KU chancellor: Governor’s proposed budget for higher education won’t ‘help us much on the affordability side’

University of Kansas Chancellor Douglas Girod is pictured in his office in Strong Hall on Friday, Jan. 17, 2020.

The leader of Kansas’ flagship university is more than a little disappointed with Gov. Laura Kelly’s proposed budget, which was released on Thursday.

The Kansas Board of Regents requested $50 million for state universities, according to University of Kansas Chancellor Douglas Girod. Kelly allocated only $11.9 million, according to her fiscal year 2021 state budget.

“Our ask was $50 million for the four-year institutions, and that ask is really based on our need,” Girod said. “We wouldn’t ask for it if we didn’t really need it to help deferred maintenance and affordability and faculty (and staff) compensation. Those are really sort of the big three for us.”

During a Friday interview in his office in Strong Hall, Girod said he understood that the state had a variety of needs and that he was thankful for what the governor has budgeted. But he added: “While we’re grateful for that, that’s not a level that’s going to help us much on the affordability side. Because our fixed increase in costs are greater than that.”

Girod said that if the Regents allocated the money in the way it has traditionally been allocated, the KU Lawrence campus would likely receive about $2.6 million, and the KU Medical Center would receive about $2 million. But he also said the Regents indicated they might not allocate the money the way they have historically.

“So we don’t really know what that means for us,” he said. The Board of Regents spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

When asked whether he was concerned that this allocation would mean KU might have to increase tuition, Girod said that was something that always concerned him.

“As pricing goes up, it puts it out of reach for more and more people,” he said of a college education. “We just don’t want to price people out of the market.”

Girod also said that he had been informed that Kelly did not include higher education employees in her state employee pay raise, as she had done last year.

“We were hoping we would be — if she was going to do one — that we would be part of it,” he said.

A spokeswoman from the governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for verification of Girod’s statement.

Girod also addressed a number of other topics during Friday’s interview:

What might a smaller KU mean for Lawrence?

At a strategic planning kickoff event in November, Girod said that “a future KU may be a smaller KU but a stronger KU.”

On Friday, Girod said KU was approaching “the cliff,” a reference to the year 2026, which is 18 years after 2008’s recession started.

“We saw a dramatic drop in birth rates during that and so, consequently, we’ll have fewer 18-year-olds,” he said.

While Girod anticipates that KU might struggle with declining enrollment in the next 10 years (owing to more factors than just “the cliff”), he is also optimistic that Lawrence won’t suffer economically as a result.

“While we may have fewer people at the university if we in fact do end up suffering on the enrollment side … I’m very hopeful that we can continue to grow businesses in Lawrence,” he said.

Girod mentioned research, technology transfers and startup companies as ways in which KU could help Lawrence grow. He was especially optimistic about KU’s Bioscience and Technology Business Center, which houses more than 50 companies that employ over 300 people.

KU’s ties with convicted felon

KU has multiple business ventures tied up with Lawrence developer Thomas Fritzel, who in July was found guilty of improperly disposing asbestos and earlier this month pleaded guilty to criminal conspiracy in a tax fraud case involving The Oread hotel.

KU allows Fritzel to use the Jayhawk name and brand at his Lawrence golf club, the Jayhawk Club. Kansas Athletics Inc. and the KU Endowment Association also have multiple agreements with Rock Chalk Park, the sports complex in northwest Lawrence that a for-profit Fritzel firm owns. Rock Chalk Park includes facilities for KU track and field, softball and soccer.

When asked if he had been informed how business relations would work if Fritzel were sent to prison, Girod noted that the university’s relationships with Fritzel were through corporate entities.

He also has said he was not sure whether Fritzel planned to transfer any of his assets to other people, although he hasn’t heard anything along those lines.

When asked if KU might be interested in the properties, Girod said that the university would consider anything but that “we are not in a hurry to do that.”

“I don’t know that we’re particularly looking for additional assets to have to manage, pay for and depreciate,” he said.

KU and NCAA allegations

KU has until Feb. 19 to respond to an NCAA Notice of Allegations that it received on Sept. 23.

Girod said he anticipated that KU would stick to the Feb. 19 deadline and would not respond to the allegations sooner.

The allegations are against the KU men’s basketball and football programs. The football allegations include allowing an extra coach to work during practice under former coach David Beaty. In basketball, allegations center on three former Adidas representatives who have been convicted of federal fraud charges related to a scheme to pay the families of recruits to attend certain schools, including KU.

The NCAA contends former Adidas consultant T.J. Gassnola was acting as a booster of KU when he paid $90,000 to the mother of former KU team member Billy Preston and $2,500 to the guardian of current player Silvio De Sousa.

KU officials have said the university would “fiercely dispute” the charges.

Reinstating Friday morning classes across all schools

On Jan. 10, KU’s sorority and fraternity life task force submitted its recommendations to the chancellor, which included the return of Friday morning classes across all disciplines and schools.

The group characterized this as a strategy for “decreasing the risk of drug and alcohol-related incidents,” presumably assuming that Friday morning classes would deter students from going out on Thursday nights.

“I don’t know if that fixes anything or just moves the challenge,” Girod said. He has received “real mixed responses” to this recommendation, but he said it would still be explored.

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