Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
I want to thank the distinguished individuals who spoke today for sharing their thoughts. They remind us just what a special institution this is. And what an awesome responsibility we are given by our students and their parents, and by the people of Kansas.
Watch Chancellor Gray-Little's speech
Watch On the Hill: The opening video at the inauguration
"Amazing Grace" sung by Associate Professor Genaro Mendez Jr., accompanied by Assistant Professor Paul Tucker
I am honored to lead this university as we seek new heights — new achievements by our students, new breakthroughs by our faculty and staff, and a new commitment to our state.
I have spent every day since arriving on campus learning as much as I can about this university. Meeting the people who make it a center for learning and research, and discovering how we share their talents with the state, nation and world.
It has been equally important for me to learn as much as I can about Kansas, its residents, and the hometowns of our students.
I have been to the State Fair and State Capitol, to rotary clubs and chambers of commerce, and to a dinner attended by just about every resident of Grant County and then some. I have spoken to superintendents and students, parents and alumni, legislators and citizens.
I have been enriched by these trips. They — and you — helped this life-long North Carolinian embrace Kansas as her new home.
In my travels, I saw how proud Kansans are of their schools and universities. And I learned Kansas is bigger and more diverse than most people appreciate. It is a vibrant, forward-looking state, yet one where people also value tradition and history.
The wide open skies have instilled in Kansans a sense of optimism and a desire to look to the distant horizon — to the future. Walt Whitman, after describing what he saw from Mount Oread, wrote how such boundless lands would influence the people here.
He wrote: "I wonder indeed if the people of this continental inland West know how much of first-class art they have in these prairies — how original and all your own — how much of the influences of a character for your future humanity, broad, patriotic, heroic and new?"
More than a century has passed since Whitman wrote those words. Roads replaced wagon trails and crisscrossed the prairie, which itself was turned into farms and towns. Telegraphs, then telephones, then the Internet drew us all closer, and took much of the mystery out of the world.
But you can still stand on top of Mount Oread and look out at the horizon and feel inspired — inspired to learn, inspired to discover, inspired to reach for that distant point where the earth meets the sky.
That inspiration is our mission. It is a mission that calls on us to continue the proud traditions of this state and university, even as we look to the future. A future we see in our students, in the discoveries we make, and the lives we change.
The complexity of our modern world demands an evolved university. And the challenges we face as a society demand an enlightened one. A university that uses the inherent good of education and research to meet the challenges of our time. Curing the diseases that afflict so many. Creating prosperity so we may eliminate the scourge of poverty. And studying our planet, so that we may be good stewards of its bounty.
Just as KU evolved from a single building with three professors, it must now continue to grow and change. That change is required to adapt to new technologies, new budget realities, and new expectations — from our students and their future employers, and from society as a whole.
Our first change must be to better prepare our students for success throughout their lives, because the success of our society will ultimately depend on those who will soon lead it.
A college degree opens so many doors. I know that from personal experience, and from watching countless students go on to do amazing things that were possible only because they earned their degrees.
“Our first change must be to better prepare our students for success throughout their lives, because the success of our society will ultimately depend on those who will soon lead it.”
But too many of our students simply do not graduate. That costs them time, money and esteem. It costs their families. And it costs us, as a university, state and society.
To change this, and to respond to the changing needs of our students, we must first do a better job of recruiting them.
There is still a lingering feeling in much of Kansas that KU does not do all it can to persuade students who are eager for a college education that we want them here. We must demonstrate our interest in — and commitment to — college-ready students.
That can come from more aggressive outreach to prospective students and their families. People throughout Kansas tell me KU is doing a better job of being visible around the state, now we need to match that energy with new ambitions for recruitment.
Exceptional high school students throughout Kansas must know that KU wants them to be Jayhawks, and we are willing to do what it takes to make their educational dreams a reality. They must know that we believe they can be the leaders of tomorrow. And like so many of our alumni who have gone on to change the world, we want them to launch their careers here, from the heights of Mount Oread.
Key to attracting these students is using our scholarship dollars more strategically. Scholarships should be used to recruit excellent students, not just reward them once they're here. And scholarships must be more comprehensive in their size and duration if we hope to compete with our peers.
Once we bring students here, we must offer the tools and opportunities that lead to their success.
This can take many forms: An early warning system that identifies those struggling academically and enables intervention before it is too late. Enhanced financial aid that alleviates the need to juggle school and work. And even simple tools, such as a way for students to go online and make sure they are on track to graduate, without having to decipher a complex form.
Many of these tools are already in place at other universities. Indeed, we have an example on our own campus. Kansas Athletics has shown how academic support programs can lead to increased success by students, many from challenging backgrounds and all with tremendous demands on their time.
But it's not just a matter of adding tutors and increasing scholarships. We must also ensure that our academic programs themselves are responsive to the needs of tomorrow's students and the modern world. That starts with a review of our general education requirements, changing them to enhance learning, without sacrificing academic rigor.
I do want to note that graduate students face many of the same challenges as undergraduates. But they also have a special role in a research university. They are called on to be students, teachers and researchers, and often have commitments outside the university. We ask a great deal of them, and do not always provide the resources they need in return.
KU must systematically identify and eliminate the obstacles facing graduate students, especially since their success is so critical to the success of our faculty, of our undergraduates, and of the university.
We should make no assumptions that change will happen quickly, or that it will be easy. But we can be under no illusion: change is necessary if KU is to truly prepare our students for successful futures.
“We should make no assumptions that change will happen quickly, or that it will be easy. But we can be under no illusion: change is necessary if KU is to truly prepare our students for successful futures.”
In addition to the sharing of knowledge, KU is also dedicated to the discovery of knowledge. Our research is an engine for growth, both of our economy and our minds. It leads to new cancer-fighting medicines and new understanding of our history. To new, clean fuels and new, more effective teaching techniques.
But in order to spur greater research, we must first find a new way to assess how we are doing now. We cannot simply count up the hundreds of millions of dollars our research brings in and assume this gives us an accurate picture. Nor can we judge success simply by the number of products or companies our research produces, though both are substantial.
That is why we will create a comprehensive system for measuring research engagement. I recognize that every academic discipline is different, and this will be taken into account as deans and chairs develop appropriate measures for their units.
These measures will enable us to gauge research engagement over time, to compare units within KU, and to compare our units to counterparts at other universities. Such a system will also help make scholarly work a more integral part of the university's culture and of the way we assess faculty and departments.
Of course we don't just want to measure scholarly work; we want to encourage the faculty and staff who produce it. Deans will be asked to develop plans to support research and scholarly activities in their schools. That could include eliminating barriers to research. Or shifting responsibilities to enable research-engaged faculty to devote more time to scholarly activities.
Every single day, KU faculty and staff make important scholarly contributions: from unlocking the secrets of Alzheimer's to preserving the religious history of Kansas. With this new commitment to scholarly work, we will extend the boundaries of human knowledge, making our world a healthier, more prosperous and more enriching place to live.
If we do this, and if we make the changes to our academic programs that will lead to greater student success, then KU will expand the horizons of its students, its state and the world.
We will give our students the knowledge they need to succeed in their careers and in their lives. We will deliver the economic and societal benefits that come from a world-class research university. And we will ensure that Kansas is recognized around the world for its commitment to excellence in higher education.
This university was founded by people who looked west, to the opportunities that stretched out before them across a vast continent. We must maintain that same optimistic, pioneering spirit.
“This university was founded by people who looked west, to the opportunities that stretched out before them across a vast continent. We must maintain that same optimistic, pioneering spirit.”
And though we face new challenges and a shifting world, our mission remains unaltered: To seek out that singular moment when everything changes — when suddenly an abstract concept makes sense or a great experiment succeeds for the benefit of mankind.
And we take as our inspiration the view from Mount Oread at that special instant when the sun breaks the plane of the Kansas horizon to herald the dawn of a new day.
Thank you for the honor of being your chancellor, and for the opportunity to share this new day with you. Together, we will use its light to create an even brighter future.