Looking back on our achievements from the fall semester
It’s worth taking a moment to think back to December of last year. At that point, almost none of us was vaccinated, many of us were working remotely, and there were significant concerns about gathering with loved ones for the holidays.
One year later, our university community feels a lot more like it did before the pandemic. Thanks to lower case counts and high vaccination rates, we now see full classrooms, more colleagues in the office, and the usual foot traffic on our campuses. While we know the pandemic isn’t over and we’ve not fully returned to normal, we are clearly in a better place than we were a year ago.
As final exams come to a close and we pause for the holidays, I hope you will join me in reflecting on our achievements from the past semester. As always, there is much to celebrate, thanks to you.
Health and safety
Through our Student Vaccine Incentive Program, nearly 60 percent of Lawrence campus students uploaded proof of vaccination this semester, and we believe the actual student vaccination rate is closer to 80 percent. Similarly, 83 percent of Lawrence employees and 86 percent of Medical Center employees submitted proof of vaccination, and we are confident the actual vaccination rates are higher.
We’re still monitoring COVID-19 and its variants through our Pandemic Medical Advisory Team, and we expect to continue operating next spring as we have this fall. In the meantime, if you haven’t yet had your first vaccine shot or booster, I encourage you to do so as soon as you can.
In September we announced our student enrollment grew and our freshman class size returned to 2019 levels, indicating we have weathered the worst of the pandemic. This is a testament to the work staff and faculty have done to recruit, educate and support students during such an uncertain time.
There is no questioning the importance of the campus visit in the student recruitment process. With that in mind, this fall construction progressed on our Jayhawk Welcome Center, a donor-funded project that will benefit our recruitment efforts when it opens in fall 2022.
This fall we continued to produce excellent research to the benefit of our state and society. In August we achieved renewal of the KU Alzheimer's Disease Research Center's national designation. Additionally, KU researchers won grants and produced research to fight disease, advance environmental conservation, and transform foster care.
As a leading research institution and Association of American Universities member, we must continue to empower research-productive faculty and strengthen the culture of research at KU. With this in mind, on the Lawrence campus we accepted Research Rising proposals from researchers across the spectrum of disciplines and also announced our first Racial Equity Research, Scholarship & Creative Activity Awards.
Additionally, we continued the expansion of our KU Innovation Park facilities, which will enhance engagement with tech-based companies on campus.
This fall we welcomed new leaders to KU, including Lawrence campus Police Chief Nelson Mosley and Dole Institute for Politics Director Audrey Coleman. Sadly, we also said goodbye to Burdett Loomis, a beloved professor emeritus of political science, as well as Senator Bob Dole, a dedicated public servant and Kansan whose legacy we honor through the institute on our Lawrence campus that bears his name.
Of course, not all leaders are on campus, as demonstrated by Time Magazine’s recognition of KU alumnus Barney Graham as a “Hero of the Year” for his work in developing the first round of COVID-19 vaccines.
This semester we continued both our Jayhawks Rising strategic planning process and our work toward a comprehensive economic development strategy. You can expect to hear more about these efforts next semester.
Diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging
This semester, we continued our focus on diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. Of note, we expanded our DEIB team and launched a diversity and inclusion training module for Lawrence employees. In addition, we partnered with Haskell Indians Nations University on this year’s KU Common Book and worked with the First Nations Student Association to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day with a tipi raising on the Strong Hall lawn.
A strong athletics program is inextricably linked to our aspirations as a top research university. Athletics Director Travis Goff continues to demonstrate great leadership in ensuring KU is well-positioned in the changing landscape of college athletics.
This semester, we joined universities across the nation in ushering in a new era of Name, Image and Likeness opportunities on behalf of student-athletes. We strengthened the Big 12 Conference by welcoming four new universities — BYU, Central Florida, Cincinnati, and Houston. We saw terrific progress by our football program, including our first-ever win at Texas. And we saw our volleyball program take out two higher-ranked opponents en route to a Sweet 16 appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
This semester has not been without challenges, including difficult situations related to free speech, sexual assault and the vandalism of an art installation on campus. As is often the case, these instances provided us the opportunity to learn and engage in dialogue that benefits our university moving forward.
Jayhawks, it’s been another productive semester, thanks to you. I am grateful for you and your efforts, and I wish you a happy and healthy holiday season.