Letters to campus
Dear Faculty and Staff,
"It is a great day to be a Wildcat!" This is my opening statement when I am speaking about Kansas State University to virtually any audience — including alumni, faculty, staff, students, legislators, or any other group I have the opportunity to address. As we wrap up this academic year, I wanted to use the opportunity in this month's letter to provide updates and information about some of our recent initiatives and successes.
During our 25 years of marriage, I will sometimes get very quiet for a long period of time — often when we are driving somewhere as a family. Noel will often ask me what I am thinking — and my standard reply is "nothing." She will then say something like, "I can see that you are talking to yourself — what is up?" So, this month I would like to recount my most recent conversation with myself! Enjoy!
Question: When are you going to provide the campus community with specific plans to address faculty and staff salaries?
Answer: Excellent question! In our January 16 web posting on the "Structuring Faculty Salaries Towards K-State 2025 and Beyond" report, Provost Mason and I promised that we would provide our feedback and specific plans to address the issues brought up in the Faculty Compensation Task Force report by the end of the spring semester. We all recognize the need to improve compensation — indeed, specific outcomes for improved compensation are part of our K-State 2025 Visionary Plan. The senior administration is committed to implementing a compensation improvement plan, but first we need to see how our budget year will finish with the Kansas Legislature and how our proposed tuition and fees proposal will be received by the Kansas Board of Regents. I anticipate that the Kansas Legislature will finish their session by the end of May, and at that time we will provide the campus community with a specific plan covering a multi-year period. This is probably not what faculty and staff on campus would like, but it is the reality of the many variables involved in our budget setting.
Question: I see a lot of activity on the NBAF site — is this project finally going to move forward?
Answer: We have made exceptional progress on a series of NBAF related issues over the past six months — immediately following the November 2012 elections. First, the land that the NBAF facility will sit on was formally transferred from Kansas State University to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in December 2012. This was a critical first step, and represented the first significant forward progress in several years. Second, the contracts for the construction of a central utility plant were awarded in late February 2013. This approximately $80 million project is jointly funded by the DHS and the State of Kansas — and will take about two years to complete. The activity you currently see on the NBAF site is the construction teams who will be working on the central utility plant. Third, President Obama included $714 million+ in his budget proposal to Congress to fund construction of the actual NBAF laboratory facility, which must be matched with an additional $202 million from the State of Kansas. Assuming that this number is what is included once Congress passes a federal budget, the projected five-year NBAF laboratory construction could start as soon as spring 2014. I want to give kudos to Ron Trewyn and Sue Peterson, who have worked diligently with our congressional delegation to make NBAF a reality in Manhattan.
Question: The Kansas Department of Agriculture is moving to the K-State Research Park — why move it from Topeka to Manhattan?
Answer: This move will significantly enhance the opportunities for increased collaboration between the Kansas Department of Agriculture and Kansas State University faculty and staff in the College of Agriculture, K-State Research and Extension and the College of Veterinary Medicine. I am a big believer in facilitating ways in which people in different disciplines can informally meet and discuss challenging problems. By having the Department of Agriculture in close proximity to the Manhattan campus, we can better interact with our colleagues. I want to thank the KSU Foundation for their assistance in constructing a new office building to house the Kansas Department of Agriculture — this move would not have been possible without their help.
Question: I saw that Nanoscale is closing — what is happening to the Nanoscale building in the K-State Research Park?
Answer: The College of Human Ecology will be purchasing the Nanoscale building from the KSU Foundation, and will be gaining much needed research space. As these plans are further developed, I will be sure that the campus community is aware of not only the ways in which this building will be utilized, but also future plans for additional research space in the K-State Research Park.
Question: I saw that K-State formally presented the master plan to the Kansas Board of Regents for approval — what are the next steps?
Answer: The president's cabinet spent an afternoon discussing possible next steps in implementing the vision for the needed physical spaces on our campus as described in the master plan. While we identified some key steps, we need to get the different planning groups on campus discussing implementation steps including addressing the proposed campus creek beautification, a campus bus system, expanded parking options, bicycle trails, making our campus more pedestrian friendly, and possible road closures. None of these things will happen quickly, but as we initiate $200 million+ of academic construction on the southern side of campus we need to make sure we are making the most of our opportunities.
Question: K-State continues to have several people serving in interim positions. When are some of these national searches going to start?
Answer: We anticipate starting many searches in mid-summer and early fall. Jeff Morris, vice president for communications and marketing, has agreed to chair the search for a permanent vice president for administration and finance. We will announce a search committee sometime in May and anticipate conducting on-campus interviews in the early part of the fall semester. Over the next several months we will initiate several other searches to fill important senior-level positions currently held by interim appointments, and I will be sure to keep the campus community updated as these searches move forward.
Question: Well it sounds like everything is going great — what keeps you awake late at night?
Answer: Many things at K-State are going very well — our fundraising continues to set new records, we have record student enrollments, the K-State 2025 plans continue to receive external kudos from alumni, corporations, and elected officials. However, we have a set of significant challenges as well. How do we pay K-State faculty and staff the salaries they deserve? How do we create an even more inclusive and diverse campus community? How do we continue to grow as a university and achieve our mission of education, research, and service without significant additional state general fund monies? How do we ensure we are keeping the cost of a K-State education affordable for Kansas families? How do we keep campus morale as high as we can given the rapidly changing way public universities are funded and managed?
My answer to these tough questions is the same — we have a plan and we need to keep at it through both the ups and the downs. I am reminded of the question, "How do you eat an elephant?" Answer — "One bite at a time." Let's all keep eating one bite at a time and building an even better K-State.
I appreciate the effort that every member of the K-State family puts into ensuring we have a great educational experience for our undergraduate and graduate students. I hope you have a productive summer!
Eating one bite at a time —