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Office of the President

Letters to Campus

July 29, 2009

Dear K-State Faculty and Staff,

Greetings from 110 Anderson Hall! I hope that your summer has been a productive one, as the fall semester is right around the corner. It is hard to believe that we will have our students moving back into Manhattan for fall classes in less than one month!

Many of you have probably seen the Kansas license plates with the purple Powercat logo and a number on the license plate. The president of the university is given the “1” license plate to use, which certainly makes the car I am driving very easily identified. As part of our move from Mississippi to Kansas, I thought it would be a good idea to go ahead and get another of the “official” K-State license plates for one of our cars. So, with checkbook in hand, I set off for downtown Manhattan to get a license plate.

Trip 1 – I didn’t have with me proof of insurance from a Kansas insurance agent (a Mississippi agent wouldn’t do), an official copy of the title (which is held by our bank in Mississippi), or a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) inspection. It turns out that the VIN inspections are only done on specific days of the week, and must be paid in cash.

Trip 2 – I was prepared this time! I had my new Kansas insurance cards, a faxed copy of the official title, and had completed my VIN inspection (and paid with cash as required). I took my number, and eagerly awaited writing my check and leaving the courthouse with my brand new K-State license plate. As a matter of fact, I could see a stack of them on display as I went up to the counter to finish my paperwork. With a smile on my face, I handed my paperwork to one of the clerks, who asked me where my “purple certificate” was from the K-State Alumni Association in order to get one of the treasured official K-State license plates. The next words out of my mouth were, “What purple certificate?”

Trip 3 – I was REALLY prepared this time. I had gone by the K-State Alumni Association and made the required $50 donation to K-State, and I had in my hands my precious “purple certificate.” Then I went back to the courthouse with all of my required documentation. A couple of hundred dollars later, I had my precious and much sought-after license plate.

Besides looking totally cool when your car is parked anywhere in Kansas, why bother paying the extra money for a K-State license plate? All of the money donated to the K-State Alumni Association goes into a scholarship fund which is used to provide much needed monies for our deserving students who need some financial assistance to attend K-State. Want to know more – go to the K-State Alumni Association Web site - http://tinyurl.com/nx7dy9

Some kudos around campus –

Congratulations to the entire research community! K-State researchers attracted over $133.6M in new grants and contracts this past fiscal year, which represents the largest year-to-year jump in K-State history.

Congratulations to a team of architectural engineering students who won first place in the 2009 Student Design Competition sponsored by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers. The K-State team took the title in the systems selection category. The competition featured student teams from across the U.S. and the world. K-State has now claimed first or second in the competition four times in the last five years, including a first-place finish in 2007.

This month, I would like to visit with you on the general topic of academic marketing and communications.

So, where do you work? This is a frequent question at any academic conference or gathering, and a frequent response is “KSU.” If you are from Kansas, this clearly means that you work at Kansas State University (KSU). However, if you live in Ohio, this could also be Kent State University (KSU). In Georgia, it could be Kennesaw State University (KSU). In Kentucky, it could be Kentucky State University (KSU). Thus, what “KSU” means can vary greatly depending on where you are when you answer the question.

Recently, Kansas State University was ranked No. 67 by the U.S. News and World Report in the “Top Public Schools - National Universities” category: http://tinyurl.com/5d2o4r

This ranking is due to our standing as a mainstream, public, national research university. I am very proud of this recognition, and there are many national public universities who are not even listed here -- including Oklahoma State University, Texas Tech, Oregon State University, University of Wyoming, Utah State University, and New Mexico State University as examples.

There are certainly many opinions on rankings and the validity of the ranking methodology used by the news media. Often, if a school does well in a ranking it is deemed a “good” ranking system, and if a school is ranked poorly, we criticize the ranking system and methodology as not complete. While we may not necessarily agree that “moving up” in the U.S. News and World Report rankings is desirable, I do think it is naïve to ignore our ranking. I believe we owe it to ourselves to improve our national standing if possible.

All of us can come up with some things we can do to improve our ranking – but at the end of the day we must ask ourselves one key question: “Does anything on our ranking list improve our educational experience for our students or the scholarly opportunities for our faculty?” Indeed, we could choose to completely ignore our national standing and just focus on items that we believe will improve our educational experience, and use the old adage “if we do a good job, people will notice.”

The problem in today’s world is that we really do need to let people know about our successes. K-State has many nationally competitive programs, faculty who are at the top of their profession, talented staff members supporting our educational enterprise, and students who could be successful at any university. However, if we don’t develop a comprehensive strategy for communicating our successes, our vision, and our aspirations to the outside world, we will continue to be excellent and we will go relatively unnoticed in the very competitive academic world.

So, what is the solution at K-State? We are going to need to develop a centralized communication strategy which will communicate our successes with various key constituency groups. A complete strategy will involve university marketing, a strategic Web presence, improved communications focused on our successes, a uniform brand that we use to promote ourselves to the outside world, and a common “look and feel” to anything which is associated with Kansas State University. This will also likely entail creation of a new university cabinet level position associated with communications and marketing.

What will something like this do to improve our ability to perform our core missions of teaching, research, and engagement? I am convinced that improved marketing and communications will help promote the excellent work that you all do within the academic community, and will ensure that when we have successes that we will maximize the impact of your work.

So – are we Kansas State University, K-State, or KSU? That is the question we will be addressing as we move into the future. As always, I welcome your suggestions and input.

Go Cats!