Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little

2011 State of the University Address: KU's continuing journey

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Just two days from today, Kansas marks its 150th birthday.


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The founders of our state were men and women of strong convictions. They fought hard for the privileges we enjoy today and they knew the importance of education. In fact, efforts to establish the University of Kansas pre-dated statehood.

Ours is a rich history and it reminds us just how significant this institution has been and must continue to be in shaping the state and its people.

I've talked in the past about this university being on a journey, and setting our sights on the horizon as we move forward, just as settlers did so many decades ago. So what progress have we made? What challenges do we face? And how do we push ahead even when times are hard? That's what I'd like to discuss this afternoon.

Joining us on this journey are our students, and this fall we welcomed a new undergraduate class to campus. As I mentioned when I arrived a year and a half ago, a focus on enhancing undergraduate education is one of my main goals. The members of the Class of 2014 are like their predecessors in many ways, arriving here excited, eager to learn and probably a little bit nervous. Yet they stood apart in several key areas.

First, we recruited the university's most academically talented incoming class ever. The freshman class' average ACT score was 24.9, almost three points higher than the national average. A third of them scored a 27 or higher. Now, test scores are just one measure of academic talent, but if we continue to recruit better prepared classes, we will be able to achieve our goal of graduating a higher percentage of our students.


Photo by Chuck France / University Relations

In addition, the students we recruited this fall set new marks for diversity and for the number of international students. We have students from all 105 Kansas counties, all 50 states and 112 countries, creating a vibrant mix of perspectives and backgrounds that strengthens the university.

But even though we have made progress in the academic readiness and diversity of our students, society and families expect a return on their investment. That return is measured by factors such as time to degree, degree completion and learning outcomes. We must translate the strength of the incoming class into higher retention and graduation rates. Additionally, for the second year in a row, there was a drop in enrollment, primarily attributable to the incoming class. Although the overall enrollment decline was only 1.8 percent, we must reinvigorate our recruitment efforts.

I am proud of our students who are already changing the world for the better. For example, one student discovered a species of lizard previously unknown to science and another received national recognition for his work in green chemistry. KU engineering students won an international aircraft design championship for the second year in a row, while a KU medical student was recognized nationally as a "physician of tomorrow."

These achievements are just a few examples of the exceptional things KU students are doing. They reflect the talent of our students and the dedicated teaching and mentoring of our faculty and staff. Thanks to you, our university's capacity to reach students continues to grow.

In addition to being continually renewed by the presence of new students, each year we are enriched by new faculty and staff. We have continued to attract top faculty throughout the university, in fields ranging from architecture and engineering, to English and neurosurgery, and many other fields of study.

To lead the Lawrence campus, this fall we welcomed Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Jeff Vitter, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Danny Anderson and Dean of the School of Music Robert Walzel. These three leaders are already making their mark.

Dean Anderson is central to efforts to realign our scholarships toward recruitment, as well as moving the College forward on key initiatives to elevate its research status, while Dean Walzel is charting a vibrant course for the newly constituted School of Music.

And Provost Vitter's strategic planning efforts are already involving hundreds of university community members. When completed, this process will be unmatched in terms of engagement, inclusiveness and, most importantly, results.

One of the areas we're focusing on is research, as we are a research university. In addition to enhancing our academic programs one of my initial goals for the university was also to raise our scholarly stature. Thanks to you we are on our way toward meeting that goal.

This past year researchers in physics and astronomy made a discovery in the field of "spintronics" that could pave the way for smaller, faster computers. KU scholars described how programs to assist the unemployed are failing job seekers with disabilities and detailed how painting city roofs white would slash temperatures in urban areas. A KU associate professor of design was recognized as one of the world's best illustrators. And discoveries at the medical center in areas ranging from treatments for illnesses to preventative medicine will enable us to live longer, healthier and happier lives.

These are just a few of the ways KU research added to human knowledge and delivered benefits not only to our students, but to the state and wider world. Those benefits will only grow, thanks to a number of high-profile grants.

Special education students in Kansas and 11 other states will benefit from new learning assessments that will be developed by the Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation. Teachers will get quick feedback on whether lessons are working thanks to these new assessments, which will funded by the largest single grant in KU history, $22 million from the U.S. Department of Education.

Groundbreaking research into the changing conditions of the world's polar ice will continue at KU's Center for the Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets, thanks to a renewal award from the National Science Foundation that brings the total award amount to $36.9 million, the largest overall award ever received for research at KU.

Foster children with emotional disorders and their families of origin will receive treatments and resources to facilitate family reunification. That's thanks to a $13.3 million grant from the Department of Health and Human Services, the largest in the history of the School of Social Welfare.

And addressing the health challenges of Native Americans will be the focus of a new Center for American Indian Community Health. The center will not only study these challenges, but work to reduce disparities in health outcomes through a $7.5 million NIH grant.

Of course achieving National Cancer Institute designation for the KU Cancer Center remains a top research priority.

More than $345 million has been invested in this effort over the last five years by the state, university, KU Hospital, Kansas Bioscience Authority, Midwest Cancer Alliance, the Hall Foundation and other private donors. These investments have helped create over 50 new researcher and laboratory staff positions, with a resulting 70 percent increase in National Cancer Institute funding.

Achieving Comprehensive Cancer Center status would mean Kansans won't have to travel out-of-state for cutting-edge care. And, in the longer term, it would have an annual economic benefit of $1.36 billion and create 9,400 permanent jobs. Plus it would put the KU Cancer Center in an elite group of renowned institutions. Our first opportunity to apply NCI designation is this September, and I want to congratulate everyone involved in the progress that's been made so far.

Another important stop on our journey was marked in October when the School of Pharmacy dedicated its state-of-the-art building on west campus. The building, along with a new facility in Wichita, was built thanks to the people of Kansas and it will help address the shortage of pharmacists in our state. The pharmacy building is a testament to the faith Kansas policymakers have in our service to the state. It is a role we take very seriously.

We are also addressing another critical workforce shortage, that of doctors, particularly in rural areas. The School of Medicine's expansion of its Wichita program and the creation of a program in Salina will help close this gap. KU has trained half of all doctors in Kansas, part of the school's dedication to meeting its social mission. Last year, that commitment placed KU among the top five schools in the country for producing primary care physicians and physicians who practice in rural and underserved areas.

We have benefitted greatly from the leadership of Executive Vice Chancellor Barbara Atkinson and her team at the University of Kansas Medical Center. Last month, the Kansas Board of Regents approved the establishment of a School of Public Health. Graduates of this school will be leaders in efforts to improve the health and well-being of Kansans. Plus, the school will serve as a resource for the design and implementation of innovative programs to promote health and control health care costs.

But it is not just in health-related fields that KU is meeting vital workforce needs. Our School of Engineering has made significant strides in expanding the number of graduates it provides to our state's industries. An insufficient supply of engineers is an impediment to growth in Kansas and state business leaders have called for a 60 percent increase in the number of engineers we train. We are hopeful the Legislature and governor will provide further support to this effort.

The Edwards Campus already provides degrees that enable Kansans to improve their lives and standards of living, work that will grow thanks to the Johnson County Education and Research Triangle. That effort is making possible the creation of 10 new degree programs and the construction of the Business, Engineering, Science and Technology Building. As a result, KU's presence in Johnson County will continue to expand and meet the workforce needs of businesses throughout the region.

And in an economy where workers can be expected to change jobs several times during their careers, and where knowledge of our changing world is critical, our liberal arts and sciences programs prepare students for success. Our area studies programs, for example, earned nearly $9 million in federal support to continue to give our students the global perspective and language skills they need in the modern workplace. The arts, humanities and social sciences are critical to our success as a university and to society. The solutions to most of the grand challenges of our time will require knowledge of history, culture and principles that guide human thought and behavior.

Overall, this past year has been one of outstanding progress for the university. We set new milestones in some areas and built the foundation for future progress in many others. Of course, there were challenges and disappointments along our journey, as there always will be.

Perhaps the most high-profile challenge faced by the university last year was in Kansas Athletics. Intercollegiate athletics is an important part of the college experience and it is an integral part of our university and community. The loyalty and spirit of Jayhawks binds KU fans together, attracts the interest of prospective students and broadens support for our university. And, unlike most athletic departments, Kansas Athletics is self-supporting. It contributes to the mission of the university by providing more than $10 million a year, primarily in the form of tuition for student-athletes.

Last year was a turbulent time for our athletic program. And because Kansas Athletics is an important part of KU, those difficulties were felt by the university as a whole. Over the past few months we have put those difficulties behind us. And now we are pleased to welcome a new athletics director, Sheahon Zenger, who possesses a passion for KU, a commitment to success and a dedication to integrity.

The road ahead

Up to this point, I have spoken of the landmarks we passed during the past year. Now I'd like to turn our focus to the road ahead.

When it comes to the core mission of the university, the strategic planning and implementation process and the capital campaign will be central to strengthening KU now and into the future. Both of those initiatives will accelerate in 2011 and serve as roadmaps for our university's journey into the future.

The planning process builds on the recommendations of the task forces I commissioned in 2009. We've already acted on several of those recommendations.

For example, we are undertaking a pilot project to identify and provide assistance early in the semester to first-year students who are struggling. We've also hired an associate vice provost for recruitment and enrollment and have initiated a review of our curriculum.

And on the research side, deans now submit annual research engagement plans for their units and a new system will soon measure faculty activity, especially research engagement, across the university.

With regard to our current planning efforts, led by Provost Vitter for the Lawrence and Edwards campuses and Dr. Atkinson at KUMC, I want to thank all of you who have participated — as part of the steering committee, a work group, a departmental meeting or individually. Meaningful improvements in the university will only happen if the plan for those improvements is developed with the active involvement of the university community.

One major goal of the strategic plan is to raise KU's performance in relation to our peers in the Association of American Universities. KU is below the AAU average in student retention and graduation rates. We also lag on a number of important faculty research productivity measures.

I do not believe that these deficiencies reflect a decline in quality at KU, but rather the more rapid pace of advancement of comparable universities. But regardless of the reason, our institutional reputation, national rankings and prospects for continued recognition as an "international research university" are all affected. Change is needed and is already under way.

The strategic planning process is focusing on three areas: energizing the educational environment, driving discovery and innovation, and engaging scholarship for public impact.

Energizing the educational environment includes every aspect of the student's academic experience from recruitment to graduation and will require a commitment to reinventing some of the ways we teach.

One of the biggest components is renewal of our general education requirements. We currently require students seeking a B.A. to take up to 50 percent more general education hours than students at peer institutions. This limits their ability to tailor their education to meet their interests and creates unnecessary barriers to graduation.

The question we must address is, "What should every undergraduate know and have experienced before graduating?" Through the university-wide discussion that has been taking place we are approaching a consensus on the learning goals. Those goals will form the basis for the new requirements, which should be piloted by the 2012-13 academic year.

Of course, before students can take their first class they have to be recruited to attend KU. One way to convince talented students that KU is a great place for them to be is by increasing the number of professional schools that directly admit freshmen. I know many schools are considering this change, and I encourage them to take this step.

But also critical to more effective recruitment is more effective use of scholarships. Scholarships are one of our best tools for recruiting outstanding students, but for too long many scholarships have instead been reserved for students who are already at KU.

Working with the deans, Student Success and KU Endowment, we are changing the way KU uses scholarships. Scholarship funds that previously were divvied up across the institution are being consolidated and redirected to recruitment. And university scholarships are being combined with school and department scholarships so we can offer more four-year renewable scholarships. This process is ongoing, but I want to commend the deans, particularly Danny Anderson, for their work to help KU better compete for the best students.

Our interest in the success of students is not limited to our undergraduates. Similar challenges face our professional and graduate students. Overall, two-thirds of our doctoral students complete their degree, typically in six years. However, as many as a third leave without completing a degree and attrition in some doctoral programs exceeds 50 percent. And in relation to our AAU peers, too many of our students are funded as graduate teaching assistants rather than research assistants or with fellowships. Our strategic plan will address these challenges and ensure our graduate programs are meeting the needs of students and the marketplace.

KU is a research university, so in addition to sharing knowledge, we discover it. We have continued to increase the amount of external funding we bring to the state. Because of KU, Kansas leads all other states in terms of growth in NIH funding in the most recent five-year reporting period. That's impressive, though I believe we can do even better.

The Driving Discovery and Innovation Work Group is looking at how we lift KU's rankings in areas such as national academy memberships, citations and our overall research expenditures. What barriers to scholarship can we eliminate? How can we enable research and creative activity? What incentives to conduct research can we provide? And how can we best ensure research productivity is an integral part of faculty assessment? These questions are all being addressed, and their answers will enable KU to raise its stature and fulfill its mission as a center for discovery.

Of course, no scholar undertakes a project without hoping his or her work has an effect at least in the discipline, if not also the broader world. So the third area of planning emphasis, engaging scholarship for public impact, builds on the existing desire to improve our world through scholarly and creative works. Commercialization is one way and last year's opening of the Bioscience and Technology Business Center on west campus will help us turn new research into new jobs.

One key part of strategic planning here on the Lawrence campus is to identify the emerging global grand challenges and societal issues where KU can have the greatest impact. Faculty and staff will have an opportunity to help identify these grand challenges and issues. You can nominate the initiatives you think KU should undertake by visiting the strategic planning website at provost.ku.edu. We will then develop plans to center around these issues and amplify the contribution KU makes to our world.

Our strategic planning and implementation processes are designed to address the challenges we face and secure the future of our university. The results will be actively incorporated into our decisions on everything from what courses and programs we offer and how we measure faculty productivity, to budget decisions on where to invest or reduce resources.

Our planning will also align with the objectives of the capital campaign. That campaign will provide many of the resources we need to enhance the student experience, foster teaching and discovery and uphold KU's legacy of leadership and excellence.

Much behind-the-scenes work has been taking place on the campaign, and last month we announced the chairs and co-chairs of the committee. I want to thank Kurt and Sue Watson, Jill and Tom Docking, and Mark and Stacy Parkinson — three outstanding alumni couples — for their willingness to lead this effort.

The margin of excellence that KU Endowment provides is increasingly important given the ongoing state budget crisis. Though the university was spared additional cuts last year, the nearly $43 million in cuts and unfunded mandates taken by KU since the start of the crisis continue to have an effect. It has affected each of you as we face the prospect of a third consecutive year without merit salary increases. It has affected our students as we have closed sections of classes and been forced to limit enrollment in many areas.

In addition to adding to your financial burden, the stagnation in salaries makes it difficult to recruit and retain outstanding faculty and staff. The past two years have seen a dozen KU faculty members leave for other universities because of stunted resources. Several of these individuals have taken grant funding and the associated jobs with them.

We want to be good stewards of the funds available to us and be as efficient as possible. Consistent with that goal, we're continuing the on-going effort to maximize efficiencies that in the past have resulted in nearly $10 million in operational savings.

I'd like to read you a few lines that have relevance to our discussion about the budget. "The University of Kansas and its sister institutions are not idle luxuries, to be supported when times are good and cast away when times are less good. They are a major investment in the future of the state and its citizens. Temporary hard times ... should not lead us to throw away this investment."

Those words are as true today as when they were first spoken by then-Chancellor Del Shankel in 1981. Unfortunately the investment has not been maintained, and not just in recent times. Since the mid-1980s there has been a steady reduction in state funding.

The last decade alone saw a 37 percent decrease in the amount of money we receive from the state for each full-time equivalent student, from $9,092 to $5,729. Resident students now pay a larger portion of the cost of their education than does the state. And each budget cut puts even more upward pressure on tuition.

We understand Kansas continues to face economic challenges and that the recovery is still gaining strength. But we also know that higher education has public benefits and that the future of Kansas is tied to the future of its universities. The educated workers of tomorrow are KU students today. The new, job-creating industries of the future are being envisioned in KU labs now. The prosperous, growing state we all want to live in can be created in our universities, but only if we renew Kansans' long-standing commitment to higher education.

We stand ready to do our part, operating more efficiently and offering programs that meet the needs of Kansas and the nation. But as Gov. Brownback told Kansans last year, Kansas cannot cut itself out of the budget crisis — economic growth is the key. That growth will be driven by the educated workers we graduate and it will be fueled by the thousands of new jobs created by investments in research.

As I look at the state of the university today, I cannot boil down its condition to a single word or phrase, for we are on a journey that is still closer to its beginning than its end. That journey will result in more students who graduate ready to contribute to our economy and world. It will result in more discoveries that improve lives and create jobs. It will enable us address the great challenges of our time, and in the process create a stronger, more vibrant university for the future.

I want to thank you for your service to our students, university and state. Together we will continue our journey toward the horizon — a horizon that will herald the dawn of a new day for the University of Kansas.



Chancellor's Vision

The mission of the University of Kansas is to lift students and society by educating leaders, building healthy communities, and making discoveries that change the world.

We will do that by raising the expectations we have for ourselves, the aspirations we have for our state, and the hopes we have for our world.

KU is in the midst of a comprehensive effort to ensure the university is ranked among the top tier of public international research universities.

Through Bold Aspirations, our strategic plan, we're changing the way we prepare students for success. We're fostering research and scholarship across all disciplines. And we're sharing the benefits of a flagship university with our state and world.

This effort is supported by Far Above: The Campaign for Kansas, as well as our initiative to reduce administrative costs, Changing for Excellence.

 

One of 34 U.S. public institutions in the prestigious Association of American Universities
Nearly $290 million in financial aid annually
44 nationally ranked graduate programs.
—U.S. News & World Report
Top 50 nationwide for size of library collection.
—ALA
23rd nationwide for service to veterans —"Best for Vets," Military Times