September 25, 2023

The World Company logo

20 Years From Now

What is Lawrence going to look like in 20 years? What is the University of Kansas going to look like in 20 years?

Both the city and university enjoy excellent past records but that’s no guarantee this will continue. In fact, both the city and university face serious problems/challenges and there is no reason to think good times are automatic and will continue without wise, courageous and visionary leadership.

Currently Lawrence is putting together another 20-year plan as a roadmap for citizens and elected officials to follow in order to end up with a city that meets the objectives of the incoming mayor and a city manager, yet to be selected.

History shows previous 20-year plans ended up being shortsighted and had to be changed to meet unexpected situations. Perhaps “unexpected” is soft pedaling the inability of those designing the plan to think big enough or to have the courage to propose what the city needed to take advantage of its given assets and opportunities.

This philosophy was noted years ago when a former successful developer said signs should be placed on all the major entrances to Lawrence stating, “Welcome to Lawrence….the home of the little hitters.”

In the Lawrence system, mayors come and go. The city manager is the professional in city hall and he or she deals with well-intentioned individuals elected to city commission posts. However, commissioners are rookies with little training or professionalism to serve in a position to design the future of the city.

They each have their own interests as well as the interests of those who backed them in their quest for a seat on the commission. Again, good people, some more well-intentioned than others, but they, not the professionally trained and experienced city manager, determine what kind of a city Lawrence will look like 20 years from now.

Based on recent actions and the reputation of Lawrence’s city hall relative to industry and business, it would seem anyone considering applying for the city manager post should make a deep and thorough examination of why Lawrence has lost its drive, excitement, vision and success it used to enjoy. And, why has Lawrence lost ground in various comparisons with other university cities and its position of leadership in Kansas?

Who will be the real architects of the new 20-year plan? What are their qualifications, what kind of a city do they want, and what kind of an individual will be selected as the next city manager? All rather important questions.

Keep in mind there is a search underway for a new county manager. It’s no secret city hall did not get along well with the court house, or vice-versa. If there is any chance of the city and county growing and becoming better and more attractive, there must be a far better relationship between the city and county managers.

In both cases, the appropriate decision makers, whomever they may be, have the option of moving a current staffer up to the manager position or deciding it is better to select someone from the outside with new ideas and a new outlook. Will city commissioners and county commissioners continue to water down new ideas, new opportunities and new directions for the city and county?

Lawrence and Douglas County represented by Democrats in a state legislature controlled by Republicans does not help place the city, county or university in a preferred position.

Likewise, with Lawrence and KU looked to as the state’s center of liberalism this does not win the favor and support of a large part of the lawmakers. Nor does the idea of KU leaders and fans looking down their noses at the other regent schools put KU in a good position.

The university and board of regents face serious challenges but KU has a relatively new chancellor, Doug Girod, and doesn’t have the task of finding a new leader as do the city and county.

Girod moved into the chancellor’s office about a year and a half ago. However, there are other serious challenges….perhaps faculty discontent being one of the most serious. Part of this is due to the current fiscal situation that resulted in the reduction of faculty numbers and programs. The big challenges are how to get the chancellor, regents, interested alumni and faculty to develop an effective plan to provide greater state fiscal support for the school; how to grow or at least stabilize enrollment numbers; regents need to be far more vocal, visual, enthusiastic and successful in telling the story and importance of higher education; and, how to energize the enthusiastic support of the faculty in helping to build a greater university. Currently there are serious divisions within the faculty and questions about leadership and priorities within the school.

A new and divisive issue recently entered the picture when the acting provost suggested the acting or interim Dean of the College be given an additional three years in that position rather than to initiate a nationwide search for a permanent dean. The provost suggested the same procedure be used to extend his own position rather than launching a search for a permanent provost. Both actions would be counter to the usual practice of trying to find and recruit the best possible persons to fill vacancies or interim positions.

Some suggest the reason for delaying actions on the dean and provost positions is that the current state of affairs at the university and the current situation in Kansas relative to support for higher education may combine to make the KU positions far less attractive and to not excite possible applicants for the two senior positions.

IF, Lawrence, KU and Douglas County are to grow and prosper, there must be a strong, respective and cooperative relationship among the three bodies. This has not been the case in recent years.

Consequently, all three bodies have been unable to maximize their potential for the benefit of the entire community as well as the state. Consider what might be possible, and the positive spinoffs if the city, county and university all performed in a manner to justify the title of “flagship” institutions.

Enlightened, visionary leadership and courage are the essentials, but lacking at the present time.