Faculty, staff and students:
As has been the case for many years, the start of our spring semester coincides with Martin Luther King Day observances. I re-read my opening messages of the past few years, and I found myself almost wishing that Martin Luther King Day might eventually be “just another holiday” – but it is not yet. This year, more than any I can remember in more than 30 years, King’s call for equal justice and his aspiration to make true democracy a reality for our country are needed.
During the past two-and-a-half years, universities nationwide have struggled to address issues of race, gender, sexual identity and religion, among others, as if we must learn the lesson of equality for every group that is identifiable as different in some way. These struggles recall problems of our larger society, issues reflected dramatically in cities like Charleston, Dallas, Orlando, and others. As Ford Foundation president Darren Walker noted, “The events of this year have tested any commitment to hope, and to the belief that equality can triumph over indifference and injustice.”
But this is precisely why our efforts to ensure that our university embraces diversity and inclusion are so important. No single action can achieve our goals. We need to be comprehensive, systematic and unceasing in our efforts.
Last semester, we conducted our university-wide Campus Climate Survey. We are reviewing the findings and will begin to take action in the next several weeks. Last April, our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Advisory Group submitted its report to KU-Lawrence leadership, and in September the provost responded to that report and continues to make progress on its implementation. And KU Medical Center continues to pursue various initiatives to integrate diversity, cultural competence and inclusion across the center’s campuses.
The Martin Luther King holiday and start of the semester coincide with the start of the 2017 legislative session, which began last week with the governor’s State of the State speech and the release of his budget recommendations for next year. While he does not recommend additional cuts to KU, his recommendations retain the $10.7 million allotment cut he made to the KU budget last May – essentially making that a permanent annual cut.
Last year’s sudden loss of $10.7 million has significantly impacted KU and forced us to make difficult decisions for the current fiscal year. With that in mind, we will be working with legislators on two crucial priorities this year: restoration of the 2016 cuts to KU, and stable funding for KU moving forward.
In talking with most legislators, it is clear they are excited about the ongoing transformation of KU – and this semester has some exciting moments in store related to that transformation. On February 9, the University of Kansas Cancer Center’s quest for Comprehensive Cancer Center designation through the National Cancer Institute will reach a major milestone, when the NCI visits to conduct its review of our center’s research program and leadership.
In addition, we continue to develop our Central District into a new hub of education and research that will address urgent needs and position us for excellence for decades. Last November, we celebrated a “topping out” ceremony for the district’s Integrated Science Building. Looking ahead, we will soon complete the parking garage, while the residence hall and dining center are slated for completion this summer.
The start of a semester is a good time to remind ourselves of our priorities. As classes begin this week, please remember our commitment to improving our retention, persistence and graduation rates, and enhancing our research and scholarship. Thank you for your continued dedication to these initiatives and your commitment to an inclusive university community. And thank you for all you do to serve our students, our state and our world.