June 14, 2021

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Leadership is Essential

Who and where are Lawrence’s leaders? The even bigger question is why don’t these individuals come to the forefront and use their skills, knowledge and deserved recognition of achievement to help reignite the enthusiasm, excitement, vision and successes that used to be the hallmark of Lawrence?
Not too long ago Lawrence, along with Kansas University, were the shining stars of the vast middle plains states with their sound growth and very special “town/gown” relationship. One of the nation’s top scientific/technical management leaders said Lawrence and KU could, and should, serve and be recognized as the “lighthouse of the vast, Trans Mississippi west.”
Something happened….this environment fizzled. Was it complacency, too much easy success, a lack of competitiveness, other cities and/or universities stealing the thunder of Lawrence and KU, other priorities, or maybe a lack of leadership and far too much divided and special interests?
Lawrence was a great place to live, run a business, work and raise a family. We had good schools and good clean government and law enforcement. There wasn’t any challenge or opportunity which came up that leaders were not ready to solve and/or build into an even greater opportunity. The city was growing and downtown Massachusetts Street was a hot spot lined with highly successful privately owned businesses. Numerous site selection teams were visiting Lawrence to study the possibilities for Lawrence to be a location for one of their businesses or factories.
Not today.
News stories report a group of “city leaders” are planning a trip (with a similar group of Topeka leaders) to study an area of Arkansas that has been successful in attracting new industry and business; another group is studying possible changes in how and what our children are to be taught in grades K-12; another group is studying how they could or should restructure city government to be more inclusive; another group is looking into what they think can and should be done to improve the city’s law enforcement.
Some time ago KU leaders hired an out-of-state firm to tell them how to run a more profitable school that resulted in recently announced plans for additional major fiscal cutbacks in most every program at the school. A number of KU faculty members have called for a vote of “no confidence” in the chancellor and vice chancellor; KU is facing a severe challenge if President Biden’s plan to provide free admission to community colleges should materialize as Kansas has 16 community colleges; a good portion of the Lawrence/KU population have their fingers crossed whether KU’s nationally-recognized basketball program might be the target of a severe and costly punishment by the NCAA and, whether a new football coach and athletics director can work magic and build a winning football program.
There are a lot of challenges.
Plans, studies, pilgrimages to other states for information, special commissions, study groups, etc. all are fine but the number one essential, absolutely essential, element is leadership! This is what is missing in Lawrence and at KU today.
The potential is here. Surely there are a number of individuals who could make a tremendous and positive impact for the betterment of the city and university IF they were willing to offer their services.
What better time for visionary, highly respected, successful individuals to come forward and make a personal commitment to do what they can to help build the city? A talented, honest, successful individual makes a major sacrifice in his or her private, family and occupational activity if they are sufficiently concerned and decide to become a candidate for public office….BUT such individuals are essential if the city is to snap out of its slump. If and when such individuals do make the decision to become a candidate for elective positions, they deserve the support and help of fellow citizens.
Consider the poor and embarrassing low turnout of candidates for positions on the upcoming elections for city commissioners and members of the board of education. Particularly at a time when there are active campaigns in Lawrence for major changes in our city’s law enforcement and what will be taught, or not taught, in our public schools. This all is tremendously important, with long-lasting consequences.
The introduction of too many special interests, rather than what is in the best interest of the entire city, is sure to leave the city tied in knots.
A change in Lawrence’s city manager was supposed to bring about many positive changes in City Hall but so far the public is still waiting to see some evidence of these improvements. Maybe this is due to the city manager or perhaps those serving as city commissioners.
Likewise, a change in the KU chancellorship was expected to result in a renewal of excitement, enthusiasm and improved faculty morale. Instead, there is a divided faculty fearful of continued fiscal cutbacks, questioning the chancellor’s leadership and a lack of transparency relative to the operation of the school.
The Kansas governor, whomever is in office, could take a major and long overdue step for the benefit of the entire state IF he or she were to seek the very best individuals to serve as members of the Kansas Board of Regents.
These men and women have the opportunity, and responsibility, of overseeing the state’s universities and colleges. They have not exercised their authority, they are not sufficiently aware of what is going on on each of the campuses and they have not demanded better performance by the chancellors and presidents.
This hurts Lawrence and KU….as well as the entire state.
Most every governmental, educational, business or personal activity has been altered or handicapped by the Covid pandemic but now is the time for individuals with true leadership abilities to step forward and help design and execute visionary recoveries and improvements.
Why not have Lawrence and KU again move into positions of leadership for other university cities to try to match? It’s much more enjoyable to be a leader rather than follower.