So it was bound to happen eventually. What had been a smooth legislative session, with bills moving forward at a good clip and supportive higher education initiatives gathering appropriate momentum, changed abruptly. In their place were bills and provisos ranging from cutting funding to the KU Medical Center (SB110) to a number of measures directing (a nicer word for mandating) operations and priorities at our state colleges and universities. We knew some of these measures were being drafted, but others were not anticipated.
The week began with nearly 100 students from KU and other state universities hustling through the statehouse, meeting with state legislators about their higher education experience and concerns for funding. The students were well received and gave a lot of energy to the message of higher education’s vital role in the state’s future. They worked in a united manner, sending a strong message that funding for higher education is important regardless of school or political party affiliation.
By Tuesday, the message had been replaced with a harsh rebuke from members of the Senate Education Budget Committee. Committee Chair Tom Arpke, R-Salina, asked his subcommittee to delete critical funding for the KU Medical Center. Arpke also recommended a full legislative audit of KU, saying the university’s expenses were too high and that KU needs to do more to make sure students graduate in four years.
This led to a swift response from other legislators and the Governor, who restated his full support and commitment to the KU Medical Center budget and expansion program. The subcommittee actions are but the first step in a multi-step review of the state’s overall budget. Rest assured, the university and advocates in communities throughout the state are following the matter and will continue working overtime for a successful resolution and the restoration of the funding.
Governor Brownback has indicated that KU needs to compare itself against its national peers, and compared to our fellow research universities, KU’s tuition costs are in the lower third. We are also in the midst of a comprehensive effort to reduce administrative costs, and those savings are becoming more apparent.
Regents and dozens of our graduate students joined us under the dome on Thursday as we worked to showcase the value of research efforts at KU, KUMC, KSU and WSU. The students and their work were a terrific reminder that our students are making important discoveries and adding great value to our state.
Next week promises to be another big one, with both the Chancellor and KUMC Executive Vice Chancellor Doug Girod testifying in front of the House Education Budget Committee. Their day will also include a number of individual meetings with key legislators to advocate on behalf of the university.
Director of State Relations