A transformative leader
Chancellor Gray-Little guided the university to unprecedented successes
Since arriving at the University of Kansas in 2009, Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little has transformed the university and its mission to lift students and society by educating leaders, building healthy communities, and making discoveries that change the world. In her time at KU, she has guided the university to unprecedented success, elevated the university’s national stature, and transformed the way KU serves the state and the world.
Under Chancellor Gray-Little's leadership, the University of Kansas has now had five straight years of freshman class growth, which is a remarkable accomplishment given flat and declining enrollment at other universities in the region. Moreover, the 2016 freshman class is the most academically talented in KU history – registering all-time high average ACT scores and GPAs – and the second-most diverse in KU history. Beyond the freshman class, the university’s overall enrollment has grown for three straight years.
This five-year run of freshman class growth was the result of purposeful, strategic decisions by Chancellor Gray-Little. For example, Chancellor Gray-Little led the effort to create new admission standards for the University of Kansas, revamp financial aid, and change from a regional recruitment model to a national/international model.
Chancellor Gray-Little was also instrumental in creating the Chancellor’s Doctoral Fellowships to support outstanding doctoral students, as well as the creation of KU’s first university-wide curriculum, the KU Core, which incorporates classes and experiences, making KU a leader among national peers.
Building Healthy Communities
Under Chancellor Gray-Little's leadership, the university in 2011 expanded the School of Medicine-Wichita campus from a two-year program to a four-year program and opened the new School of Medicine-Salina campus to train more healthcare professionals for rural Kansas communities. That same year, KU opened a new School of Pharmacy campus in Wichita, and the KU Alzheimer’s Disease Center received national designation from the National Institute on Aging.
In 2012, the University of Kansas Cancer Center achieved National Cancer Institute designation, which was deemed the university's most important priority in the years leading up to the application.
In 2014, the university secured $25 million in state funding for the new Health Education Building in Kansas City, which will enable KU to train more healthcare professionals each year. The university went on to raise nearly $50 million in philanthropic support for the building.
Making Discoveries That Change the World
Chancellor Gray-Little has advanced the university’s mission to make discoveries by securing funding for the Foundation Distinguished Faculty Initiative, which has brought 12 prominent scholars and researchers to KU to support strategic research priorities.
Between 2009 and 2015, the University of Kansas achieved multiple all-time highs in annual federal research funding – a trend that likely would have continued if not for federal sequestration. In the most recent fiscal year, KU researchers were awarded $238.8 million in research funding. Between 2010 and 2015, KU doubled its industry-sponsored research funding from $6.9 million to $14 million.
KU currently has 127 license agreements for commercial use of KU technology – an increase of 100 percent since 2012.
In 2012, University of Kansas researchers were awarded the largest grant in KU history – a five-year, $24.5 million grant to develop a national center to assist schools across the country to implement KU’s successful model for educating general and special education students together and improve school-wide academic outcomes.
During Chancellor Gray-Little’s term, two KU researchers were elected to the National Academies, and three current Academy members changed their formal affiliation to KU. The university also saw its first three researchers in history named to the National Academy of Inventors. KU researchers have been named Carnegie Fellows twice in the past three years.
Transforming the Physical Campus
In 2009, Chancellor Gray-Little arrived at a university that had significant infrastructure needs. In particular, KU desperately needed new science facilities if it was going to continue to attract top scholars and do the kind of research required of a flagship university and AAU institution.
Since Chancellor Gray-Little’s arrival, KU has completed 50 capital improvement projects with a combined total cost of more than $700 million, as well as more than a thousand smaller projects (less than $500,000 apiece) with a combined total cost of $100 million.
Projects of note during Chancellor Gray-Little's term include the construction of Capitol Federal Hall, the Health Education Building, Self and Oswald Halls, the DeBruce Center, the Earth, Energy & Environment Center, and the Central District — a once-in-a-generation project that will fundamentally change the face of education and research at KU — as well as major renovations to Swarthout Recital Hall, the Spencer Museum of Art, and Jayhawk Boulevard.
Stewarding and Securing Resources
Chancellor Gray-Little has been instrumental to Far Above: The Campaign for Kansas, KU Endowment’s $1.66 billion comprehensive fundraising campaign. Additionally, in 2012 she launched the Changing for Excellence initiative, an ambitious administrative makeover with three goals: to be more efficient, to reinvest in areas of highest need, and to improve services. Since then, KU has averaged millions of dollars per year in savings, cost avoidance and revenue enhancements and will continue to see annual savings of that much (and likely more) for the foreseeable future. These savings have been reinvested into urgent needs such as faculty hires, student scholarships, doctoral fellowships, and our Central District redevelopment project.
In 2013, Chancellor Gray-Little was named to the boards of directors of the Association of American Universities (AAU) and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU). She served as Chairwoman of the Board of Directors of the APLU from November 2015 through November 2016. She has also served as a member of the board of the University Innovation Alliance, a consortium of 11 large public research universities committed to helping students from diverse backgrounds succeed in higher education and attain degrees.
Background and Personal History
Before coming to KU, Chancellor Gray-Little was executive vice chancellor and provost from 2006-09 at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. A professor of psychology, she rose to the post of UNC’s chief academic officer after successive administrative appointments, including dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. While at UNC, she earned a reputation as a champion for the highest quality educational experience for students and a strong advocate for faculty and for research.
A native of eastern North Carolina, Chancellor Gray-Little received her bachelor’s degree from Marywood University in Scranton, Pa., and her master’s and doctoral degrees in psychology from Saint Louis University. She earned a Fulbright Fellowship to study in Denmark. She also served as a Social Science Research Council Fellow and received a Ford Foundation Senior Scholar Fellowship through the National Research Council.
She and her husband, Shade Little, have two children and three grandchildren.