A Comprehensive Magnet

May 2, 2011

Dear Faculty, Staff, and Students:

Key to a thriving society and economy is the ability to attract and retain creative people, and the most effective magnet that draws and keeps creative people in the region is the presence of a vibrant comprehensive university. As such, we have a special role to play at KU as a magnet for creativity and a driver of innovation. I am visiting KU’s many academic departments, programs, and designated centers, and in each visit I have marveled at the contributions that individual faculty and staff make to our teaching, research, and service missions. Our range of disciplinary and cross-cutting expertise enhances our creativity and increases our capacity to understand and thereby improve the world around us.

The vibrant nature of our intellectual community is evident throughout the university, but I would especially like to highlight the central role played in the arts, humanities, and social sciences. Their contributions are particularly visible this time of year through student recitals, performances by the University Dance Company, the Visual Arts scholarship show, the University Theatre’s production of the German opera Hänsel und Gretel, the Hall Center for the Humanities book awards, the Dole Institute of Politics study groups, and the Spring Arts and Culture Festival organized by the Spencer Museum of Art Student Advisory Board. These and other programs showcase excellence in research and creative expression that enrich our campus and state.

I would particularly like to highlight two recent programs that embrace the type of creative thinking we hope to expand and cultivate. The Hall Center for the Humanities recently hosted a campus visit by Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr., the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University. In his lecture “African American Lives: Genealogy, Genetics, and Black History,” Dr. Gates utilized various avenues of intellectual inquiry to elucidate African-American identity and history. This convergence of science and archival studies demonstrates the benefits of multidisciplinary research and community-engaged scholarship.

Project Redefine, currently in progress at the Spencer Museum of Art, seeks to foster creative connections by bringing together works of art in new contexts to explore themes across time and place. This project has been guided by input over past two years from the university and Lawrence communities through surveys and focus groups. By engaging multiple viewpoints, the Spencer Museum has fostered a sense of connection and collaboration that has energized this important initiative.

New beginnings and milestones

One benefit of welcoming new talent to KU is that we increase our capacity to generate new ideas. I am very pleased that Dr. Neeli Bendapudi has agreed to serve as the Henry D. Price Dean of the School of Business. Dr. Bendapudi’s experience at The Ohio State University and her familiarity as a KU alumna make her uniquely suited to lead the School of Business forward in national stature. She is set to hit the ground running on August 1; until then, Bill Fuerst will continue as dean.

I am particularly hopeful that we may see a major investment by the Kansas legislature in growing the number of engineering students that we graduate by more than 50 percent. The bill would allocate a portion of the growing state gaming revenues to expand engineering programs (852 KB PDF) at KU, K-State, and Wichita State. Kansas would benefit tremendously by attracting more companies and employment. At KU, the funding would be used to build urgently needed space for classrooms, projects, and offices. The larger student body would help fund investments in added faculty and infrastructure — truly a win-win scenario.

I will report soon with more details on our strategic planning, which will lay out some bold steps in KU’s trajectory toward excellence. The deans are diligently at work discussing the 104 proposals submitted February 28 in order to recommend a set of strategic initiatives to the steering committee.

In terms of the overall goals, we have benefited greatly from the 700-plus individuals who replied to surveys; their inputs are guiding the remaining pieces of our planning process. You can view the survey results and the comments designated as sharable on the online discussion board, where you can add to the discussion.

Additionally, for the next few months, we will be beginning extensive interviews and focus groups as part of the Changing for Excellence initiative, and I encourage your participation in this effort to find ways to make KU more effective.

On a final note, I would like to congratulate KU’s Department of African and African-American Studies on its 40th anniversary and the interdisciplinary symposium the department organized to mark this significant event. This symposium program exemplifies the active exchange of ideas and experiences that enriches our entire university community.

Strong Ties Signature: 

Rock Chalk!
  -- Jeff

--
Jeffrey S. Vitter

Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor
Roy A. Roberts Distinguished Professor

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