The start of the academic year always provides unmatched energy and a sense of renewal for our community. This is especially true this year as we see our campuses coming back to life in a way they haven’t since the pandemic began.
Of course, our hopes to fully return to normal have become muddied by the Delta variant of COVID-19. As you know, we continue to make decisions based on the guidance of our Pandemic Medical Advisory Team and local health officials, and we will continue to prioritize the health and safety of our community.
Despite the latest COVID-19 challenges, we’re clearly in a better place than we were a year ago. A significant portion of our campus is vaccinated, and we expect vaccination rates will continue to increase. Based on our successful return to campus last year, we know our health and safety efforts effectively mitigate risk on our campuses. For these reasons and more, we remain committed to providing our students and colleagues the on-campus experience they expect and deserve this year.
As classes begin today, I want to highlight a few themes and initiatives for the semester.
Official enrollment data will be available in September, but early indications suggest we have a strong class of first-year Jayhawks joining us this fall. The first few weeks of the semester are crucial for these new Jayhawks and their long-term success. I know I can count on you to do everything you can to help welcome our students in the coming weeks.
Student vaccination efforts
We have launched a Student Vaccination Incentive Program, which enables students to access $235,000 in prizes for being vaccinated. We are already seeing evidence the program is encouraging students to upload their vaccination records and get vaccinated if they are not already, and we will know more in the days ahead as data become available. In the meantime, please spread awareness about the program and encourage students to do the right thing for themselves and their community.
Last spring, CFO Jeff DeWitt provided a comprehensive look at our budget challenges and a strategic plan to address them. As Jeff, Provost Barbara Bichelmeyer and I have articulated many times, our goal is to move away from year-to-year budgets and get to a sustainable, balanced budget that enables us to strategically pursue important initiatives, including regular merit raises for faculty and staff.
Our Jayhawks Rising strategic planning process continues on the Lawrence and Edwards campuses. If you haven’t done so, please visit jayhawksrising.ku.edu to learn about the process and how you can get involved. You can expect to hear more from Provost Bichelmeyer in the days ahead.
There continues to be excitement surrounding Kansas Athletics – a point that was confirmed for me as I traveled the state this summer visiting with alumni at our Hawks and Highways events. Athletics Director Travis Goff continues to demonstrate great leadership in enhancing the culture of excellence within our athletics department and ensuring KU is well-positioned in the ever-changing landscape of college athletics. Additionally, there is tremendous optimism surrounding new Football Coach Lance Leipold and the program he is building. I know Coach Leipold and our football student-athletes can count on your support at their first game Friday, Sept. 3, as can the talented student-athletes in our women's soccer and women's volleyball programs who are competing this fall.
This continues to be a remarkable period in our university’s history. The pandemic has affected each of us deeply, and we have asked a lot of you. Thank you for all you continue to do for KU. As a leading public research institution and member of the Association of American Universities, we have a special obligation to our students and society. I know we will continue to fulfill that obligation, thanks to you.
Douglas A. Girod