Letters to campus

April 2015

Dear Faculty and Staff,

Greetings once again this month from Anderson Hall! The trees and flowers are blooming, the weather is warmer and graduation is just around the corner.

This time of year always reminds me of one of my favorite jokes —

Q: If April showers bring May flowers, what do May flowers bring?

A: Pilgrims!

As the end of the academic year is upon us, I think it is a great time for reflection. I always find myself somewhat grumpy this time of year arising from a combination of long hours, a challenging legislative session, continuing concerns about the direction of public higher education, the demands of fundraising and the end-of-the-year banquet marathon. During this last week, one of my favorite political cartoonists — Marshall Ramsay from the Mississippi Clarion-Ledger — published this cartoon, and I'm including here with his permission:

By Marshall Ramsay from the Mississippi Clarion Ledger

I often find myself standing at the same fork in the road and asking myself, "Which direction will I take today; should I go toward the "negativity" branch or toward the "positivity" branch?"

While this may seem like an easy choice, it reminds me of a leadership principle that I often repeat to those I work with. When we are leading anything — our research group, a class we are teaching, a civic organization or a university — it is tempting to only look at incremental progress. It is especially easy to simply look back a week or a month and question if we have made any real movement forward. I counsel leaders that it is important to look over a much longer time span to see progress — and when you reflect back over time — the progress forward is often remarkable.

If I look back over the past several years at K-State, I see remarkable signs of progress! We had never raised more than $100 million in a single year, which would make the entire idea of a $1 billion eight-year fundraising campaign a non-starter. We had never raised $40 million in private funding for any building project, much less an academic building. How could we possibly grow our student population by more than 1,000 students in an era of declining state resources and rising tuition costs? How could we win Big 12 Championships in three different sports in a single year with one of the smallest athletic budgets in our conference? How could we land a $50 million research grant during an era of declining federal support for research? How could we make any progress on faculty and staff compensation when our level of state funding is at pre-recession levels?

All of these achievements came about because K-State faculty, staff and students chose to take the "positivity" branch at the fork in the road. This decision did not happen once, twice or even three times, but rather daily. This positive attitude is the difference maker for K-State and for public higher education in Kansas.

So, at this time of year when it is very easy to take the fork in the road down the negativity branch, please remember where we have come from in the past. There is much to celebrate and many successes yet to come. A great university has incredibly talented and dedicated people, and I appreciate the positive attitude members of the K-State family bring to the workplace each and every day!

Go Cats!

Kirk