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Letters to Campus

February 2011

Dear Faculty and Staff,

Greetings once again from Anderson Hall! This month marks my two-year anniversary of being named president of Kansas State, and it has been a VERY quick two years. I appreciate all of the support the Kansas State community has shown, and look forward to an exciting future.

I want to send special thanks to our staff members who have worked hard this winter to keep campus open during inclement weather. Most mornings, I am rolling over at 4 a.m. -- at the same time many of our staff members are showing up to clear sidewalks and parking lots so that our faculty, staff, and students can move about safely on campus. Your hard work is very much appreciated!

It is hard to find anyone who doesn't think change is a good thing. However, change is often best if applied to the person down the hall! While I am not a proponent of change for the sake of simply doing things differently, I do think it is important to continue to look for ways to garner needed resources to accomplish our K-State 2025 Top 50 goal.

Indeed, a wise person once defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different result. As Kansas State University moves toward the future, we need to continue to look at how we are doing things to position ourselves for a future that will rely less on state support and more on private philanthropy. Private support comes in many different ways including funds raised from alumni, friends, foundations, and corporations. On campus over the next several months, we will be discussing the ways in which we can optimize private philanthropy in all of these areas. This month, I want to focus on some possible ways to enhance our university corporate relationships.

Land grant universities have a history of excellent relationships with industry. As an example, our academic departments and colleges often use advisory boards to assist with curricular issues, fundraising, and to ensure that K-State graduates are receiving current state-of-the-art knowledge. Additionally, some academic departments and colleges have a significant number of corporate relationships that span research, hiring, and philanthropy. However, we also have academic units with very few corporate relationships. While I certainly believe we have some good corporate relationships, our goal is to build excellent corporate partnerships throughout our institution.

Corporations want access to talent -- faculty, staff, and students; unique capabilities such as research expertise, equipment, and facilities like those available at K-State. They value educational opportunities for their workforce and new technologies that will make them more competitive in the marketplace. Companies are willing to invest in opportunities at K-State while providing research opportunities for our students; post-graduation career opportunities, and strategic philanthropy.

If we are to achieve our goal of becoming a Top 50 public research university in the next 15 years, we will need to facilitate increased numbers and depth of relationships between corporations and Kansas State University. While I would like to wave a magic wand and immediately have more corporate partners working with Kansas State, this is unlikely unless we change some of the ways we communicate and reach out to industry.

Universities are complex places that can be confusing to the people who work in them -- imagine how they look to people outside of academia! If Company A hears from Company B that Kansas State is putting out exceptional graduates, whom do I contact to get more information? What if I might want some research done - whom do I call or email? What if my company just decided to establish an endowment at another university, and I want to visit with someone at Kansas State about how something like this might work? If you go and search our web pages, it is incredibly difficult to figure out the correct contact and what we offer.

What I have just described is not a new problem in academia, and is one that has plagued universities for many years. Thus, given these set of issues, what are other universities doing to facilitate improved relationships between academia and corporations?

To answer this question, I asked a group of K-State leaders from the offices of the vice president for research, research and sponsored programs, and the KSU Foundation to look at best practices within the academic community focused on enhancement of industry-university relationships.

They developed a white paper describing what we need to do at Kansas State University to bring our corporate partnership program in line with the best in the country. After some careful research, the programs at six universities were selected for further examination. These schools included the University of California at Davis, the University of Illinois, the University of Michigan, Northwestern University, the University of Texas, and the University of Wisconsin. While I certainly understand that the institutional profile of these schools is different from Kansas State, if we are going to change why not look at some of the best in the country?

Examination of the corporate engagement activities at these top-tier research universities suggests several key attributes of a successful university-wide corporate engagement strategy. First, a single point of contact is critical so that corporations know who to contact for information about university capabilities. Second, it is critical to have a designated committee or group tasked with pulling together the resources of the different campus groups who often deal with corporations. Third, a marketing and outreach plan must be developed that emphasizes the value of corporate-university relationships. Finally, it is important to build different teams of individuals to work with particular corporations -- one size does not fit all.

Thus far I have described a problem without a proposed solution. So, how would all of this apply to K-State? The first step forward could be to create a formal Corporate Engagement Center at Kansas State University that would be our one stop shop for corporate engagement activities. This will serve as a gateway to K-State for corporations. The center would bring together the expertise and opportunities that exist on our campus and match them with an aggressive program of corporate outreach with the goal of developing both new and enhanced relationships.

So, what do you think about a Corporate Engagement Center at Kansas State? You can submit comments about the Corporate Engagement Center white paper.

I welcome campus dialog on this topic. Additionally, my website contains a bulleted list of the recommendations included in the white paper.

As we move forward through the spring semester, my goal is to have as many people look at the proposal for the Corporate Engagement Center as possible. With this in mind, I have sent a copy of the white paper to several corporations that currently have significant relationships with K-State to get their feedback on the concepts laid out in the white paper. Additionally, I am engaging in dialog with various governance groups on campus, our academic deans and department heads, and key Kansas economic development groups.

I look forward to hearing your feedback and comments as we count down to spring break.

Go Cats!

Kirk