Letters to Campus
Dear K-State Faculty and Staff,
Greetings again this month from Anderson Hall! The fall semester is in full swing, weekends are full of university events, and in general there is a positive vibe on campus. The Schulz family has officially moved completely into the president's house, pictures are up on the walls, and it is starting to feel more like home.
This past week, I had the opportunity to give my first official "State of the University" address — which is available electronically for anyone who was unable to attend. If you would like to see a video of the entire presentation, it is available on the president's web site.
I continue to be impressed with the excellence of our faculty scholarship. This past month, I had the opportunity to tour an exhibit of faculty scholarship from our Art Department at the Beach Museum of Art entitled "Renewal — K-State Art Department Faculty Biennial." Each piece of art was done by one of our faculty members specifically for this exhibition. The art will be displayed for the remainder of the semester, and I encourage you to go by and check it out.
We have several key leadership searches currently on-going. The search for our Provost and Senior Vice President is nearing completion. Presently, the search committee has narrowed the field to four outstanding candidates, all of whom will be on campus in late October for public interviews. Announcements on the candidate names will be forthcoming immediately prior to their visits. We also have initiated searches for the Vice President for Communications and Marketing position, as well as a national search for a Chief Information Officer/Vice Provost for Information Technology Services. While I have asked the search committees to move forward aggressively, it is critical that we take the time to identify the best candidate for each position. As many of you know, there is nothing worse that hurrying a search and not finding the person who is the best fit for the job and Kansas State University. As the searches move forward, I will ask the search committee chairs to keep the campus community updated periodically.
Over the last couple of weeks, I have had the opportunity to visit with various groups about our land grant university status. Given that I have talked about this general topic a great deal this past week, I wanted to take an opportunity to share with you my views of what I think it means to be a modern land grant university. While this is clearly a complex topic, I believe there are four major components which define a land grant university for the 21st century: access, affordability, personalized student success, and meeting the needs of the State of Kansas. I would like to discuss each of these in turn.
First, I believe it is very important that we maintain reasonable access to a K-State educational experience for Kansas residents. Early land grant universities had a strong focus on the "A&M" programs — agriculture and mechanical arts — and have since matured to offer excellent educational experiences across all disciplines. As many of you are aware, the Kansas Board of Regents is currently considering modifying the admission standards for the regents universities. While at first this may seem like an easy decision (i.e., who wouldn't want higher admission standards), we need to be sure that we retain reasonable access for Kansas residents who are looking for a major research university educational experience. Generally, I am a strong proponent of an "easy to get in — hard to get out" philosophy for land grant institutions. Whatever our ultimate decision is on our admission standards at K-State, I believe we have an ultimate responsibility to be remain accessible for the population of Kansas — now and into the future.
Second, I believe we must remain affordable. Over the last 20 years, state resources (as measured by percent of budget directly from any state) have been steadily declining for higher education. In order to close our budgets, many institutions have made use of significant tuition increases in order to handle the rising costs of higher education. As such, we are in danger of pricing ourselves so high that the average Kansas family cannot afford to send their son or daughter to Kansas State. Thus, as we look towards the future, we simply need to ensure that as we consider tuition increases, additional fees, and other costs to Kansas families, we must keep a Kansas State educational experience affordable and reachable for our population.
Third, I believe we need to keep our current focus on individualized student success. As I visit with parents, prospective students, donors, and other friends of the university, I believe that we (K-State faculty and staff) do an outstanding job of working with our students on a personalized, individual basis to help them be successful. Whether a student is majoring in art or animal sciences, I think one of the characteristics of a land grant university is that we need to ensure that our students consider career opportunities as they move through their respective majors. Recently, there have been some discussions in the Chronicle of Higher Education where some schools claim that they focus on "educating students" and not on "career preparation." In my mind, a land grant university has an obligation to do both — so that regardless of what students choose to study — they know our faculty will help them to achieve their dreams as they graduate from K-State.
Fourth, I believe we have a strong obligation to ensure that we are meeting the needs of the State of Kansas. Historically, an extension service has been part of most land grant universities. Over the past several years, the concept of "extension" has been expanded to include "engagement" — which in my view is a broader term that speaks to K-State focusing in on supporting the economic needs of Kansas. Clearly, our engagement activities will certainly always include our traditional extension activities, but today also include things like assisting rural communities, supporting the agricultural industry in new ways, helping to grow our statewide emerging biotechnology industry, or providing multicultural library materials to school systems in western Kansas. I strongly feel it is a special part of our mission as a land grant university to be supporting Kansas in as many ways as possible and in as many disciplines as possible.
These four items in my mind constitute key characteristics of a modern land grant university. I am sure there are many opinions on this topic on campus, and I certainly welcome your thoughts on this important topic, so drop me an email note with your comments.