November 30, 2015
November letter from President Kirk Schulz: Overcoming challenges in higher education
Happy (late) Thanksgiving! I hope that each of you enjoyed a little time off from school and have come back ready to wrap up the 2015 fall semester.
The past several weeks have been very significant in higher education. In this letter to the university, I want to address two significant challenges facing K-State over the next year: continuing to build an inclusive environment at K-State and preparing for concealed carry of guns on our campuses.
While student protests on college campuses are not new, this is the first time in my career when these demonstrations have led to such significant changes in campus administration. The issues that have led to campus demonstrations across the country are complex and not solved quickly. During the past two weeks, I have had many conversations concerning race, diversity and inclusion with many faculty, staff, students, alumni, Regents and elected officials. Indeed, during the 2015 APLU Meeting in Indianapolis, this was the most discussed topic among the 100 or so presidents and chancellors in attendance.
My overall goal for our K-State campuses is that we have an inclusive environment where EVERYONE is welcomed and supported. While this is a simple sounding statement, it represents a continuing challenge for the K-State family because we desire to be a campus made up of a diverse population from diverse backgrounds and with diverse thoughts. While we have made substantial progress over the last decade on inclusiveness at K-State, there is still much work to be done. In my mind, there are two key aspects to ensuring an inclusive university: communication and action.
We recently completed a university climate survey that gave us a great deal of information on what we need to do to persist when building inclusive campuses. We continue to engage in dialogue with our student leadership concerning important administrative steps needed to build a more inclusive university. However, improving our inclusivity as a university community must take place across the university — no number of letters or edicts from university leadership will flip a switch and change everything overnight.
I liken building an inclusive community to a long distance foot race. We must work hard and persist — just because we may be in "front" now doesn't mean that we will always be in front. Instead, we must keep working and listening — and adopt an attitude as a community that inclusivity is a fundamental and sincere core value at K-State. I would urge all of us to continue to dialogue with colleagues, decide how we can improve, and then act.
As many of you are aware, after many years of distinguished service, Dr. Myra Gordon is retiring in December of this year. We are currently conducting a search for an interim associate provost for diversity, and we will start a permanent search for a chief diversity officer in early 2016. I have been approached by several individuals who have advocated for elevating this position to one of more prominence both within the university community and externally to recognize the importance of diversity and inclusion within the K-State family. I would certainly welcome comments — send to email@example.com — from the university community on this topic, and indeed, suggestions on ways we can continue to build an inclusive campus environment.
In addition to conversations about inclusion, I also have had several conversations regarding the concealed carry of firearms on campuses. In the Midwest, the topic of guns on campus is a hotly debated topic in Texas, Oklahoma, and certainly here in Kansas.
I would like to state up front that I am not in favor of allowing concealed carry on any of our K-State campuses. Additionally, I fully realize that not everyone in the campus community will agree with my perspective. However, the Kansas Legislature has passed legislation that would allow the concealed carry of firearms by faculty, staff and students in campus buildings starting July 1, 2017, and we must be prepared to abide by this law.
There are a great many questions on how the university will handle allowing concealed carry on campus. Vice President for Administration and Finance Cindy Bontrager has assembled a committee of faculty, staff and students to work through the myriad of issues surrounding the law while ensuring we maintain a safe environment for our campuses. This group will keep the university community updated on a periodic basis through K-State Today. If you have comments or suggestions, please send them directly to Cindy at firstname.lastname@example.org for the committee to consider.
Many members of the university will have their own perspectives on this particular law, and I would ask that all members of the campus communities keep their discussions on this topic professional regardless of viewpoint. Director of Governmental Relations Sue Peterson will post on her website the names and addresses of Kansas legislators that you can write to in order to give your opinions on concealed carry on campus.
While these are challenging topics facing the K-State family, I have great confidence that we will engage in civic dialogue, we will learn from each other, and we will continue to build an inclusive and safe campus that is accepting of all.
As always, I welcome your comments and suggestions. I appreciate all that each of you do to ensure that we have a great educational experience for each and everyone of our K-State students.