May 28, 2023

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Positive Actions – Not Words

The next few paragraphs are not meant as an “I told you so” but rather to help set the stage relative to what is happening on Mt. Oread.

Six months ago this writer, in a blog titled “A Study by Outsiders” asked what it said about the state of affairs at Kansas University when the chancellor asked the KU Endowment Association to hand over $710,000 to pay for a study by a Maryland firm to tell the chancellor the best way to run the school.

The article noted the nine month contract was to tell KU officials how to run the Kansas school more effectively and efficiently, how to make more money, which classes and/or programs were winners in the way of paying for themselves and which courses/programs were losers.

It also asked about the Regents and whether they have any knowledge, or deep concern, about what is going on at KU.

The study called for a close examination of KU’s “economic engine.”

Last week the public, KU faculty, students and their families, through an announcement by Provost/Vice Chancellor Barbara Bichelmeyer, learned what the study recommended.
A front page banner headline reported, “KU Announces New Round of Budget Cuts” with a sub-headline, “Some schools to see reductions of 10% or more.”

Obviously, KU today is not the KU of past years and it is clear more changes are coming. It’s understandable why there is great concern, fear and confusion among the faculty.
The report said the largest cuts would be absorbed by the School of Engineering and the School of Music, each by 12%.

This is interesting when this country and its citizens have been told the U.S. needs more engineers to meet the competition from other countries such as China and Russia and the school has been given added funds in past years to enlarge and improve the program. Now, funding is to be cut by 12%. Either KU has too big an engineering building, too many teachers, too many students, or….KU is unable to attract enough good students and/or faculty to justify the cost of the program.

It’s difficult to know the reasoning behind the cuts in the School of Music. Maybe not enough student interest or maybe the school is not considered good enough or important enough to merit its current funding.

Likewise, it’s interesting to learn there will be no cuts in “University, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging” and, no cuts in “International Affairs.”

Every other university program will see a reduction in funding.

Provost Bichelmeyer said, “There is no way to sugar coat the impact of our financial situation. After these budget reductions are realized, KU will look and will be different. At the same time, we can still be a place that prides itself for excellence, innovation, discovery and learning.”

Why not make it crystal clear KU intends to be a BETTER institution, a FINER state-aided university….a university that attracts the best students, the best teachers and researchers….a school known for its excellence emphasizing its faculty and research?

If university leaders are so proud to point out their ability to raise private monies for expanded, remodeled or new athletic facilities, why can’t, and why shouldn’t, the same degree of effort and effectiveness be directed toward improvement of the faculty and added dollars for excellence in research?

The current anger or fear among faculty relative to the tenure situation, lack of transparency and inclusion, and the wishy-washy position of the Regents along with the probability of many of KU’s finest faculty members leaving for other academic or research positions, has many KU loyalists asking, “Why is it the university can award a basketball coach a lifelong tenure (contract) and a fancy salary and they cannot offer nationally known and recognized faculty a tenured contract?”

Something is out of kilter.

What will it take for the general public to become sufficiently concerned about the delicate situation on Mt. Oread to demand powerful commitments for major improvements and not cosmetic, face-saving actions? What can be done to improve the excellence, respect and high regard for those serving on the Board of Regents and, what will it take to open the eyes of state legislators on the importance of proper fiscal support for education….K-12 and college?

KU alumni and university leaders should be worried about the strong possibility of fewer students. A recent poll of a number of this year’s outstanding Kansas high school seniors, throughout the state, showed few intend to attend KU, more plan to enroll at Kansas State and even more say they will enroll at out-of-state schools or they haven’t made up their minds.
How will President Biden’s plan of free schooling for junior colleges affect the more costly schooling at state-aided schools such as KU? What do prospective students, their parents, high school counselors and possible new faculty think about the KU situation?

It’s a critical situation and maybe the reason KU officials asked for a Maryland firm to come up with the painful calls for major cuts in most every KU program is that they would rather have the out-of-state company make that call, take the blame, or justify the cuts, rather than anyone on the KU campus.

Will there ever be a return of the old, nationally-recognized, wonderful and special “town/gown” relationship KU and Lawrence once enjoyed? A time when leaders from other university towns throughout the country continually asked Lawrence/KU officials, “How do you make this relationship work so well?”

Times change, conditions, challenges and opportunities change. Some entities, schools, businesses, cities and universities change….some for the better and some continue to slide. Today KU officials acknowledge KU “will look and be different” and that there is a need for KU to “have the right size” and “right fit.”

How about just being a better, stronger and nationally-recognized major state-aided research university? A true leader, located in Lawrence Kansas. Outstanding tenured faculty, visionary leadership, well-funded and outstanding students. Some state-aided schools will come out of the current pandemic with such goals, drives and follow-ups to achieve such dreams. Why not KU?