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.
— I’m the Journal-World’s KU and higher ed reporter. See all the newspaper’s KU coverage here. Reach me by email at email@example.com, by phone at 832-7187, on Twitter @saramarieshep or via Facebook at Facebook.com/SaraShepherdNews.
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.
The national roster of university building names is generally composed of the ghosts of former administrators and rich alumni who shared their deep pockets with their alma maters.
KU is no different in that respect. The names of wealthy alumni grace many of the university's halls and libraries: Anschutz, Eaton, Summerfield, Hall, and the list goes on.
The new KU School of Business' building-to-be, a $65 million-plus project paid for almost entirely with private funds, will also bear the name of a big-time donor. In this case the donor is a foundation, and unlike, say, the Hall Family Foundation, it's named after a business, not a person.
Come spring of 2016, KU will open the doors to the new "Capital Federal Hall" across Naismith Drive from Allen Fieldhouse. The building's namesake is the Capitol Federal Foundation, which in turn is named after the Topeka-based Capitol Federal Savings.
The Capitol Federal Foundation donated $20 million toward the building's construction. Current Cap Fed President and CEO John B. Dicus and his father and former bank chairman, John C. Dicus, are both grads of the KU business school.
Neeli Bendapudi, the KU business school dean, said the Dicus family requested the name for the new building.
"We just assumed it would be Dicus Hall, but that's pretty typical of them, that they want it to be about the company," Bendapudi said. "They really wanted to make a statement that it was about the success of the company — every employee, every stockholder that made it possible for them to make this (donation)."
Not everyone sees it quite that way. On social media, there was a handful of jeers at the new name. Among them:
Capitol Federal Hall. Why not just Capitol Hall? Such a cheesy name for a campus building. Can we get marketing on it? @KU_Business— Matthew Bonesaw (@MatthewBonesaw) May 14, 2014
Like is the business school going to be a NFL stadium, or what.— Joseph Beeler (@brothajoben) May 14, 2014
School officials were sensitive to this last point, that "Capitol Federal Hall" might have the same sort of corporate ring to it as the "Sprint Center" or "Busch Stadium," or any other of the dozens of professional sports parks named after corporations.
The planning team discussed the possibility that the name could sound as though the building has a corporate sponsor, but felt there was precedent at other universities, Bendapudi said. One example she cited was the Hilton College of Hospitality at the University of Houston. (The full name is the Conrad N. Hilton College of Hospitality and Restaurant Management, named for the founder of the Hilton Hotels chain, not the business itself.)
Brand associations can cut both ways, too. Bendapudi said that the Dicus family took on considerable risk in lending their company's name to a building at KU. "With the company, it was an incredible sign of trust on their part," she said. "It puts a very positive pressure on us."
Bendapudi noted that the corporate logo of Capitol Federal won't be incorporated into the building title in any way.
KU officials hope that the building will be, in tandem with Allen Fieldhouse, a southern gateway to the university. The building itself will come equipped with all the trappings of modern educational building design: open spaces, flexible classrooms, media technology and the like.
For Bendapudi and colleagues, the "Capitol Federal" in Capitol Federal Hall is a reminder that students won't have to pay for the building with tuition dollars, nor will taxpayers. It also, Bendapudi said, sends a message to students: "You don't have to leave Kansas to make your fortune. You can do it right here in the heartland."
Students might read that message; they might not. They might resent at least the superficial appearance of corporate sponsorship to their education, or they might not care at all, especially given that they won't have to pay for the building. And these are, after all, business students. They might not think a thing of heading to class in a place called Capitol Federal Hall.
Another chapter in the Kansas University student body "Burritogate" saga was written Thursday.
Its authors were the University Judicial Board, a body of faculty, staff and students that resolves "to whatever extent possible" conflicts, complaints and grievances brought before them.
The board had the final say on the matter of the Jayhawkers' disqualification from the student elections earlier this month.
On Thursday they upheld the disqualification, a move that will free the Election Commission to finally release the results of the student elections held two weeks ago. Jake Rapp, chairman of the commission, said in an email that the commission will do so by Monday.
As many on the hill probably know by now, the Student Senate Election Commission disqualified the Jayhawkers days before the election, though they remained on the ballot for the election.
Another coalition, Grow KU, alleged that Jayhawkers spent $300 at Chipotle to woo potential voters and then failed to report the expense to the commission. The Election Commission agreed, and disqualified the Jayhawkers, per new rules passed by the Senate in the fall.
The Jayhawkers appealed to the student government's judicial branch, which resulted in an injunction that has kept the election results under lock and key thus far.
The case then got kicked to the University Judicial Board. With no one disputing the burrito money itself, Thursday's decision by the board boiled down to definition of the word "campaigning."
In its decision, the board said the Jayhawkers "argue that the term is limited to activity that is designed to win over undecided potential voters." The Jayhawkers contended that all who attended the burrito party had already expressed interest in the coalition, and so they were engaged in fomenting party leadership, not trying to win over voters.
The commission and board disagreed, citing evidence that general information about the Jayhawkers platform was dispensed at the burrito summit — something not likely to take place at an intra-coalition strategy session of insiders.
The Jayhawkers alleged that the commission had applied new campaigning restrictions arbitrarily, noting events where Grow KU offered free cappuccino and snacks to event-goers. But the board said the cappuccino, in the one case, didn't represent an incurred expense (they were available to all via a nearby cappuccino machine); the snacks, in the other case, the board said were given at a meeting that did not involve campaigning, and so did not need to be reported.
The Jayhawkers were among three coalitions that formed to launch students into student government for the next school year. Student coalitions have a long history of "conflicts, complaints and grievances" in student elections.
They are formed by likeminded students who want to pool their resources to run for student government on a common platform. They exist as campaigning entities. They are not meant to govern.
One coalition, KUnited, dominated KU student elections for nearly two decades, a streak broken last year by Ad Astra. Moreover, elections were often punctuated by squabbles and questionable campaign practices.
Last fall student body executives Marcus Tetwiler and Emma Halling and some senators advocated for ending the coalition system altogether, but they were rebuffed by the full Senate. However the Senate did pass new regulations on campaigning, including spending limits, meant to make elections more fair and meaningful. The new rules include the ones the Jayhawkers broke.
The Board thinks perhaps the rules themselves go too far.
Concluding their decision, the Board said:
We are admittedly not experts in student elections. Still, the extreme remedy of party disqualification seems to us disproportionate to the severity of the violation and arbitrarily insensitive to the Jayhawkers' effort to cure any violation. But the source of these problems, it seems to us, is the inflexibility of the pertinent regulations rather than any arbitrariness on the part of the Commission.
On Monday we should see which coalition was chosen by the student body to lead next year. Depending on the vote, there could be more Burritogate drama ahead.
"I want you to feel my pain."
That's what Donna Hultine told an audience Monday to explain why she was showing them photo after photo of cracked and potholed concrete.
For Hultine, the director of KU Parking and Transit, campus parking lots crumbling visibly on her watch is painful. So is the cost of fixing them. The university recently examined 85 parking lots around campus and estimated it would take $15 million to repair them all. And that might be on the low side.
Which is why the department is looking to raise revenues through parking rate increases. Few people at an open KU forum Monday questioned the proposed prices, which could jump 10 to almost 40 percent next year, depending on the permit type.
Most people brought to the forum the sort of highly localized and specific, but sometimes emotional, concerns and questions that only an issue as embedded in everyday life as parking can.
Several students and staff asked about parking on Daisy Hill, where more than 500 parking spaces were recently lost to a construction project. Those spaces were scheduled to disappear, but not until after graduation. Diana Robertson, director of KU Student Housing, said the contractor working on the future Daisy Hill dorms that will replace McCollum Hall asked for the space sooner than scheduled to make up for a longer-than-projected construction time.
That sent hundreds of students looking for somewhere else to park. While the parking department has offered prorated refunds and wrangled spaces from around the area, some at the forum voiced safety concerns about students having to walk to the dorms from spaces as far away from main campus as the Lied Center.
While the Daisy HIll spaces represent a short term hiccup in the lives of KU drivers, the future of parking on the campus is likely to hold fewer, not more spaces.
The university's 10-year master plan outlines a host of new building projects, some pending, some further out on the horizon, some only an idea. Many new buildings, including those that will be built in the near future, will take up parking spaces.
Parking usually is built on good, flat land. In the next 2 years, KU could lose another 200 spaces to construction.
But losing those spaces from the current parking system likely won't be as disruptive as the system itself, which the department calls "unsustainable."
Most campus drivers buy permits for a vast swath of lots and go "hunting" for a space wherever they can find one. That makes parking a kind of lottery contest on any given day. It might also, as parking commission chair Steve Schrock points out, increase the total traffic on campus as people drive from lot to lot looking for a space.
The department and KU's master planners have suggested replacing the current system with one where drivers would get an assigned lot based on a list of their preferences. That could be a reality as early as fall 2015.
In its master plan KU has also looked at beefing up the campus transit system, introducing market-based prices for parking permits, and starting a carpooling program that might give preferred spaces for carpoolers to share.
In any case, campus drivers should probably expect their parking prices to increase. The department expects that "remote" spaces — a new designation under the proposed parking system — would cost $273 by fall 2018. Today's Yellow permit, which usually confines parkers to the most remote lots, costs $204. That's a price increase of about a third. And the prices only go up from there.
With spring break looming, graduate students at Kansas University scrambled last week to organize a response to discussions within KU around the possibility of limiting the number of hours many graduate students can work to 20 per week.
The discussions are still early and revolve around how KU will adapt to the Affordable Care Act's mandate for employers to provide health insurance to full-time employees. (A Journal-World article from the weekend looks at the issue in more depth.)
The possibility of a 20-hour limit to campus work has many worried, especially those graduate students who rely on a second job to supplement income from teaching and research assistantships.
Pantaleon Florez III, a master's student in the education school and director of graduate affairs with the KU Student Senate, said that by Friday afternoon more than 300 graduate students had signed a petition stating opposition to a 20-hour limit.
An additional 274 undergraduates had signed a statement of support. Speaking at the Student Senate last Friday, Florez asked the undergraduate student senators for their help. To persuade undergraduates that the issue was relevant to them, Florez asked for a show of hands of everyone who had taken a class taught by a graduate teaching assistant. Nearly all hands in the room went up.
In 2013 the university employed more than 1,000 GTAs at an average salary of less than $16,000 for a nine-month appointment. Some make as little as $13,000, according to the Office of Institutional Research and Planning. That leads many to seek jobs elsewhere on campus: libraries, tutoring services and other departments where they can put their skills to use.
But graduate students wouldn't be the only ones affected by a change in policy. The offices that hire them could also suffer.
The KU Writing Center, for example, currently employs 17 graduate students. Director Terese Thonus said about 40 percent of those who use the center are graduate students, and they most often seek sessions with other graduate students, who have experience with similar writing projects from their own academic work.
"If we had to replace our graduate students with undergraduates, we wouldn't be able to offer that peer service," Thonus said. That could potentially disrupt the pedagogical model of peer-to-peer advising behind the Writing Center.
Judy Eddy, assistant director of the Center for Teaching Excellence, said her center currently employs four graduate students. That might not be many, but they make up a sizable fraction of the center's small staff. Eddy said that graduate students who have themselves taught as GTAs understand the challenges and concerns that go into designing courses, and so often make for ideal employees.
Eddy said she's optimistic that the 20-hour rule won't go into place. "We would hope that there would be some compromise available," she said.
Some of you on the hill might remember a little incident last September involving a Kansas University journalism professor, a politically charged sentiment about the Navy Yard shootings in Washington, D.C., and a social media platform that disseminates statements of 140 characters or less.
Guth put KU and the journalism school in the national spotlight for reasons both entities would probably like to forget. But Guth wasn't alone among college professors who have come under fire for making politicized statements in an age of rapid-fire social media communication.
This week the Chronicle of Higher Education detailed the story of Rachel Slocum, an assistant professor of geography with the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse.
Like Guth, Slocum referenced current events in digital communication, only in this case the medium was email and it was directed at her students.
When last fall's government shutdown stalled a class assignment, which depended on government data from websites that were on hold with the shutdown, Slocum made an overt reference to the politics around the shutdown.
According to the Chronicle, Slocum wrote to her class in an email:
Some of the data gathering assignment will be impossible to complete until the Republican/Tea Party controlled House of Representatives agrees to fund the government… [the rest of the project] will have to wait until Congress decides we actually need a government."
A student in Slocum's class, who was then interning at the anti-tax advocacy group Americans for Tax Reform and who had a different view on the politics behind the shutdown, posted a picture of the email on Twitter with the message: "Can't do my homework for class; govt. shutdown. So my prof. blames Republicans in an e-mail blast…"
The fallout was swift and harrowing for Slocum and the university, much as it was for Guth and KU.
Among the similarities between the Slocum and Guth situations: Both stories were picked up by the college media site Campus Reform, which is affiliated with the Leadership Institute and other conservative outlets.
Guth, Slocum and administrators at their respective universities received vitriolic messages from strangers outside the university. Guth even received death threats.
Administrators in both cases publicly denounced the faculty members under fire.
Some called for Slocum to be fired. Same holds for Guth, and some state legislators joined in the demands for his job. Both universities saw legislative funding come under threat.
And, of course, both stories spread like wildfire through social media.
The speed with which news travels through social media strikes fear into the heart of university officials. In response, some universities and state boards are looking to somehow contain social media wildfires, as another Chronicle article points out.
That list includes Kansas. If it weren't for David Guth's tweet, the Kansas Board of Regents would probably never have introduced the controversial new social media policy giving university CEOs the power to fire employees over "improper" social media use.
That policy has gained at least as much notoriety as Guth's tweet. It sparked dismay and outrage among Kansas university employees and has brought condemnation from national groups and newspaper editorial pages around the state. Critics say the policy restricts academic freedom and free speech.
(Shortly after passing the policy, the regents said they would take a second look at it in response to the outcry. The work group tasked by the regents with reviewing it recently approved a rewrite that would take an advisory, rather than disciplinary, role. Campuses have largely lauded the proposed draft so far.)
The regents, as KU Provost Jeff Vitter has said, were trying to protect universities from political backlashes and funding risks such as that which followed the Guth imbroglio. In the process the regents found themselves at the center of a national debate over free speech in higher education.
Universities have evolved in part to be institutions of democratic instruction and the free debate of ideas. The invention of tenure was meant to shield university scholars from political reprisals by people who don't like their ideas or ways of expressing them.
It's understandable that taxpayers and tuition payers would want to limit classroom conversations to the assignment at hand, and to keep hot-button politics out of education. At the same time, universities are the places where many learn to think, talk and write critically about political, social, philosophical, scientific and commercial ideas for the first time.
Trying to keep politics out of the classroom, or social media, for education's sake might ultimately be self-defeating.
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."
Kansas University students have joined in the call for the Kansas Board of Regents to suspend a social media policy passed in December.
The KU Student Senate passed a resolution this week urging the regents to ax the policy while a regents-created work group reviews it and recommends revisions.
Garrett Farlow, a KU freshman in journalism, was one of the primary authors of the resolution, which states the social media policy "inhibits free speech of faculty and staff, depriving them of the academic and personal freedoms necessary to effectively educate students."
Farlow said he was concerned that the policy could inhibit faculty members who engage with peers and students on social media. "Although the policy is directly targeted at faculty and professors, it obviously affects students," he said.
The policy allows university heads to suspend and fire employees for social media posts that conflict with the best interest of the university or its ability to perform services, among other violations.
After passing the policy unanimously in December, the regents announced they would review it in response to widespread criticism that it was too broad and could restrain free speech.
The regents established a work group of faculty and staff from state universities to study the policy and make recommendations to the board by April. But faculty and staff groups have repeatedly asked the regents to suspend the policy until the work group makes its findings. Yesterday the regents pushed back against those calls.
Farlow said the issue hasn't gotten much attention from students largely because they don't follow media accounts as closely as faculty and staff. But Farlow is trying to make it an issue with students, starting with last night's resolution.
"The more people that know about this, the more impact that we can have," he said. "The First Amendment is very near and dear to my heart."
A contingent of Kansas University students spent the day in Topeka Tuesday advocating for higher education issues with lawmakers.
Members of KU's Student Senate joined students from other Kansas Board of Regents universities traveling to the capital as part of Higher Education Day.
On behalf of their student bodies, the delegation is calling for lawmakers to eliminate sales taxes on textbooks as well as discuss higher education funding.
Marcus Tetwiler, KU student body president, said in a release that getting rid of sales taxes on text books would "help alleviate these rising costs" of textbooks and decrease the overall cost of education.
Eric Hurtt, a KU senior in political science and government relations director for the Senate, helped coordinate meetings and events.
While student delegations have traveled to Topeka to talk with lawmakers before, Hurtt said he thought this year's student delegation had better talking points.
"This year we're picking things where we all have skin in the game," he said. "You get a better seat at the table if you pick issues we can actually do something about."