Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little's remarks at the celebration of the
5th anniversary of the Johnson County Education and Research Triangle
Remarks as prepared for delivery
I’m honored to be here this morning for the celebration of a truly special initiative. It is my pleasure to share the stage with such distinguished partners, who represent many of the organizations that have made the JCERT initiative such a success.
Anniversaries are unique, offering us a chance to simultaneously look backward, to look at where we are today and, of course, to look forward. And today, no matter which way you look, the view is pretty good.
More than anything, however, today’s event is an opportunity to thank the elected leaders and the voters of Johnson County. This a chance to thank you for the wisdom, and the commitment to education and economic growth that the community demonstrated when you said “yes” to the JCERT concept.
In 2008, Johnson County taxpayers recognized that this initiative couldn’t be achieved by any one organization, or by the private or public sector alone. Rather, you knew it was going to need to be a unique model that brought together a number of entities, as well as capitalize on the unique strengths of the state’s university system.
When I arrived in 2009, I found the existence of the JCERT program to be remarkable, and I still do. To fully appreciate that, just recall the context for the decision to launch it. That context, of course, was a struggling national and regional economy. Not exactly the type of economy in which taxpayers voluntarily raise their own taxes.
And beyond that, there were reasonable questions about this particular model:
Why was the money needed?
Why through a sales tax?
Would the money be well spent?
Were the three corners of the triangle the right corners?
Standing here today, it’s clear that the JCERT initiative has been a tremendous success. It will continue to pay dividends to the region in the form of new research, educational opportunities, and economic development.
To the voters: What you did was extraordinary, especially amid difficult times. It’s a testament to the value you place on education, translational research, and improving your community. I know can speak for all the partners here today in saying “Thank you” for giving our institutions the opportunity to anchor this Triangle.
And on behalf of everyone at KU, thank you for empowering us to do those things that a public research university is uniquely positioned to do.
Your commitment to JCERT has enabled us to make incredible progress in every aspect of our mission of educating leaders, building healthy communities, and making discoveries that change the world.
Over the years, KU has been an important part of the economic engine for Johnson County, and the metro area as a whole. More than 80,000 KU alumni live in the greater Kansas City area, working in fields from engineering to business, health care to education.
But just as KU is important to this area, the university could not be successful without greater Kansas City. More than a third of KU students are from the metro area. We have two campuses here – the KU Medical Center and the Edwards Campus – both with increasing student enrollments.
And the JCERT initiative is tying KU and the community even closer together. KU, Johnson County, and the broader Kansas City metro area are forever linked. Our successes – and our failures – will be shared.
The speakers before me this morning have summarized the specific benefits the JCERT partnership is providing. Benefits like creating new jobs and new companies, providing new cures and treatments, and protecting the food supply.
I want to suggest that the success of this JCERT initiative also illustrates broader points that we should all keep in mind as citizens and policymakers as we seek to improve our communities.
First, the JCERT initiative illustrates the value of collaboration, particularly among the state’s Regents institutions, to create strategic partnerships and to avoid duplication.
Here in Kansas, we are blessed to have two universities like KU and K-State, having some overlap, but each with a distinctive focus. Collectively our universities provide an array of services to citizens and drive growth in a variety of economic sectors.
The JCERT partnership is a shining example of what happens when KU – a flagship research university with the state’s only School of Medicine – and K-State – a leading land-grant university with its distinctive strengths – each bring their unique capabilities to the table on behalf of Kansans.
Second, JCERT is an illustration of values. There is debate taking place across our nation about the value we place on public education and, in particular, about support for public universities. This debate becomes clearest when it is time to pass budgets
Through the JCERT initiative, Johnson County put its values squarely on the table: That education is a public good; that universities make a contribution to the quality of life of citizens and communities; and that universities make important contributions to the economy and society.
Public flagship and land grant universities were mostly founded during the 1800s on the understanding that democracy depends on the participation of enlightened citizens. Because society gains engaged citizens who contribute to their communities, states subsidize the education of their residents. As a result, America’s higher education system became the envy of the world.
But over the past two decades, that state support has eroded — meaning universities have had to seek alternative funding sources. And it’s amid this context that the Johnson County voters’ support of JCERT is so impressive.
While states have been scaling back their commitment to education and translational research, Johnson County voters instead recognized the tremendous and unique capacity that universities have to drive the economy and improve our quality of life – and those voters put their money where their mouth is. Or more accurately, they put their money where their values are.
Kansas policymakers currently have an opportunity not unlike the one Johnson County voters embraced a few years ago. As most of you know, Kansas faces a critical shortage of doctors, especially in the state’s rural communities.
As the state’s only medical school, the KU School of Medicine stands ready to address this shortage by training more doctors for Kansas. But we can’t do that without continued support from the legislators whose constituents would benefit immensely from an increase in the number of doctors.
Earlier this week, Governor Brownback signed an education bill that included $25 million in State General Fund-backed bonding authority for our proposed Health Education Building. We appreciate this show of support from the Governor and the Kansas Legislature, and it gets us a step closer to this desperately needed facility.
We will continue to work with policymakers, donors, and alumni to pursue this new facility so we can address Kansas’ crucial shortage of doctors.
And last, but perhaps most important: Let’s remember what the JCERT initiative really means. Yes, it’s about jobs, economic growth, new company formation and recruitment, an educated workforce, and more. But at the end of the day, JCERT is about improving lives.
JCERT is about students like James Byars, who you saw in the video a few moments ago, and how the JCERT initiative is allowing him to fulfill his dreams and pursue the job he always wanted.
JCERT is about families that can come together for dinner every night knowing their food is safe and healthy.
And it’s about the thousands of Kansans affected by diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s who now have access to world-class healthcare, clinical trials, and hope right here in their community.
That's what Johnson County voters said yes to when they supported this initiative.
Continued job growth and population shifts within Kansas to the Johnson County area will present new demands and exciting opportunities for KU and our area partners in higher education. Without a doubt, JCERT will play a significant role in helping shape the area’s growth, and the education and research opportunities of tomorrow. And I can only imagine the successes we’ll be touting when we get together for the 10-year celebration of this remarkable initiative.
Like you, I believe that great universities transform and elevate the communities in which they reside. At the same time, they are a reflection of the vibrancy and values of those communities.
The University of Kansas is proud to be part of Johnson County and the greater Kansas City area, and is proud to help citizens fulfill the hopes and dreams they have for their communities.