September 25, 2023

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A Pivotal Time For KU

The headline on the front page of the Lawrence Journal-World stated: “University Senate Resolution: KU Has Become Toxic, Undemocratic”. The sub head reads “Leaders are asking Chancellor to create governance task force”.

This probably understates the actual, overall environment of worry, frustration, disappointment, anger, uncertainty and concern which has been seeping into the university community. It also has infected growing numbers of alumni and friends of the school.

This didn’t start with the selection of Dr. Doug Girod as the university’s 18th Chancellor as this discontent has been festering since the latter part of the late Bob Hemenway’s tenure as Chancellor. In Hemenway’s case, the Kansas Board of Regents didn’t know, or didn’t care enough about the personable Chancellor’s health situation and failed to call for a timely, graceful change in leadership. Consequently, the school drifted and twisted in the winds of serious challenges.

Bernadette Gray-Little succeeded Hemenway and as the first woman and first person of color to occupy the Chancellor’s office, she faced additional tough challenges.

After Gray-Little’s resignation, many faculty and alumni thought the highly successful and popular Neeli Bendapudi, who had served as Dean of the KU School of Business and then Provost, would be an ideal candidate to move into the Chancellorship.

The Regents asked the Chair of the Selection Committee to visit with them about the selection process and their recommendation. It came as a surprise that Dr. Doug Girod, a highly popular, “shining star” of the KU Medical School, was named Chancellor.

For the first time in recent years, this decision exposed a fracture within the faculty and alumni on whether this new Chancellor was the leader the University needed.

Unfortunately, this divided and harmful situation continues today as evidenced by the University’s Faculty Senate meeting three times to vote on whether the faculty had sufficient confidence in the abilities and leadership of Girod. No official votes were recorded.

During this period, top flight faculty and chairpersons of important departments or schools have left, as well as administrators.

Consider a few recent situations at KU:

• Several years ago, KU leaders asked the KU Endowment Association to provide $720,000 so school officials could sign a contract with a Delaware firm, rkp GROUP, to tell KU leaders how to do a better job in running the school and make a profit.

• The report came back and KU officials announced there would be severe budget cuts in all schools and departments, with only two programs escaping the cuts: University Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging, and International Affairs.

• The School of Engineering was slated for a 12 percent cut. University reports told of the likelihood of approximately 40 departments, programs or majors considered for cuts or elimination.

• Several weeks ago, the Regents, probably through the endorsement of KU officials, again hired rpk GROUP. This time to do an even larger study relative to the entire Regents’ system AND to address the problem and cost of the duplication of schools and programs within the system. For example, is there any reason to have two Schools of Engineering, one at KU and another at KSU?

There are many other cases of the duplication of programs and majors and this is sure to become an ugly wrestling match and political football throughout the State — opening up old festering arguments involving State Legislators guarding the university or college in their districts, the taxpayers, Chambers of Commerce, alumni, and university employees. Which university will be asked or required to give up a program, school or major and transfer these programs to another university?

With the upcoming major changes at KSU (a new Chancellor and the opening of the world class NBAF facility), is there a chance KSU now will merit the title of Kansas’ “flagship” institution?

It’s not a happy scene at KU. In fact, it is a critical period for the school. As one nationally recognized teacher/researcher described the situation:
“it’s a drip, drip, drip environment with faculty members unsure, concerned and worried as to what is going to happen next, asking themselves what’s their future at KU.”

How will this affect professors and/or researchers at other schools who are being recruited to come to KU? Would they want to come to Lawrence not knowing about the future of KU, a possible change in the Chancellor and reductions and fiscal cuts throughout the school?

How about top high school graduates considering which university to attend? Or their parents who want their children to be challenged and motivated by excellent teachers and a visionary leader? Whereas KU might have been their first choice, but now, considering the current situation at KU, might they look more favorably at other schools?

An even bigger question is where and when will KU have the leadership essential for the university to grow and excel?

It is, indeed, a pivotal time for KU — and its faculty, students, taxpayers, parents of prospective students, Lawrence residents, KU alumni and friends of the university, Kansas State legislators, Regents who have been asleep and lazy, and the current and next Governor. All should be deeply concerned about what is going on at KU and what is being planned for the entire Regents’ system of schools.