We are engaged in three big initiatives: Bold Aspirations, the strategic plan; Changing for Excellence, our project to increase efficiency and effectiveness; and Far Above, the comprehensive fundraising campaign. One question I’ve been asked is why we’re undertaking these, and specifically why we’re doing them all at the same time.
These initiatives are part of a drive for excellence in all aspects of KU’s mission as a research university. We have areas of excellence throughout the institution, but we also lag our peers in several areas that are central to our mission.
Our enrollment on the Lawrence Campus was down again this year, and 40 percent of the students who enroll don’t graduate within six years, if at all. Our first mission as a university is to educate leaders, and to be successful in that mission we need more of our students to earn their degrees.
As Kansas’ flagship university, KU is called upon to make discoveries that change the world. Yet research and scholarly productivity are uneven across campus and even within departments, and barriers to scholarship still exist. As a result, we are behind our Association of American University peers when it comes to common measures of research productivity like membership in national academies and research citations.
And when it comes to our administrative functions, the Changing for Excellence initiative has shown that we spend more on certain functions than do our peer institutions. This is inefficient, and what’s more it means the talent of our staff members isn’t being fully realized, to their detriment and ours.
Each of these areas requires a great deal of time and effort to fully address. But the reasons we are tackling them simultaneously are two-fold.
First, each is central to KU’s success as a university and our ability to achieve our mission. We cannot tell students to wait while we first address research productivity, just like we can’t tell those who depend on our discoveries to wait while we work on enrollment.
Second, and more importantly, all of these areas are intertwined, and addressing them at the same time multiplies our ability to improve KU across-the-board.
Increased enrollment through both recruitment and retention not only benefits our students and state, it also raises our stature and generates resources.
Increased research productivity improves lives, spurs prosperity and enhances teaching. It also helps KU be recognized as a top-tier public international research university, which aids recruitment.
Increased efficiency in our administrative functions frees up resources that we can invest in teaching and research, while also enabling our staff members to fully realize their potential.
And all of these generate excitement among KU’s friends and supporters, which encourages them to be part of our university as volunteers or donors. This is important in a time of continuing scarce state resources.
We’re undertaking these initiatives for these reasons, and because caring about how good you are and always trying to be better is a sign of excellence. KU should seek to be a model in all aspects of our mission, because the best faculty, staff, departments, schools and universities are always trying to be better.