February 17, 2021
Jan. 29 virtual town hall follow-up
Dear faculty and staff,
On Jan. 29, we hosted the first virtual town hall of the spring semester. If you missed the live event, a recording of the session is available. We started offering town halls regularly last fall in place of the annual K-State 2025 college and unit visits. The response from the university community was favorable and we found these sessions an important way to remain connected and discuss important issues.
In response to feedback from previous sessions, we revised the format to shorten the presentations and allow more time for questions. The presentations included an update on the university's response to COVID-19 with particular emphasis on the plan to distribute vaccines and the university's commitment to tenure and shared governance. The questions submitted during the session create a robust dialog on a multitude of issues. We had a few questions we did not have time to answer. This letter includes responses to questions with contributions from members of the town hall panel and others, including Medical Director of Lafene Health Center Kyle Goerl and Vice President for Student Life and Dean of Students Thomas Lane.
Vaccine and vaccine requirements
Q. Housing and Dining requires other vaccines in order to live in the residence halls. Will the COVID vaccine be required for fall 2021?
Will we require vaccines in fall, when it is available? K-State currently requires some, such as the MMR?
A. The university is not mandating COVID-19 vaccination of students or employees at this time. Rather, the university strongly encourages vaccination and will be promoting the public health benefits of vaccination as well as providing a free and convenient vaccine distribution process for students and employees as the vaccine becomes available. The university will continue to monitor relevant laws and guidance from federal and state authorities regarding vaccination and adjust plans accordingly.
Q. Is it true that it isn't known how well the vaccine will prevent spread, potentially to vulnerable people who can't get vaccinated?
A. We have seen some evidence now that at least one of the vaccines is claiming to prevent transmission. In theory, it should work for the majority of the vaccines, if not all. In addition to trying to prevent contracting a virus, vaccines generally also prevent transmission, at least to some degree. There is no expectation for it to be any different for vaccines targeting COVID.
Decision-making and the budget model
Q. The new budget model had the potential to work well if our revenues were stable or increasing; however, our resources are declining precipitously. This confluence of circumstances has maximized internal competition for resources. How are you going to overcome the corrosive impact of the hyper-competitiveness that currently defines K-State culture?
A. While we understand that disagreements have occurred between colleges, primarily during the program approval process within Faculty Senate, and we know that some people and programs feel that the budget model creates “hyper-competitiveness,” this assessment is misleading. In fact, we are seeing excellent examples of innovative collaboration across colleges with several new interdisciplinary programs that are successfully navigating the approval process without difficulty and are receiving support through the strategic investment fund. The faculty who developed these programs recognize that the model rewards interdisciplinary and cross-college collaborations.
Certainly, there will be continuous improvement to our budget model over time, but unlike the previous incremental model, our current model provides incentives and support for innovation and growth and the opportunity to invest strategically. The model is also designed such that it is not zero-sum; enrollment growth in one college does increase revenue to other colleges. We do agree that improvements in policies and procedures around program approvals would be helpful, especially if they reduce the timeline and increase agility, and we believe that Faculty Senate has and is exploring such improvements.
Q. How is K-State making sure the big decisions we make to cut expenses and increase revenue are based on facts that recognize the systemic impacts of the decisions? Please do not answer that you are going to use the new budget model.
A. The hybrid RCM budget model is not and was never intended to be a tool to make decisions for cutting expenses, increasing revenues, or identifying cost efficiencies. It is a formula put in place to allocate our General Use budget as an alternative to the historical incremental budget with the allocation of across-the-board cuts. It provides transparency in the allocations, incentivizes efforts for universitywide revenue growth, cost control and reduced expenses, and recognizes that units are responsible for their academic, administrative and financial performance. The deans and vice presidents have the authority and accountability to make decisions at the appropriate level. The budget model is in its first full year of implementation, and as announced at the onset, it will be reviewed in two more years.
Looking ahead, we have many difficult strategic decisions to make — as a university and within the colleges and administrative units. We recognize the need for data to help guide our decision-making and comprehend the systemic impacts of those decisions. In that regard, two initiatives will be critical: one focused on universitywide administrative efficiencies and effectiveness, and one on academic programs.
At the recommendation of the Budget Planning Team last year, the university partnered with ABC Insights to benchmark our universitywide administrative functions and identify opportunities for administrative efficiencies and savings. We will share the results of the benchmarking work later this spring and announce our next steps to strategically make use of that data and identify priorities for change.
In the next few weeks, we will also embark on an initiative to design and implement a process to support universitywide academic program review and revitalization. An annual data-informed academic program review can provide an objective and transparent path to reveal programs for revitalization, investment and growth. A transparent, comprehensive review of our academic programs, using a common framework and set of metrics, can serve as a critical decision support tool to help drive innovative curriculum, and support continuous program improvement and innovation. It can also drive investment decisions and promote financial viability by assuring we meet contemporary demands and opportunities. None of this work will be easy, but it is essential. Internal competition and collaboration can breed excellence and innovation, especially during challenging times when prioritization is necessary because of limited resources. It’s much needed to ensure the long-term viability of the university.
Future of higher education at K-State
Q. Are we adopting any modifications to the landscape of how we do higher education at K-State as a result of remote learning and working?
A. Before the COVID pandemic, K-State had already identified academic innovation as an important strategic initiative. This work included opportunities in online and hybrid education, advances in pedagogy more generally, and shifting opportunities to serve nontraditional learners. Our experience with remote teaching and learning will certainly influence and may hasten these opportunities. We have also learned flexible ways of working that may influence our university after the pandemic.
Engagement with the Kansas Board of Regents about Degree Stats
Q. How are we engaging with the state Board of Regents to make sure Degree Stats is accurately portraying data about our academic programs?
A. We share your concern regarding the limitations of the Degree Stats data in portraying our academic programs. We also are concerned that HB 2085 will bring heightened attention to this data and could negatively impact recruitment. We continue to advocate improving the Degree Stats data with KBOR. Bin Ning, our associate provost for institutional research, will bring it up at the spring session of the Council of IR Officers. We are also raising it directly with KBOR leadership in the context of HB 2085 currently being considered by the state Legislature.
Our role in maintaining democracy
Q. How is K-State using the good fortune of our leadership’s expertise in government, the military, politics and psychology to increase our engagement in support of democracy?
A. We care deeply about democracy and recognize that higher education and K-State, as a land-grant institution, have an important role to play in ensuring a healthy democracy and supporting the democratic values of our country. We can assure you there has not been a decline in the democratic values at K-State.
We lead by example. Our long-standing shared governance model at K-State embodies the values of democracy by allowing for the voices of faculty, staff and students to be heard in the university decision-making process, in jointly developing university policy, and in collaboration on planning initiatives.
Over the years, we have worked collaboratively to institute numerous programs that support, educate and create awareness for fairness, democracy and inclusion while celebrating and respecting our diversity in opinion and cultural backgrounds. Difficult Dialogues, KSUnite and the recently launched Community Action Talks are examples of those initiatives. Our Institute for Civic Discourse and Democracy was created in 2004 as an interdisciplinary, nonpartisan organization in response to polarization and increasingly complex public issues that have challenged democratic decision-making for years and will continue to do so for years to come.
It is true that this pandemic, a presidential election year, and the enrollment and budgetary challenges in higher education have created frustration, disappointment and feelings of powerlessness among some faculty, staff, administrators and students. What has struck us, however, during this very challenging year has been the overall resilience, collaborative spirit and commitment to persevere through very difficult decisions, and with great care to continue to recruit and educate students, conduct ground-breaking research and innovation, and serve our local and global communities. K-State is a very special place that is being challenged in many ways right now as are other universities and our entire country. We believe our university community is committed to meet those challenges by working together.
The virtual Spring Open Forum for faculty and staff is scheduled from 2-3 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 25. We hope you will join us.
Richard B. Myers, President
Chuck Taber, Provost and Executive Vice President