Thank you, Regent Chair Murfin. Good afternoon and welcome, everyone.
It is an honor to address you as the 18th chancellor of the University of Kansas. I am humbled by the kind words of our presenters, and I am grateful to see so many of you here to celebrate this occasion.
It’s been nine months since I stepped into this role as chancellor — and I can tell you this is the best job in the world. There is no place like the University of Kansas, and there is not a more supportive community than our Jayhawk nation. I’ve had the privilege of serving KU for the past 24 years. Like many of you, I am a Jayhawk to the core. I believe deeply in our responsibility to serve the state and society.
KU has been on a remarkable trajectory: We have grown our enrollment while recruiting the most talented and diverse students in our history. We have made great strides to modernize our campuses. We have expanded our reach to every county in Kansas. And we have completed a historic fundraising campaign, thanks to the generosity of friends and donors.
For this, we owe a debt of gratitude to our predecessors — none more so than Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little. Chancellor, thank you for your leadership and for being here today.
I am fortunate to have inherited a terrific leadership team, with EVC Rob Simari at KU Medical Center and EVC and Provost Neeli Bendapudi here in Lawrence. Now, as many of you know, Provost Bendapudi will soon be leaving us to become president of the University of Louisville. I am delighted for Neeli, who has served KU with passion and distinction and will undoubtedly do a great job at Louisville. Neeli — thank you for everything you’ve done for KU.
Our university benefits from invaluable partnerships with KU Endowment, Kansas Athletics, the KU Alumni Association and the University of Kansas Health System. Thank you to my colleagues from these organizations who are here today.
Thank you to our Governor for joining us today, and for your continued support.
We also have the support of our federal delegation and state lawmakers, many of whom are also in attendance. Thank you all.
Most of all, our university benefits from our talented students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends.
Like many of you, I have always been inspired by the history of this place. Since our founding, KU has embodied the aspirations of the abolitionists who settled on the curve of the Kaw River. Their first goal was to ensure the new Kansas Territory entered the union as a free state. Their second goal was to establish our university. In 1866, our new university enrolled 55 students for the first day of class. Nearly all of those students hailed from within a horseback ride of Mount Oread.
Today, we have 28,000 students from 50 states and 100 countries. What started as a small college on the hill has become an international research university. Now, we have the opportunity and responsibility to define our university’s future.
My vision for KU is straightforward: The University of Kansas will be the destination for the best students and scholars from the region, the nation, and the globe. They will come here because they recognize KU as a place where they can transform themselves and the world around them.
Attaining this vision will NOT be easy. While our university is strong, higher education in America is in the midst of a full-blown crisis.
Public universities have played a major role in the development of American society and our economy. It was commonly held that an educated society was essential to a successful democracy. After World War II, there was recognition that an educated workforce would drive our economy and therefore warranted public investment.
But in recent years, there has been a shift away from the belief that higher education is a public good and worthy of investment, to a belief that higher education is a personal benefit that should be personally funded. As a consequence, across the country, we have seen steady declines in state investment in higher education. Adjusted for inflation, the cost of a college degree at KU has not significantly changed in the last 20 years. But I was a college student, the state funded 75% of the cost of my education, and my tuition rate accounted for only 25%. Today, sadly, this is reversed. And yet, the need for higher education has never been greater. It is estimated that 60% of jobs in our future economy will require some form of post-secondary education.
Declines in state funding have also challenged our ability to keep pace with salaries for our faculty and our staff, making recruitment and retention even more difficult.
Federal research funding has been stagnant for over a decade, putting at risk our research infrastructure and our global dominance in innovation. The recent federal budget bill helps, but is not enough. We may lose an entire generation of scientists, if this trend continues.
There has been a national decline in student enrollment every year since 2010, with 2.5 million fewer students in the last year alone.
The most disruptive force, perhaps, is the explosion of the information age, with technology growing at an exponential rate. The impact of this rapid change on our students is immense.
It is now estimated that today’s college graduate will need to shift careers — not jobs, but careers — seven times in their lifetime.
Despite these daunting challenges I am confident KU will persevere amid this crisis — because, remember, our university was born out of crisis. A century and a half ago, this city was burned to the ground. But the commitment to create our university survived.
To address these challenges, we will focus on three areas: improving the student experience, expanding our outreach to the state, and growing our research enterprise.
First, improving the student experience.
The student experience
The student experience is everything from recruitment to alumni engagement and every touch point in between. While we have made great strides in these areas, we can, and we will, do better.
I relate the student experience to that of the patient experience in the health care world.
Traditionally, health care delivery was designed around the providers — doing things that were the most convenient for the doctors. (This is a great design if you happen to be a doctor, by the way….. but not so much if you happen to be a patient.)
At the University of Kansas Health System, we changed this paradigm, and put the patient at the center of every decision, asking the question “what is the right thing to do for the patient?” This change allowed us to transform one of the poorest performing academic medical centers in the country, with more medical students than patients in the late 1990s, to what is now the largest hospital in the state, with quality and patient satisfaction results comparable to the Mayo Clinic, MD Anderson, and Johns Hopkins.
I believe a similar situation exists today within higher education and presents us with a wonderful opportunity. Put the student at the center of every task, every conversation, and every decision. From the residence hall to the classroom, from orientation to graduation, let us reexamine the way we do business, every day. Let us ask ourselves, “What is the right thing to do for the student?”
We’ve made progress in this area during the past year:
We’ve updated our tuition waiver program for out-of-state students in a way that will help us recruit top scholars and also shift need-based scholarships to Kansas students.
We’ve responded to student requests to work toward increasing capacity for our Counseling and Psychological Services unit.
Our KU Alumni Association and our University Career Center continue to develop the new Jayhawk Career Network to connect Jayhawks around the globe.
And we’ve launched the Jayhawk Student One Stop, a service to help students navigate the array of resources available to them at KU.
Of course, a pillar of the student experience is creating a diverse and welcoming environment in which students feel valued, included and engaged. Like many universities, we’ve made progress, but there’s still much work to be done.
Outreach to Kansas
The second area of focus is service and outreach to Kansas and beyond.
While KU’s aspirations are global, our mission begins here in Kansas. We are not the University of Lawrence or the University of Johnson County. We are the University of Kansas.
Perhaps the most visible way we serve Kansas is our medical center, with campuses in Kansas City, Wichita and Salina. The medical center has activities that touch every county in the state, including outreach clinics, telemedicine clinics, student rotations, public health efforts and more. The medical center is also training future healthcare professionals for Kansas.
Beyond the medical center, we have an incredible story to tell about the work we do for Kansas:
We train law enforcement officers and firefighters. We place pharmacy students in rotation sites across the state. Our School of Business Red Tire program matches graduates with retiring business owners so businesses can remain in Kansas. And our Kansas Geological Survey addresses natural resource challenges in our state.
In the past year, we’ve added to this list by expanding our nursing program to Salina and to exploring ways to expand it to Lawrence. Also in the past year, our Edwards Campus has expanded its offerings in Leavenworth, where we are now offering seven different military-relevant programs to meet the needs of that community.
Beyond these services, we are a powerful economic engine for our state and region.
We address workforce needs by conferring nearly 7,000 degrees to students every year.
There are 38 successful KU startup companies born from KU technologies.
There are more than 40 more companies in our Bioscience & Technology Business Center facilities.
KU researchers bring $230 million a year in research funding into the state.
And we have 3,000 partnerships with corporations, ranging from internships to research ventures.
We are a major economic engine for Kansas.
Our research enterprise
The third area of focus is our research enterprise.
As a top-tier research university, KU has the opportunity and responsibility to make discoveries that improve lives. We must find new and innovative ways to grow our research.
Research is what defines and distinguishes KU, both regionally and nationally. We are proud to be one of only 34 public institutions in the Association of American Universities, which comprises the top 62 research institutions in North America. To remain a part of this elite group, we must strengthen our research culture at KU so that research excellence is taught, expected and delivered.
Across campus, we have terrific new facilities to help facilitate that culture, including the Earth, Energy & Environment Center, which opened this spring …
And later this year, we will open the National Security Lab at the Bioscience Technology & Business Center, and the Integrated Science Building in our Central District.
We will be more strategic in investing our resources, finding new collaborators, and expanding research between disciplines and campuses. The students, faculty, university, state and nation all benefit as we expand our research footprint.
In closing, I am confident we will meet the challenges ahead of us in a way that strengthens our university, enhances the value of higher education nationally, and improves the world around us. And I am confident the University of Kansas will continue to be a beacon from atop a noble hill, towering toward the blue. It is an honor to address you as the 18th chancellor of the University of Kansas.
The work we do changes lives and improves the world in meaningful ways. I am excited to do this work alongside you.