Yesterday we came together for Commencement, and I want to thank all of you who made it such a special day for our graduates and their families and friends. I would also like to take a moment to look back on what has been an historic year for the University of Kansas, thanks to you.
From the moment students arrived in August, this year had a special feel as we celebrated the 150th anniversary of KU’s founding. We have commemorated this milestone with various KU150 events, including the ribbon-cutting for our restored Jayhawk Boulevard and the dedication of Chalmers Hall. I want to thank you for the energy you brought to KU150 and for using it as an opportunity to reflect on our history and our future.
We saw a fourth consecutive year of freshman class growth, a remarkable accomplishment enabled by your work to inspire students to become Jayhawks. We also completed our Foundation Distinguished Professor initiative by welcoming educational leadership scholar Yong Zhao, bioanalytical chemist and biomedical engineer Steven Soper, and chemical engineer Mark Shiflett. These new researchers joined a community of scholars already doing tremendous work, ranging from Jim Thorp’s river systems research to Alice Bean’s work on subatomic particle collisions to Christie Befort’s work on obesity treatment options in rural communities.
We continued to attract excellent new leaders, including Carl Lejuez, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; Sally Maliski, dean of the School of Nursing; Kevin Smith, dean of Libraries; and Abiodun Akinwuntan, dean of the School of Health Professions. We welcomed DeAngela Burns-Wallace as our new vice provost for undergraduate studies to drive efforts to help students succeed and earn their degrees. And this past Friday, we announced Neeli Bendapudi, dean of the business school since 2011, as our new provost and executive vice chancellor.
On June 30, we will bring to a close our record-breaking Far Above campaign, which has raised nearly $1.6 billion through KU Endowment to fund scholarships, facilities, faculty recruitment and other crucial areas. This astounding support will forever change our university, and it illustrates how deeply our friends and donors believe in your work.
The physical transformation of our campus continued this year with the opening of several new facilities, including the Learned Engineering Expansion Phase 2 building, Capitol Federal Hall, the DeBruce Center, McCarthy Hall, a renovated Swarthout Recital Hall, and the new Self and Oswald residence halls.
We also have several projects under construction, such as the Earth, Energy and Environment Center — featuring Slawson and Ritchie halls — the Health Education Building at KU Medical Center, an expanded Spencer Museum of Art, and our Central District redevelopment, a once-in-a-generation project that will fundamentally change the face of education and research at KU.
Certainly, this year has had its challenges. We have had important conversations about diversity and inclusion at KU, and I applaud our students and employees for addressing this issue. The state continues to experience revenue shortfalls, which resulted in Governor Brownback cutting our budget $7.18 million in March. And we were saddened by the passing of former Chancellor Bob Hemenway last summer, though I know he’d have been touched by the way you celebrated his life.
As always, none of this year’s success would be possible without you. Your work enhances our university each day, and I am grateful for that.
Yesterday’s Commencement was a celebration of our graduates. But it was also a celebration of the role you played in helping them earn their degrees. Thank you for your efforts on behalf of the students and the society we serve. And thank you for making our 150th anniversary truly memorable.