September 25, 2023

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What is the Future?

What’s the future of Lawrence, what’s the future of the University of Kansas, what’s the future of the State of Kansas and….what’s the future of this country?

To a great degree, it will depend on what happens during the upcoming U.S. presidential election only six months away on November 3.

Will Donald Trump be reelected, given four more years and the opportunity to continue to lead this country with vision, courage and optimism? His three-year record has been outstanding with all-time highs in employment numbers, record lows in unemployment, better employment numbers for minorities, unparalleled prosperity, record growths in the stock market, far more respect for the U.S. by foreign leaders, a stronger military and identifying and eliminating many in the Washington bureaucracy, infected with Washington fever living in the Washington swamp.

Or, will this country’s future be handed over to an almost senile puppet of a man, with 50 years soaking in the Washington swamp and likely to be controlled by strings manipulated by behind-the-scenes political zealots more interested in their own interests rather that what’s best for this country — a further slide into socialism and greater government control of our lives.

This is a very real, dangerous possibility.

Granted, many do not like the manner, the hair, “suntan” and other trademarks of Trump but, he gets the job done.

The country was knocked to its knees with the terrible Coronavirus but neither Trump nor Biden can be blamed for this. Trump inherited a broken national health system. Now the question is who can engineer and rebuild this country. Who has the track record….Trump or Biden?

Following the election, the public’s degree of optimism and excitement about the winner, his accomplishments, what he will be able to accomplish and do for this country will create the overall environment for America.

This will offer a perfect example of how the “trickle down” theory works. It will affect the future of Lawrence, KU and the State of Kansas.

Unless there is strong leadership in Lawrence, KU and the State of Kansas, each will continue to “just get by” rather than “excel.” There’s no reason why Lawrence, KU and the State of Kansas do not enjoy higher national rankings. Each has the potential!

In Lawrence, past city managers such as Jim Wigglesworth, Harold Horn, Ray Wells and Buford Watson provided the leadership and vision in City Hall that attracted proven, successful individuals to serve as city commissioners. They were joined by visionary city residents and this combination — along with an excellent, close mutually beneficial relationship with KU leaders — resulted in a winning, highly rewarding period of growth for the city and its residents.

The Lawrence Chamber of Commerce played a significant and positive role in those days, some of the best years in the city’s history. Chamber manager, E.R. Zook provided unmatched energy and positive results that helped Lawrence become the envy of other Kansas towns as well as “college towns” throughout the country.

Lawrence was riding high, its citizens were excited and proud. Past KU graduates who had moved away from Lawrence, started a career, married, etc. had fond memories of their times in Lawrence, prompting many to seek business opportunities in Lawrence.

Unfortunately, complacency and self-interests became infectious and the city has been unable to sustain or maintain its winning record of past years.

Kansas University offers another example of how true leadership makes the difference between “just okay” or “good” rather than truly “one of the best.” Over the years KU has dropped in national rankings. Is it a case of other similar schools getting better or has KU failed to keep up?

The leadership of the late Dr. Franklin Murphy followed by Dr. Clarke Wescoe in the 50s and into the 70s set KU on a course of true leadership among state-aided universities.

Both men set high standards and they sought the best individuals at all levels of the university. KU was in the “fast lane” among universities with Murphy and Wescoe turning down many illustrious leadership opportunities in education and other fields.

They inspired faculty, students and alumni as well as leaders throughout the state.

Unfortunately, for one reason or another, the university has been unable to sustain this level of excellence and the school has operated in a stops and starts manner. There have been chancellors such as Gene Budig and Archie Dykes who did excellent jobs and tried to rally enthusiasm and excellence for the school but it could not be sustained by other Strong Hall administrations. Del Shankel and Ray Nichols stepped in as babysitters to fill vacant chancellorships and they did top-flight jobs but their efforts were for only a relatively short time until a full time chancellor was selected.

In a way, the level of leadership in Strong Hall is dictated by those serving on selection committees and those on the Board of Regents. They set the standards, the level of excellence they think is necessary for a chancellorship and how much they are willing to pay for the job.

It’s too bad, but Kansas governors have been short-changing the public and higher education by not recruiting and selecting highly qualified and successful men and women to serve as Regents. It’s a highly prestigious and terribly important position. Recent Regents have been in the dark on far too many troublesome situations on the campuses they are supposed to oversee.

Just as there has been a lack of strong leadership in Lawrence and at KU, the same situation has existed in the state capital. When has the state enjoyed the services of a truly outstanding governor from the 50s to today?

Consider several examples of how “true leadership” does make a difference:

A new book, “The Splendid and the Vile” written by Erik Larson details, in an almost day-to-day manner, the life of Winston Churchill starting in the early evening on May 10, 1940, when he was summoned to Buckingham Palace by King George VI to be named Britain’s Prime Minister replacing Neville Chamberlain.

This is the same day Hitler’s armies overrode Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg and Britons believed it wouldn’t be long before Hitler would attack England.

The next day when Churchill took over, according to observations by Edward Bridges, then Secretary to the British War Cabinet, there was an overnight change in Whitehall. “It was as though the machine had overnight acquired one or two new gears, capable of far higher speeds than had ever before thought possible.”

Bridges follows, “This energy, unfamiliar and disconverting, coursed through all bureaucratic strata, from the lowest secretary to the senior minister. The effect within No. 10 (Downing Street) was galvanic. Under Chamberlain, even the war had not altered the pace of work.”

Prior to Churchill’s appointment, his critics claimed he was wholly unpredictable, flamboyant, dangerous, “a rogue elephant” – they criticized his drinking and personal habits. After his appointment, the critics continued their attacks on Churchill adding the charge Churchill’s new cabinet appointees “lack intellectual heft.”

Sound familiar to the pre- and post-Trump win?

Ron Calgaard served as vice chancellor for academic affairs at KU before becoming president of San Antonio’s Trinity University in 1979. He died last month after 20 years as Trinity’s leader.

Trinity University news reports commenting on his record noted, “Under his leadership Calgaard transformed Trinity into an esteemed undergraduate liberal arts destination for students across the country.”

“Our national stature has become a reality because of his vision and commitment.”

Calgaard taught “trust your gut” and “always do the right thing no matter what kind of push back you get.”

“Calgaard brought to the university an energy and determination described as ‘the intensity of a Kansas tornado’.”

“He brought a directed and sustained energy that dramatically altered the institution’s academic image…Calgaard relentlessly pursued the goal of transforming Trinity from a reputable regional institution into a nationally acclaimed undergraduate university.”

Closer to home, consider what happened with the KU Hospital in Kansas City, Kansas.

Twenty-five to thirty years ago those charged with overseeing the facility had to decide what to do with the hospital. It was in such bad shape the options were: close it and tear it down; try to find a buyer; or make a commitment to transform it into a first-class teaching hospital.

They chose the latter and selected a dynamo by the name of Irene Cumming to take over leadership of the facility.

She was a driver, she worked relentlessly, didn’t tolerate excuses, lifted the morale of everyone associated with the hospital, developed far better relations with the School of Medicine, stressed the importance of superior care and attention for patients and in a relatively short time transformed the hospital into a truly outstanding hospital, the best in Kansas City with nationally high rankings. She stressed everyone in the hospital, no matter their rank or position, was equally important. It was a team effort.

After 15 years or so, Cumming left for a position in Chicago and Bob Page took over the leadership position and he continues to oversee and stimulate the hospital into higher levels of excellence.

During this period there were several significant changes in the leadership of the medical school. Dr. Doug Girod took over the contentious and troublesome leadership position held by Barbara Atkinson. Medical school staffers said Girod was an “all star” in restoring enthusiasm, morale, energy and strong leadership. He then was selected to move to Lawrence to take over from then chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little, who eventually moved back to North Carolina.

Dr. Robert Simari is now leading the KU School of Medicine following a distinguished career at the Mayo Clinic, Rochester. It is reported he is doing an excellent job and is very well received by those associated with the hospital.

These three examples….Churchill, Calgaard and Cumming/Page offer perfect examples of superior leadership. There is a big difference between “good” and “adequate” and….”outstanding.”

Success and excellence are never guaranteed and talent, commitment and vision are essential to maintain success.

Now is the time for the overall community of Lawrence to commit to a goal of “Make Lawrence Great Again.” Likewise, the University needs to adopt a similar vow, “Make KU Great Again.” State leaders and citizens need a pledge of “Make Kansas Great” and all Americans should have a goal of “Keep America Great.”

Unfortunately, the Lawrence challenge may be the most difficult considering the recent and current situation and attitude of City Hall.