At my first Convocation, I outlined three areas that I would focus on as your chancellor: increasing the percentage of students who graduate, enhancing scholarship in all disciplines, and securing the resources we need to accomplish our goals.
Three years and a few months later, I’m proud to say we are making progress in all of these areas. The university community came together to create the Bold Aspirations strategic plan and the matching plan at the KU Medical Center. Their implementation is supported by our efforts to secure more private donations and be more efficient with the resources we already have.
I recognized from the start that each one of these is a serious undertaking, and that moving forward on all of them at once could seem daunting. But it is important to consider why we’re making these changes and the stakes involved if we don’t.
Our first mission is to educate leaders, and we have a long tradition of outstanding undergraduate education. But our freshman classes were shrinking, and too many students leave without earning degrees. More aggressive outreach and new scholarships have reversed the freshman enrollment decline, and the new admission standards will help students be more prepared when they arrive. Yet these alone won’t solve the challenge.
When compared to other universities with students who enter with similar credentials, we retain and progress fewer students to graduation. That’s why we’ve created new first-year experiences and are seeking to expand the MySuccess program to even more classes.
It’s also why we’re renewing our general education requirements, which hadn’t undergone significant changes in decades. The KU Core will be KU’s first university-wide curriculum and will give students an opportunity to receive an education that is both flexible and comprehensive.
These changes go to the heart of our mission as a university, but more importantly, they will help more of our students earn their degrees. After all, that’s why they’re here.
When it comes to research and scholarship, I have written to you in the past about how KU lags behind its Association of American University peers. The recent addition of Boston University to the AAU reminds us again that the organization’s membership is not static and a given university’s continued membership is not guaranteed.
At the medical center, achieving National Cancer Institute designation was a key step in enhancing research, as is the creation of the Frontiers translational research initiative and national designation for the KU Alzheimer’s Disease Center.
In Lawrence, we’re focusing scholarship around four strategic initiative themes, hiring Foundation Professors and providing grants to advance work in these areas. We’re also documenting excellence with enhanced accountability through the Faculty PRO system.
Finally, as both the state and federal governments grapple with budget challenges, we must be better stewards of our resources. Changing for Excellence is already enabling us to add 22 new faculty members, and the medical center is restructuring its financial and organizational structures to be more agile and adaptive.
I’ve also been working closely with KU Endowment on Far Above: The Campaign for Kansas, meeting with donors around the nation to gain their support for this campaign that is integral to the university’s future.
I recognize that many of these changes are not easy, and in some instances, such as when we reduce staff, are even painful. But the effects of failing to undertake these changes would be far more profound. We cannot sit still if we hope to maintain our stature and fulfill our mission.
My confidence in the faculty, students, staff, alumni and friends of KU has only grown since I first came to the university. Always trying to be better is a sign of excellence, and together, I know that we can achieve the level of excellence we all expect from a flagship university.