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By now it is assumed finalists for the upcoming vacancies in Kansas University’s chancellor’s office, the dean of the KU School of Business and the dean of the KU School of Social Welfare have been selected and interviewed.

It’s also likely one of the finalists for the chancellor’s position is Neeli Bendapudi, current KU provost and former dean of the KU School of Business. The personable, effective, hard-working, visionary and successful Bendapudi would be an ideal chancellor but who can predict the actions and decisions of search committee members or the Regents?

If she should be selected as KU’s next chancellor, there would be an opening for a new provost.

The quality and excellence of those filling the four positions….chancellor, provost, dean of the school of business and dean of the school of social welfare….will make a huge difference in the excellence of KU.

These four new KU leaders could play a powerful role in determining the future excellence of the University, Lawrence and the State of Kansas. This opportunity cannot be overstated.

It’s a rare moment for the University. However, in such a situation there’s always the chance those in charge of the search and selection process could blow this unique opportunity by not setting high enough standards and/or qualifications for those considered and placed into the finals; or, they did not offer a satisfactory and competitive fiscal package to attract the best; or, those on the search committee were poor salesmen; or, those on the search committee, or Regents, were more concerned about being “politically correct” than seeking the overall best candidates.

Or, a combination of all these factors.

Regardless, it will be a serious, damaging and long-lasting lost opportunity if these positions are not filled with truly outstanding individuals. There is no excuse for settling for second best.

The selection of Derek Kwan as executive director of the Lied Center offers a perfect example of what leadership can accomplish. A true leader brings new life, new enthusiasm, growth, vision, a demand for excellence, new energy and an increased “buy-in” by faculty, students and the public.

Kwan has done this for the Lied Center and the right person in the chancellor’s office, the provost and deans of schools such as business and social welfare can bring about similar results.

For years loyal KU fans and alumni have enjoyed referring to KU as “The Harvard on the Kaw.”

Such bragging was in the days when KU was indeed the “flagship” academic institution in the old Big Eight Conference. There was justification for some of those from other conference schools to question the “Harvard on the Kaw” tag line but KU was the leader in numerous fields and there was widespread pride in the school, its record and its leadership.

There were many in those days who suggested a better or more appropriate identification of KU should be “The Lighthouse of the Prairie.”

Unfortunately KU’s image faded in recent years, its national rankings dropped, not climbed, and it’s wrong to suggest KU is the “flagship” institution in the Big 12, or the “Harvard on the Kaw.”

Some even suggest KU does not justify as strong an argument as being Kansas’ “flagship” as it did in past years.

However, announcements due to be made in the next month or so relative to who will become KU’s next chancellor, business school dean and dean of the school of social welfare, and maybe provost, will determine if KU continues to drift in its national and state reputation or kick in a new generation of enthusiasm, excitement, vision and academic/research leadership that would justify the nickname of the “Lighthouse of the Prairie”.

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