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Time for New Structure?

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Neeli Bendapudi’s recent announcement she will be leaving Kansas University to become president of the University of Louisville is a major loss for KU, Lawrence and the State of Kansas. It’s also a great loss for the overall field of education throughout the state.

Her excellence was evident in her relative short seven years on Mt. Oread, serving as Dean of the KU School of Business, provost and executive vice chancellor. She excelled in each position.
It is unfortunate there was not some way to have kept Bendapudi in Kansas because she can, and does, inspire, motivate and bring excitement and enthusiasm into most every classroom or group she encounters.

It would be interesting to know what qualities those serving on the “search committee” for the university chancellorship and/or those serving as regents wanted or required of the individual they selected as the next chancellor. Or, what they thought she lacked.

Bendapudi has a superior academic record in her previous positions at Texas A&M and Ohio State universities; she served as a consultant for some of this nation’s major businesses; she is excellent in raising money; she inspires and motivates students; she is visionary in her ideas for bettering education and our society; she is an excellent communicator and she is a skilled and effective speaker and representative of the university no matter whether students, parents, fellow faculty members, state legislators, business leaders or the general public are in the audience.

This is in no way a put-down of Chancellor Doug Girod who moved into the chancellor’s office after a distinguished career as executive vice chancellor of KU Medical Center. His associates at the medical school referred to him as a “Rock Star”. He brought about many positive improvements at the medical school, he worked closely and effectively with Bob Page of the KU Hospital and together they reorganized the internal operations of the hospital and medical school.

He, too, represents the University in an excellent manner and only time will tell how effective he will be in dealing with state lawmakers.

KU needs a truly special chancellor after a number of “nice” individuals served in this extremely important position. Hemenway and Gray-Little were and are “nice” people and “nice” chancellors, but were not powerhouse chancellors or leaders. They were efficient. KU had no scandals during their years in Strong Hall; the athletic department had some embarrassing troubles; the KU football team nosedived while the basketball team excelled; the school’s capital campaign was a big success but state legislators stiff-armed KU in their funding requests; KU was able to make the moves necessary to fend off any immediate punitive actions by the AAU; but KU failed to make any major improvement in their national ranking by U.S. News & World Report.

It’s been a comfortable existence but KU needs to kick its efforts into a higher degree in order to maintain, but more importantly, improve their academic and research efforts in light of increased competition from other universities.

It’s hoped Chancellor Girod will oversee a resurgence in enthusiasm, excitement and achievements at KU and turns out to be one of KU’s best chancellors. However, it would have been helpful to have had Bendapudi joining one way or another in this effort. She is sure to make education headlines in Kentucky.

Dreaming about the future, or what has been lost by the departure of Bendapudi, consider what might have been possible IF the state’s university system was organized with a chancellor or president serving as the overseer of all state universities. Each school would have their own president or chancellor. This is done in many states, California and Missouri as examples.
If Kansas had such a system, Bendapudi would have been the ideal individual to serve in the leadership role. Her vision, enthusiasm and leadership would have helped inspire and infuse the various chancellors. Such a unified group probably would have a better united and organizational plan presenting a more powerful institutional blueprint for legislators, the public and for the betterment of Kansas.

Maybe it’s time to review and/or revive the manner our state-aided universities are organized. Let’s be effective leaders rather than handicapped followers.

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