Letters to Campus
Dear K-State Faculty and Staff,
Greetings on a hot and humid Kansas summer day! We are quickly approaching the mid-point of the summer between the end of spring classes and the beginning of fall classes, and I hope that your summer has been both enjoyable and productive thus far.
This has certainly been an interesting time in Kansas State University history. This month, two seemingly unrelated events took place — one with much media scrutiny and the other done very quietly. The two are more closely tied together than one might think. The first event was the demise and rebirth of the Big 12 athletic conference — and specifically the presence of K-State in the league — and the second was the completion of the Research Infrastructure Task Force report. In this month's letter, I am going to attempt to show the linkage between these two key K-State events.
Several months ago I announced the formation of a research infrastructure task force to examine our research enterprise as comprehensively as possible. This group has finished their report, which is available on the web.
This report is thorough, to the point, and doesn't pull any punches. The faculty, staff and students who contributed to the report start each section with some observations, followed by specific recommendations. In essence, the report describes Kansas State as being at a research "fork in the road" as an institution — do we want to go down the pathway to becoming a more significant research institution with scholarship in all academic units or do we continue with a more modest research effort highly concentrated in a few areas on campus?
In the past several weeks, significant media attention has been paid to the various athletic conference realignment scenarios. The interesting sidebar conversation on athletic program realignment was the strength and national reputation of the academic programs at institutions such as Kansas State University and the University of Kansas. Often in media reports, academic standing was mentioned along with athletic competition issues as reasons for or against various conference affiliations. As an example, all members of the Big 10 conference are AAU institutions — which consists of the top 63 (Georgia Tech was offered membership this past year) national research universities. Indeed, AAU membership was often cited as a de facto requirement for consideration for membership in the Big 10 conference.
As you can imagine, I had the opportunity to be involved in much of the conference realignment as the Kansas State president. As one of the Fabulous Five universities (K-State, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa State, and Baylor) which were considered to be on the outside of many of the conference realignment scenarios, there were several media outlets that reported that K-State was a "third-tier" institution. During these past several weeks, I had several discussions with alumni asking if we could become a member of the AAU, and what did it mean that we are a "U.S. News & World Report third-tier" institution? Many of these folks have been very successful as graduates of Kansas State University, and were not pleased to see their alma mater discussed nationally as a lower tier university.
Generally speaking, universities are recognized and ranked almost exclusively on research and scholarly activity, which includes things like research expenditures, faculty awards, members of national academies, and other measures of research activity. Additionally, not only must we do these things well (a necessary first!), but also we have to brag about our accomplishments. At Kansas State, we have several internationally recognized top tier research programs — which may be recognized within a particular field — but are virtually unknown to anyone as far away as Topeka. With our new Division of Communications and Marketing we are taking the needed steps to ensure that our scholarly successes are publicized effectively — so that the excellence of our research is widely disseminated at the local, state, national and international level.
We have already taken the first steps to enhancing our national standing and recognition with the start of the K-State 2025 visionary planning process to become a Top 50 public research university in the next 15 years. This is a broad overall goal which cuts across all areas of the university. Over the next couple of months, faculty, staff, students and alumni focus groups will meet to look at how K-State compares with our peer institutions in key accepted metrics. A critical part of this will certainly be research and scholarly activity.
Fifteen years is a long time to think about — so what are we going to do in the next year to 18 months to improve the opportunities for research and scholarship for our faculty, staff and students at Kansas State? This is where the Research Infrastructure Task Force report comes in — sharing what we need to do NOW to start down the more research intensive research university "fork in the road."
With all of the media attention on the national academic standing of Kansas State University, we have a terrific opportunity over the next year with our constituent groups to make a strong argument for why we should be a Top 50 public research university. We can argue that we need additional resources to pay competitive salaries, to invest in cutting edge research programs, to build state-of-the-art classroom and laboratory facilities, and to support our undergraduate and graduate students with appropriate financial packages. While it may seem strange, the discussions on the future of the Big 12 have presented us with an unprecedented opportunity to engage the Legislature, the Regents, our alumni, and major donors in moving Kansas State toward higher national recognition and opportunity.
I am certainly ready to take the fork in the road — how about you?