Last Thursday, I had the opportunity to attend a meeting with U.S. Secretary of Education DeVos, along with 10 other APLU presidents and chancellors in Washington DC. It was our first chance to visit with her, and we appreciated the chance to establish a working relationship and broadly define the key issues facing higher education.
With new leadership comes new ideas, and that has certainly been the case in Washington since January. Some of the ideas proposed by the new administration have caused concern at universities nationwide – including the University of Kansas – and I believe many of those concerns are valid. I want to assure you we continue to work with peer universities and our congressional delegation to be part of the policymaking process on issues affecting higher education.
Given the tremendous volume of news coverage of the new administration, it is neither feasible nor prudent for university leaders to publicly address every idea, proposal, tweet or rumor coming out of Washington. But it is always appropriate for university leaders to reiterate their institutions’ core principles and remind elected officials that there are some policy preferences and values that are fundamental to our mission. Today I want to briefly mention four particular areas that will require universities to be vigilant and steadfast.
The free flow of students and scholars
Last month, KU and our peer universities reacted to an executive order on immigration that directly impacted international students and scholars. While the order has been suspended by the courts, it has caused tremendous uncertainty about the future of immigration and could deter international scholars from studying or teaching in the United States. Universities are marketplaces of ideas that rely on the unfettered exchange of ideas among individuals from different backgrounds. Any policy that unnecessarily restricts the free flow of students and scholars will negatively impact our university community.
The importance of research funding in general
In October, I wrote a piece for The Conversation on how science education and research funding are crucial to our nation’s prosperity and national security, and to the health and well-being of our society. Today there remains great uncertainty regarding the future of science education and research funding. Without adequate and predictable federal funding for research, our nation risks stagnation in key areas, threatening our well-being and eroding our role as global leaders in innovation and our potential contributions to the economy.
Targeted threats to specific areas of research
In addition to research funding in general, we must be watchful for politically motivated attacks on specific areas of research such as gun violence and climate change. While it is understood that democratically elected officials will make policy decisions, it is not acceptable to block universities from making research-based discoveries that are relevant to the policymaking process. Universities and society suffer when efforts are made to discount legitimate scientific exploration and discovery.
Diversity and inclusion
Earlier this semester, in my message reflecting on the Martin Luther King Day holiday, I lamented that this year, more than any year I can remember during the past three decades, King’s call for equal justice and true democracy are needed. This is why our efforts to ensure the University of Kansas embraces diversity and inclusion are so important – and why we need to be comprehensive, systematic and unceasing in our efforts. As Jayhawks, we are united in saying that racism and discrimination will not be tolerated here.
I think it’s fair to say we are operating in an unusual political environment. And in times like these, it’s worth remembering the University of Kansas’ remarkable history over the past 150 years. We have seen challenges before, and we have overcome them, thanks to the efforts of educators and researchers like you, and also because of an unwavering commitment to our core principles. That will never change.