Letters to campus

December 2013

Dear Faculty and Staff,

Well, the end of the semester is upon us. It seemed like a few short weeks ago we were welcoming the Class of 2017 to campus and enjoying beautiful Kansas fall weather. We have managed to avoid any weather-related closings so far this year — but I have no doubt that we will experience our typical Kansas snowfall soon — just in time for a white Christmas!

Normally I send my letter to campus during the last week of the month. Since that was Thanksgiving week, I decided to send the November letter in early December, and will have a second letter to send at the conclusion of the semester in later December.

Each fall, April and I visit with every college and major unit to discuss progress on K-State 2025, introduce upcoming initiatives for the current academic year, and to engage in conversations across the university community on questions and concerns you have. This past year, we were pleased to also have Cindy Bontrager join us on these visits in her role as interim vice president of administration and finance. Although I did not formally count, I believe we have had the opportunity to interact with well over 1,000 members of the campus community in a total of 18 different sessions. I appreciate all the members of the campus community who were able to participate in these 2025 update presentations. For this month's letter, I want to share some of the common comments and topics that came up during the question and answer sessions, and to provide everyone with a copy of the slides we presented (PDF).

Interestingly, we hear different campus concerns at each presentation. In my first couple of years I fully expected that we would hear similar comments from faculty and staff during the Q&A sessions regardless of college or unit affiliation.

In looking back at the Q&A sessions, I identified five key areas: parking, space, faculty and staff concerns, legislative issues and enrollment management. Many other issues were raised, but these five stood out as common concerns across the campus community. Let me address these briefly:

Parking — We heard many more comments this year concerning the challenges and difficulties of parking on campus. While this is a recurring issue, some of the recent concerns clearly stem from our enrollment growth without a concurrent increase in parking spaces. This issue is addressed in the K-State Campus Master Plan (PDF) that proposes to push parking to the edges of campus coupled with a bus system. We will continue to look for creative ways to address this issue.

Space and Facilities — We heard that everyone on campus needs more space and better quality space. There were also a lot of questions on how vacated space (Calvin Hall, Nichols, parts of Anderson, etc.) will be allocated as new buildings are built. There are NO formalized plans in place on what is going to be done with vacated space — which is still two years away from becoming available! Over the spring 2014 semester, Ryan Swanson, associate vice president, will develop a campus-wide process to solicit proposals and ideas on how vacated space will be allocated as new space is constructed on the Manhattan campus.

Faculty and Staff — We heard repeatedly that we do not have enough faculty and staff to cover the needs of our current student body. While having a better-compensated faculty and staff is still voiced as a top priority, we need to be adding key personnel in areas of high student growth. We also need to strategically add positions across campus in areas that support teaching and research. This issue will be addressed as the new University Budget Advisory Committee helps us construct our budget. In addition, our inability to provide merit raises to classified staff while we had a compensation improvement plan for faculty and unclassified staff was a topic of concern. With the recent vote by classified staff to become university support staff, we will be addressing that issue in the coming year.

Funding and Legislature — We heard many comments about how we could improve our communications with elected officials on the value of higher education to Kansas. Additional comments suggested that we redo our communications strategy on why supporting K-State is needed for our future. Additionally, several people suggested we more effectively utilize K-State Research and Extension personnel in legislative advocacy. We are working with K-State Communications and Marketing and Sue Peterson in Governmental Relations to implement different communication strategies for the 2014 legislative session.

Enrollment Management — Many people communicated an understanding that enrollment growth provides additional revenue for the university but also expressed concerns about not having enough faculty and staff to meet current instructional needs. In addition, many people expressed concerns about compromising the quality of a K-State educational experience if we grow too much more without a significant increase in space and instructional faculty and staff. To start addressing these concerns, we are hosting a workshop on campus in December for deans, senior administration and the Faculty Senate leadership group to frame key questions and concerns as we develop an enrollment management plan.

We are actively working on all of these topics, and will certainly continue to engage and involve you as we seek ways in which to address issues important to the K-State family.

The most important and lasting impression after 18 campus sessions is one of optimism coupled with legitimate concerns! I continue to be impressed and amazed at the positive attitude, dedication, commitment to excellence, and the family atmosphere demonstrated each day by K-State faculty and staff.

As you can see from the slides, 2012-2013 was another record-setting year for K-State. In the next few weeks, we will be releasing our second annual K-State 2025 progress report. K-State’s success is due to the efforts of our entire K-State community, but particularly to you, the faculty and staff. It is because of you that we are providing more students than ever with a first-class educational experience and increasing our research, scholarship and engagement to meet the challenges of today’s world. Working together, we continue to move forward even during challenging times. Thank-you for all that you do.

Go Cats!

Kirk