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Letters to Campus

February 2010

Dear Faculty and Staff,

Greetings from Anderson Hall! I hope your semester is off to a great start — as the halfway point of the semester is just around the corner in mid-March. As I travel the country for different meetings, there are two topics which always come up — NBAF and our No. 6 ranked men's basketball team. Right now, these are both two very significant points of pride for many of our alumni and supporters, and it is great to see the national media attention we receive because of these successes.

I am pleased to announce that the Department of Homeland Security has elected to fund a new center at Kansas State University. The Center of Excellence for Emerging and Zoonotic Animal Diseases — CEEZAD — will build on our growing expertise in animal health. This new center will develop and validate vaccines, create innovative devices to detect and diagnose threatening diseases, and help implement systems to curtail human and animal disease threats. Dr. Juergen Richt, Kansas Regents Professor and KBA Eminent Scholar, will serve as director of the new center. Please join me in congratulating Dr. Richt and his proposal team on bringing this center to Kansas State University.

We also have several administrative searches currently underway. The vice president for administration and finance committee, chaired by Dean Tim DeNoble, is meeting and soliciting applications. The chief information officer/vice provost search committee, chaired by Dean Lori Goetch, is starting to evaluate candidates and narrow the pool. The director of community relations/assistant to the president search is collecting applications, and is chaired by myself. There was some question on campus as to whether this constituted a new position (the easy answer is "no") or was in fact the same position as currently held by Dr. Chuck Reagan (and it is!). I changed the position title and responsibilities somewhat, and I apologize for any confusion on campus with this position description and search. Finally, we have not had a permanent director of the Biosecurity Research Institute — BRI — for a couple of years, and with developments associated with NBAF moving forward, we need to go ahead and do a national search for a permanent BRI director. We will announce a search committee for this position soon, and will make an announcement to campus as this search moves forward. If you have any questions about these or any other searches, please let me know.

Over the past several months, I have talked about assembling a visionary strategic plan for Kansas State University, which I have termed K-State 2025. After talking about this for countless times over the past eight months, it is time to get started! We are beginning a year-long visionary planning process which will result in a clear set of goals and objectives which describe our institutional aspirations 15 years from now. Any successful plan should have a significant involvement from the campus community:

  • does everyone have a chance to be involved?
  • be quantifiable: how will we know when we achieve a particular goal or objective?
  • be reasonably concise: who is going to read a 50 page plan?
  • provide a clearly articulated vision of where we want to go in the future: can anyone understand where we are going?

With these attributes in mind, I have visited with the cabinet and the deans and described the process I intend to use to develop a visionary plan for Kansas State University. Philosophically, it is very important for the president of a major university to be intimately involved in the construction, revision and critique of a visionary plan. As such, this is not an exercise that I want to simply hand off to a group of talented and busy people and ask them to use what little available time they have for the unenviable task of serving on a "strategic planning" committee. So, the process I have outlined on the K-State 2025 Web page is to use a series of focus groups and electronic media to involve as many members of the campus community as possible in helping us move forward into the future.

For details on the process, please go to the K-State 2025 Web page. As we move through the remainder of 2010, I will provide periodic updates on the process, how you can be involved and what information is available on the Web to the campus community. As with all of our initiatives, I intend this to be an open and transparent process.

The first step in developing the K-State 2025 visionary plan is to select an overall goal for the university. In my view, any such goal must take into account our current ranking, where we would like to be in the future, and should be something that has everyone squirming in their seats a bit because it may be unclear whether or not we can ever reach this goal. With these attributes in mind, and after significant discussion with the president's cabinet, we have adopted the following statement as our overall goal for K-State 2025:

KANSAS STATE UNIVERSITY WILL BE RECOGNIZED NATIONALLY AS A TOP 50 PUBLIC RESEARCH UNIVERSITY

This statement is short, easy to remember, and is clear in where we want to go. However, this goal brings to mind a couple of quick questions:

Q: You mentioned above that any goals or objectives needed to be measurable. How do you intend to determine if we have met this goal?

A: We (the cabinet) have selected eight metrics to be used to determine both our current ranking and to measure our progress against the Top 50 goal. These metrics include: total research and development expenditures, total endowment, number of national academy members, number of faculty awards (as defined by Center for Measuring University Performance at Arizona State University), number of doctorates granted annually, freshman-to-sophomore retention rate, six-year graduation rate, and percent of undergraduate students involved in research. These metrics were chosen following the examination of the data compiled by the Center for Measuring University Performance at Arizona State University.

Q: There are 50 states in the USA, all with public universities. It doesn't seem too much of a stretch to be recognized in the top 50 public universities. Where does K-State currently rank?

A: In most of the categories list above, Kansas State ranks between 80 and 90 in comparison to other public research universities. As such, we will need to move "up" 35 spots or so against a very competitive set of schools — all of whom are also trying to grow programs and increase their national rank and stature at the same time.

Q: Why should I care if we rank among the Top 50 universities?

A: The higher education world continues to get more competitive, and our prospective students, staff and faculty are keenly aware of how universities are perceived. The ranking and prestige of Kansas State University is of critical importance to our graduates as they seek jobs, our students as they apply to top tier graduate programs, our doctoral students as they look for career opportunities in the research world, and our faculty members as you compete with better funded and ranked universities on a daily basis. Finally, people want to invest in a winner — and the different constituent groups who support Kansas State want to invest in a university they perceive as moving upward to new heights of achievement.

Q: Why a visionary plan and why now? With our budget challenges that you have talked about frequently, this seems like an inopportune time to think big.

A: A visionary plan for K-State is absolutely critical for us. As I mentioned in the budget forum this week, if we had $1 million, where would we spend it? How about $5 million or $10 million or more? It is important to think through what is important to us as a university community — what things do we want to emphasize as a university over the next decade and a half? I would strongly argue that now is the best time to do a plan, so that as new resources become available, we have thought carefully through what we want to do as we seek to build our national reputation.

As always, I would be happy to hear your feedback (kirks@k-state.edu). Over the next several months, there will be many opportunities for you to participate in K-State 2025, and I hope you will be an enthusiastic participant as we look towards what I believe is a bright and glorious future.

Go Cats!

Kirk