerous KU happenings made national news, and some will have lasting impact on the university. There were high-profile visitors, buildings going up and coming down, an alumnus' ashes rocketing through space and controversies over race, sexual assault and donations from Koch Industry affiliates.
Here are my picks for the top KU news stories of 2015, some of which you’ll also find in the Journal-World’s overall top stories of the year feature on Friday. It wasn’t easy, but I’ve pared my list down to a baker’s dozen.
13 — Jaybowl closes for good
After 62 years, bowling at the Kansas Union ended in May. Citing declining popularity and loss of revenue, KU shut down Jaybowl and replaced it with an event space.
12 — University Daily Kansan slashes print production
The Kansan, KU’s 111-year-old student newspaper, cut back this fall to printing just two days a week. Editors announced the change as a move toward “digital-first” journalism.
11 — Professor who said n-word in class placed on leave
This story got more clicks than anything I wrote all year, thanks in part to being picked up by numerous national news websites and blogs, including the Drudge Report. Students filed a discrimination complaint against Andrea Quenette, assistant professor of communication studies, after she used the n-word during a class discussion on race. Quenette said she meant no harm but was using the word in the context of a discussion about racism. She’s on paid leave until KU completes its investigation.
10 — KU prof discovers only known audio recording of James Naismith
Associate professor Michael Zogry, while researching for a book, unearthed the only known recording of the voice of James Naismith himself — inventor of basketball and former KU basketball coach. The 1939 radio show clip is now online for all to hear.
9 — KU takes action on sexual assault
In May the chancellor’s Sexual Assault Task Force delivered 27 recommendations for change in how KU handles campus rape. KU is implementing some suggestions, including creating a Sexual Assault Prevention and Education Center. Others aren’t happening, including requiring freshman fraternity members to live in dorms.
8 — Teacher with Koch ties settles lawsuit against university
The case of KU School of Business teacher and Center for Applied Economics director Art Hall v. KU was settled out of court in August. A student group paid $1,800 for an open records request hoped to reveal more about Hall’s ties to Koch Industries, but Hall sued and the students only received some of the documents.
7 — KU basketball team moves into new apartment building
Another viral story. (And I bet some of the people clicking on it were Kentucky fans trying to see if their basketball dorm has been outdone — pretty sure it has.) The Jayhawks moved into the posh new McCarthy Hall apartment building in October. It’s classy, not to mention accommodating of exceedingly tall people.
6 — Racial tensions flare on campus
After high-profile protests at Mizzou, KU scheduled a town hall forum to talk about race in November. About 1,000 attended, including a group of mostly black student protesters calling themselves Rock Chalk Invisible Hawk. The following weeks saw an effort to oust Student Senate execs, a new task force to address diversity problems and a protest in the chancellor’s office.
5 — $4.2 million river study exploring effects of climate change, development
This was the highest-dollar research grant story I wrote all year. A KU professor is lead investigator on this pioneering collaborative project spanning two continents, 18 rivers and eight other universities.
4 — Pluto’s ‘heart’ named for KU grad who discovered planet
The world’s eyes were on the sky in July, when NASA’s New Horizon spacecraft snapped unprecedented close-up photos of Pluto. Aboard New Horizon were the ashes of the KU grad who discovered Pluto, Clyde Tombaugh, and NASA announced that a prominent heart-shaped feature on Pluto’s surface was being named for him.
3 — KU kicks off massive Central District redevelopment project
In November the Kansas Board of Regents OK’d KU’s $350 million Central District redevelopment plan, including a novel “public-private partnership” funding mechanism to pay for it. KU will build a new science building, residence hall, apartment building, student union to replace the Burge, parking garage and utility plant — all within the next three years. That’s on top of the neighborhood’s privately funded new McCarthy Hall, DeBruce Center and Capitol Federal Hall, as well as the already completed LEEP2 engineering building and Oswald and Self halls on Daisy Hill. To reiterate, Central District redevelopment is a massive and transformational project for campus.
2 — McCollum Hall comes tumbling down
The most dramatic piece of the aforementioned redevelopment project was without a doubt the spectacle of McCollum Hall imploding on Nov. 25. What’s probably Douglas County’s largest building square-footage-wise, home to 50 years of memories for an estimated 43,000 KU students echoed with dynamite blasts and crumbled in a matter of seconds.
1 — President Barack Obama visits KU
Obama’s Jan. 22 address on “middle class economics” wasn’t exactly historic, politically speaking. But the man is a mega-star, and KU greeted him as such. In a whirlwind couple of days, KU announced Obama’s visit, worked with Secret Service and law enforcement on myriad logistics, doled out coveted tickets and even arranged live music. The atmosphere inside Anschutz Sports Pavilion was electric, and many KU students and community members called the chance to see the sitting president a highlight of their lives.
— What did I miss? Share your opinions on the year’s top KU stories in the comments below (did I mention this was really hard to narrow down?). As always, reach me by email at email@example.com, by phone at 832-7187, on Twitter @saramarieshep or via Facebook at Facebook.com/SaraShepherdNews.
Merry Christmas from the KU beat. Just for fun and festiveness, here’s a roundup of holiday greetings from a handful of KU units’ social media accounts.
• First, KU Athletics wishes you happy holidays in many languages — headlined by soloist Carlton Bragg on piano:
• The KU Alumni Association’s holiday e-card, in which the Strong Hall Jayhawk gets ice skates and Phog Allen gets a tiny paper stocking cap:
• An animated greeting card from KU Endowment:
• A sesquicentennial-inspired GIF greeting from KU (that’s Old North College, by the way, KU’s very first building). The university said on its Facebook page, "From the Hill, we hope all Jayhawks have a happy holiday season" and shared the following quote: “Oread in winter! The winter view is most impressive on a breathless boreal morn when the smoke goes straight up into the sky…” — Sydney Prentice, class of 1896
• A holiday decoration only a med student could love (I'm talking about the skeleton in a Santa hat), from the KU Medical Center Instagram account:
• Courtesy of the Kenneth Spencer Research Library blog, click here to see a photo from their archives of the Chancellor’s Residence decked out in evergreen and lights back in 1966.
• Photos of the Kansas City Chiefs quarterbacks, cheerleaders and KC Wolf visiting the KU Hospital pediatric unit, via the hospital's Facebook page:
• Some excellent advice from the Jayhawk Buddy System Twitter handle:
• And finally, Big Jay and Baby Jay getting in the holiday spirit in their KU ugly Christmas sweaters, courtesy of the KU Athletics Instagram feed:
At least the Grinch who stole two holiday sweaters from Allen Fieldhouse Saturday didn’t get to count them as part of Kansas University Athletics’ new Guinness World Record.
Someone took two “KU ugly sweaters” from the fieldhouse just after 3 p.m. Saturday, an estimated loss of $154, according to the KU Office of Public Safety. The sweaters were picked up off a table, at a kiosk that had been selling them, as the KU men’s basketball game against the University of Montana was ending, KU police Capt. James Anguiano said.
Earlier in the game, KU Athletics set the world record for the largest gathering of people wearing holiday sweaters. According to a Guinness spokeswoman contacted Tuesday, the official Guinness text now reads: “The largest gathering of people wearing holiday sweaters is 3,473 and was achieved by Kansas Athletics (USA) at the Men’s Basketball game vs. Montana in Lawrence, Kansas, USA on 19 December 2015.”
Fans wearing holiday sweaters meeting the criteria — long sleeves and decorated with at least one holiday-themed item — were given “participation” tickets when they entered the Fieldhouse. According to KU Athletics, the official count was taken during a 5-minute window partway through the first half, during which everyone in holiday sweaters was required to be in their seats with sweaters on and pass their tickets to the aisle to be officially counted.
With 3,473 holiday sweaters in the Fieldhouse, KU easily surpassed the previous world record, set at Loughborough University in Loughborough, United Kingdom, where 1,175 people wore holiday sweaters on Dec. 10, 2014.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the ugly-sweater thief had not been caught and the investigation remained open, Anguiano said.
KU continues discrimination investigation into professor who used n-word in class; she was not scheduled to teach spring classes
Kansas University’s investigation of a professor who said the n-word in class remains ongoing — though regardless of outcome the instructor won’t be teaching next semester.
Andrea Quenette, assistant professor of communication studies, has been on paid administrative leave since Nov. 20, shortly after KU’s Office of Institutional Opportunity and Access opened its investigation into racial discrimination complaints against her. Quenette’s IOA case remains open, according to KU spokesman Joe Monaco. He said KU policy calls for the university to complete discrimination complaint investigations within 60 days.
Quenette said she is now working with an attorney. She said an IOA investigator told her that a total of six complaints were filed and that the office aimed to interview all students before the end of the semester.
“After interviewing all of the students they then make a determination as to whether any policies were violated. If so, they will then notify me of the complaints within seven days and then I will be interviewed,” Quenette said.
Quenette, now in her third year as a tenure-track assistant professor, will not have any classes this spring because she was previously scheduled for a research-intensive semester with no teaching obligations, Monaco said. He said that plan was entirely unrelated to Quenette’s administrative leave and that all junior faculty in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences are offered one such research-intensive semester during their pre-tenure employment.
On Nov. 12, the morning after KU’s heated universitywide town hall forum on race, Quenette used the n-word to illustrate a point during a graduate-level class discussion about race, which also included conversation about retention rates at KU and the concept of systemic racism. Students — in a Twitter campaign with the hashtag #FireAndreaQuenette and in an open letter online — condemned Quenette's use of the n-word and "active denial" of systemic racism, and demanded that she lose her job.
Quenette has said she did not direct the n-word at or intend to offend anyone and that discussing race issues was within the purview of her class.
If you read my article about the recently fired Kansas University employee fighting the KU Institutional Opportunity and Access office’s decision not to investigate his discrimination complaint, you might be wondering: How can KU — a state institution — have a policy protecting people from discrimination based on sexual orientation while the state itself does not? (Missed the story? Click here.)
In short, the difference is that KU is its own employer with its own policies. While those policies must meet state law, of course, they are allowed to exceed it — and KU policy lists more so-called “protected classes” than law requires, one of which is sexual orientation.
According to the Kansas Human Rights Commission: “Kansas laws protect persons from discrimination in employment,” and “charges of alleged discrimination may be filed on the basis of race, religion, color, sex, disability, national origin, ancestry, retaliation, age.”
KU, by contrast, prohibits discrimination on the basis of: “race, color, ethnicity, religion, sex, national origin, age, ancestry, disability, status as a veteran, sexual orientation, marital status, parental status, gender identity, gender expression and genetic information,” according to KU’s nondiscrimination policy.
Of note is that the city of Lawrence is the only municipality in the state to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, through a citywide ordinance rather than a policy just for city employees. Here’s a story I wrote last year about that — if you’ll recall, it was around the time everybody was talking about the so-called gay wedding cake legislation.
And for a little more related background, here’s another story in which KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little affirms that KU policy was unaffected by Gov. Sam Brownback’s decision to rescind a former governor’s executive order protecting state employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation or identity.
The Kansas University Student Senate has created four new ad hoc committees to address diversity-related demands voiced by Rock Chalk Invisible Hawk. Student Body President Jessie Pringle announced the following four committees this week, in an email to the Senate. Committees are expected to give a report and legislative recommendations to the full Senate on March 18.
“Each committee tackles issues and discussions that should be addressed this upcoming semester,” Pringle said. “The committees are a way to find solutions and policy changes together as a Senate body.”
Student Senate Overview Committee — Charged with assessing structure of Senate to “increase accessibility”; identifying “opportunities in the student fee structure to promote a more inclusive and diverse campus”; evaluating outreach policies and developing best practices to increase awareness of resources Senate and KU provide.
Election Reevaluation Committee — Charged with addressing concerns about “accessibility” to run in Senate general elections; identifying ways to “create a more open and equitable election atmosphere”; determining feasibility and logistics of an election support fund.
Retention and Recruitment Committee — Charged with monitoring retention rates of students; researching policy and programs within offices working with recruitment and retention; identifying problems with current practices.
Veterans Services Committee — Charged with “benchmarking” KU to the service programs of its aspirational peers; assessing services offered to veterans; identifying veterans services KU lacks; developing a “standing entity to address veterans’ needs annually.”
Invisible Hawk is a group of mostly black students that carried signs and read a list of demands at KU’s Nov. 11 town hall forum on race. They’ve spoken out at Senate meetings against the body’s leadership, led a protest that drew more than 80 students to Wescoe Beach on Wednesday, and have been actively promoting their cause on social media using the hashtag #rockchalkinvisiblehawk.
Senate’s top three leaders — Pringle, Student Body Vice President Zach George and Chief of Staff Adam Moon — all are currently facing impeachment procedures, prompted by some Senate members’ accusations that they failed to do enough to support minority students on campus.
A separate committee is investigating each leader and making a recommendation for discipline. First up is Moon; his impeachment committee is expected to share its recommendation at tonight’s full Senate meeting, where senators will vote on whether or not to continue moving forward with disciplinary action, which could be as drastic as kicking him out of office.
Kansas University is the most Instagrammed place in the state of Kansas, according to Time magazine.
“The most Instagrammed places in America,” posted this month on time.com, analyzed geo-tagging data from the popular photo-sharing app to determine the most-photographed place in each of the 50 states. The feature notes that Instagram — which had 400 million users worldwide this year, including 100 million in the United States — shared the data exclusively with Time.
In Kansas, we have no Disneyland (most-Instagrammed spot in California) or Times Square (No. 1 in New York). Nor do we have any professional sports arenas (Fenway Park is the most Instagrammed place in Massachusetts, and Wrigley Field the most popular in Illinois, but many more stadiums made the list).
But KU does have Allen Fieldhouse, a beautiful campus and — at least according to a glance at some of KU’s top Instagram results — a whole lot of student athletes and young people in general posting mirror-selfies and party pix and such.
Besides KU, college campuses were the most-Instagrammed locations in four other states, according to Time: Mississippi State University in Mississippi, University of North Dakota in North Dakota, Brown University in Rhode Island and the University of Alabama’s Bryant-Denny Stadium in Alabama.
Just for fun, here's a few of my KU Instagrams (sorry, no selfies!).
Recently at Kansas University, there have been a handful of instances where social media, offensive behavior and anti-discrimination policies collided — but it’s not totally clear who, if anyone, has jurisdiction over holding someone accountable. Here’s one such case.
Several photos surfaced on Twitter this week of three young women posing in hats and what appears to be blackface makeup, in what appears to be a basement rec room in somebody’s house. Several Twitter users who shared the photos, which appear to have originally been posted online via Snapchat, said one of the women in the photos was a current KU student and that the other two were high schoolers who put on the makeup and took selfies at a sleepover.
Disclaimer: We did not independently verify those claims in this case. But let’s say they’re correct, it had me wondering: Would KU have jurisdiction to investigate and punish a student for something that — while offensive — is not a crime, occurred off-campus and did not target any individual KU student?
The answer is maybe, according to university spokeswoman Erinn Barcomb-Peterson.
KU policy prohibits racial and ethnic harassment and discrimination. And “any person claiming to be aggrieved by a prohibited discriminatory practice at the University” can file a complaint with KU’s Office of Institutional Opportunity and Access, according to KU’s Discrimination Complaint Resolution Process.
Barcomb-Peterson would not comment on these particular photos or say whether anyone had filed a complaint, as IOA cases are confidential.
Speaking generally, Barcomb-Peterson said it would have to be proved that the act in question created a hostile environment on campus — either someone’s working, learning or living environment. IOA investigates that on a case-by-case basis, and there are numerous factors.
“Whether harassment is targeted at a specific individual is absolutely a factor the investigator examines,” she said. “Harassment can create a hostile environment, and harassment may not need to be directed at a specific individual when the actions are sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the individuals involved.”
Barcomb-Peterson said the university holds that online acts can create a hostile environment for individuals on campus, too, but again investigators would need to consider them on a case-by-case basis.
Rewind to April, another similar incident that comes to mind is that of the fraternity members (ironically a Jewish fraternity) in a social media video that appeared to mock Muslims. KU was not involved with discipline in that case. In an older case that went all the way to the Kansas Court of Appeals, KU disciplined a student for sexually harassing his ex-girlfriend over Twitter. The court ruled that KU did not have jurisdiction to do that, although since the incident KU has updated its code to clarify that it does have off-campus jurisdiction in Title IX cases.
• Latest on Halloween house party: In news of a somewhat related vein, no charges have been filed or arrests made in connection with an altercation involving alleged racial slurs that reportedly occurred at a house party on Halloween night, according to Lawrence Police Sgt. Trent McKinley, whom I checked in with this week. McKinley said police have identified most of the individuals involved, but not all have been located or interviewed yet.
“We have conducted numerous interviews related to this incident and the investigation continues to progress,” he said. “It is still an open, active investigation with detectives assigned to it.”
About 1:40 a.m. Nov. 1, officers responded to a report of an “out of control” house party in the 1300 block of Kentucky Street. Police are investigating the case as a battery and aggravated assault. Black Student Union president Kynnedi Grant said, to the crowd at KU’s Nov. 11 town hall forum on race and earlier that week on her Facebook account, that white males confronted her and some black friends, called them racial slurs, spit on them, put one of them in a “chokehold" and pulled a gun.
Kansas University's Student Senate, Haskell Indian Nations University and the city have worked together to create a paid student liaison intern position with the city. Interim Lawrence City Manager Diane Stoddard mentioned the position in her report Tuesday night at City Hall, and the Student Senate announced it Wednesday.
The intern will work for the city manager and be selected through a committee with student leadership input, with the final decision resting with the city manager, according to Stoddard’s report. She said it’s hoped to have the internship position established in early 2016.
The intern will work 15 to 20 hours a week on projects for the city and serve as a representative for students at both universities, according to Student Senate. Working to improve relations with the city was an initiative proposed during the Student Senate spring elections.
"We are excited to have created a formalized relationship with the city of Lawrence and have student input on projects and issues that affect student life across both campuses,” Student Senate government relations director Stephonn Alcorn said in the Student Senate news release.
In other campus news:
• Outgoing KU Provost Jeff Vitter has moved on to Ole Miss — on Twitter, at least. This week he took the reins of the University of Mississippi chancellor’s Twitter account, @UMchancellor, and seems to be getting a warm online welcome. Vitter’s official last day at KU is Dec. 31, he told me today, though incoming interim provost Sara Rosen will be taking over his KU Twitter handle soon.
• Who says Comp 101 papers have to be, well, on paper? KU’s First and Second Year English program is planning its first Writers’ Faire to highlight what program director Frank Farmer called “multimodal” writing projects. “It’s not just a bunch of pages tacked up to poster boards,” he said.
The public is invited to the Writers’ Faire, set from 1 to 5 p.m. Dec. 10 at The Commons in Spooner Hall. While traditional academic writing will be on display, other kinds of texts will be exhibited as well, including zines and comics, chapbooks, websites and blogs, children’s books, video essays, public service announcements, photographic essays and posters. Farmer said there’s even a fan fiction essay on a real door, to give you an idea of what’s in store.
Kansas University is in the process of creating a policy to clamp down on drone use on campus, and at least one aerospace engineering professor has big concerns about it.
For one, said Ron Barrett-Gonzalez, a professor of aerospace engineering who has patented multiple drones, none of KU’s aerospace faculty — KU’s experts on drones — were consulted.
“The policy itself has really, really serious problems,” said Barrett-Gonzalez, who brought up the issue at Tuesday’s Faculty Senate Executive Committee meeting. “It’ll allow the flight of dangerous items while disallowing the flight of harmless aircraft ... It’ll hamper research really unnecessarily. It’ll violate academic freedom.”
KU Public Affairs initiated the policy, intended to ensure operators had the proper FAA approval before flying drones on campus, said Amy Smith, KU Policy Office Director. “They became very concerned when there were drones flying over commencement.” (More recently, I can tell you there were sure a lot of drones that buzzed up into the sky on West Campus right before McCollum Hall imploded last week.)
Deans, provosts and department chairs were informed about the proposed UAS — or unmanned aerial systems — policy via email and invited to share feedback, according to an email provided by Barrett-Gonzalez. The draft policy at this point does not contain an effective date.
The policy would require anyone wishing to operate a UAS on or over campus to get prior written approval from KU, according to a draft proposal. Personal and commercial drone users would have to contact KU Marketing Communications, while users flying drones for university educational and research purposes would go through the Vice Chancellor for Research’s office.
The proposed policy says UAS operators must demonstrate “a baseline level of proficiency in takeoff, landing and maneuvering.” It specifies that operators must comply with all applicable FAA, state and local laws. And it says KU has the right to “immediately terminate” the operation of a UAS that interferes with campus operations, poses hazards to people or facilities, or has not received proper approval. (It does not specify a method for “termination” — is anyone else picturing KU police officers with harpoon nets? — but maybe that could be an engineering class project.)
Barrett-Gonzalez said he believes the proposed policy would infringe on personal freedom — including campus visitors who just want to fly tiny toy drones for fun in an open area — and that unnecessary “encumbrances” would violate the academic freedom of faculty and students working on drones. He also said he believes the policy would duplicate regulatory functions of the FAA.
Barrett-Gonzalez suggested disbanding the policy committee, forming a new one with the Aerospace Engineering Department chairman at the helm, and starting over on the policy.
Fellow Faculty Senate Executive Committee members agreed Barrett-Gonzalez should submit feedback to the policy office and that Faculty and University Senate presidents should also bring up with administrators the issue of KU policymaking without consulting university governance.
“This is part of the problem with 'university policies' that suddenly emerge,” said Faculty Senate president Tom Beisecker. “From my point of view it should be reviewed by governance.”