September 25, 2023

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Make KU and Lawrence Great Again

Over the past several years “Make America Great Again” was a powerful and effective chant or slogan used by Donald Trump to rally support in his bid for the presidency.

Since the 2016 successful election effort, the chant continues to be used by Trump to build support for his policies and programs, encouraging voters to “get out and vote” for GOP House and Senate candidates in the mid-term elections and to strengthen Trump’s position for the upcoming 2020 presidential and congressional elections.

It’s a good chant with a good message. It should be used by all candidates….Republican and Democrat.

That being the case, why not flip and localize the “Make America Great Again” message to “Make KU and Lawrence Great Again”?

KU has faced numerous problems and challenges in recent years ranging from poor faculty morale, cuts in fiscal support from the state legislature, increasing questions about retention and/or graduation numbers, questionable leadership and vision by Strong Hall leaders over the past 15 or so years, lower enrollment numbers, dropping ratings by U.S. News & World Report magazine, etc.

Even with these issues and challenges, KU remains a good state-aided school. But, it could be an even better, stronger institution….a “great” state-aided university. As the late Charles Kimball, director of Kansas City’s Midwest Research Institute, used to say, “KU should be the ‘lighthouse’ of the great American prairie states.”

In past years there was excitement, enthusiasm, excellence and challenging leadership; new programs; a model “town-gown” relationship that other university and community leaders envied.

Unfortunately, for one reason or another, there doesn’t seem to be the same level of enthusiasm and excitement about the school today. Times change, conditions change, those in various levels of leadership change, competition and levels of support from the state legislature change.

Nevertheless, KU continues to enjoy tremendous alumni support as well as generous private fiscal support. There are a number of programs of true national excellence across the Mt. Oread campus and the Medical School in Kansas City. The trouble is this overall picture of excellence has not been put together in an effective and powerful marketing package that can be targeted for state legislators, high school students, parents, guidance counselors and alumni and friends.

Like KU, the City of Lawrence does not enjoy the enthusiasm, excitement, successes and feeling of accomplishment and leadership it enjoyed years ago. Lawrence was looked to as a vibrant, growing, exciting place to work and live but times have changed and Lawrence seems to be more in a position of “hanging on” rather than an example of a city with new ideas, vision, growth and excellence.

In those years there was nothing average or mediocre about Lawrence or KU.

A recent front page banner headline in the Journal-World asked, “Is Downtown in Crisis”? News stories tell of retail businesses closing, leaving Lawrence and/or downsizing. There is an extremely strong belief among out-of-town developers that Lawrence’s city government is anti-business; the city manager is leaving earlier than anticipated; the county manager is leaving; the Chamber of Commerce president and CEO is leaving; and KU has a relatively new chancellor. There has been embarrassing little done in attracting new industry or business to the big Venture Park on the east side of the city although a large spec building is being built by an out-of-town developer.

It is critical those in charge of selecting the individuals to fill the vacancies in city, county and Chamber of Commerce positions aim high. This is not the time to play politics or try to please everyone. This is the time to seek out the best leaders, men or women, with great records who want the city, county and chamber to be winners in every respect.

A committee charged with the goal of developing a long-term plan for the development or improvement of downtown Lawrence is scheduled to meet in a week or so.

Based on the impact and vision of previous studies and guides for the future of Lawrence, what is to be expected of a forecast for the future of downtown Lawrence? What will be the reaction in City Hall?

It’s time for some positive changes at KU as well as in Lawrence.

What’s needed to make Lawrence and KU great again?

KU Chancellor, Dr. Doug Girod, has been on the job for less than two years and by now he should have a good understanding, as well as a strong desire, to snap KU out of its drift and generate enthusiasm, vision and excellence for the future.

Likewise, Lawrence needs some changes and a return of the deep, genuine and effective civic pride in the community by its citizens and city officials….individuals motivated by what is good for Lawrence rather than how to make another dollar for themselves.

Is there the leadership, vision, courage and commitment at KU and Lawrence to make KU and Lawrence Great Again?