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Making the Most of the Year

April 24, 2017

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes, 15 seconds

Dear students, faculty, and staff:

It’s crunch time. Projects and reports are coming due, and students will be evaluated on their progress and mastery of the subject. It’s the moment of truth: Did we meet expectations? Have we excelled?

Just like students at the University of Kansas, I too, need to demonstrate my progress in this role and hold myself accountable to the responsibilities and issues that came to the Office of the Provost. When I applied for this position, I heard from many of you about specific concerns and hopes you had for KU. I also pledged at the start of the school year that I would give special attention to four areas:

  • Retention and graduation rates
  • Faculty and staff development
  • Diversity and inclusion
  • KU’s academic story.

My Freshman Year

Over the past 10 months my team and I have worked with partners across campus to live up to the expectations you have as well as the assurances I offered. It’s been a whirlwind, and I’ve learned a few truths along the way. But I feel that, together, we as a team have accomplished a great deal.

We have worked with university governance to increase transparency in our processes and actions. We’ve opened more avenues of communication with and among deans and vice provosts — sharing goals and challenges through a collaborative and beneficial lens. We expanded the Senior Administrative Fellows to ensure more faculty can successfully grow into leadership roles at KU. The Aspiring Leaders Program has been introduced to provide an opportunity for exceptional staff members who are interested in stepping into a leadership role through a premier growth experience. The percent of first-year students who progressed to sophomore status has been increasing and now is at the highest level of the past 13 years. This success is due to our institution-wide focus on advising, activities, and programs that inspire students. And there’s more ahead. This spring we began accepting applications for a new summer bridge program that will help even more first-year students — specifically first-generation and low-income students — connect on campus and persist at KU.

There have been many projects and achievements, and a few items from the past year rise to the top for me.

When I first came into this role, faculty and staff asked me to look into efforts in the Shared Service Centers. I invited research center directors and SSC leaders to sit down at the table together as a team to look at processes and ensure efficiency from all points of view. KU’s research funding provides nearly 22 percent of our operating budget. We can all agree that how we utilize and manage those funds shouldn’t be a distraction from our teaching and research mission. Streamlining these processes in a united setting has helped ensure that when faculty aren’t focused on teaching KU’s talented students, they can concentrate on finding the next cure for cancer, devising effective educational strategies, or engineering the newest design solution.

In August, I said KU must be a place where we feel included and supported as we live, learn, and work, and I still believe that to be true. During the past few years we’ve seen the nation grapple with issues of race, gender, nationality, discrimination, and inclusion. And we’ve seen members of our own campus grapple with these issues, too. The independent Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Advisory Group is a truly invaluable resource, providing both honest assessment and ideas that support our DEI priorities. You can see their latest report here. This fall we completed the KU Climate Study survey and our office was able to accelerate release of the survey results to the campus community and acknowledge priorities for the future. In addition, working with several campus partners, we’ve created a handful of videos that offer safety tips and resources while also addressing the absolute value of inclusion and community at KU.

We’ve also worked to share KU’s academic story and turn each of us into community champions who can spread word of KU’s strengths, resolve, intellect, and innovation. Last month we learned more about the great talent embodied by our distinguished professors across campus. And earlier this year the spotlight was on work taking place in KU Libraries that promotes adoption of Open Educational Resources that can reduce college costs for students. KU Libraries and the Center for Online and Distance Learning have put together a text book affordability working group and I’ve charged the group with exploring how KU can more fully encourage and expand our use of OERs.

By no means would I suggest that our work at the university is done — that we’ve reached the finish line. There is more work ahead, I recognize the challenges, and I’m looking forward to see what we can accomplish together. At the start of the school year, I asked you to share your ideas, observations, and concerns. You’ve been the most amazing partners. We’ve received — and responded to — hundreds of messages. As I near the end of this year, my freshman year in this role, I am curious to know your views. I truly value your opinion. Please tell me, What went well? What could be better?



News and Notes

Soon-to-be graduates, congratulations! Please remind family and friends to check the Commencement website for all their event-related questions. The KU Calendar also provides helpful information about the various celebration times and locations. Faculty members are invited to participate in All University Commencement by processing in their regalia or military uniform and forming a gauntlet for graduates to pass through in Memorial Stadium. Parking for faculty is available on the west side of the stadium. Faculty may also request reserved parking tags for Lilac Lane through commencement@ku.edu.

Candidates for both the dean of the School of Social Welfare and the dean of the School of Business are taking part in campus visits this week. Interested individuals are invited to attend the public presentations. Names of each candidate will be announced in the KU Today email and online roughly 48 hours before their visit, or in the case of Monday visits, the Friday before. 

Results from KU Climate Study for the Lawrence and Edwards Campus are in and available for review. Pdfs of the full 600-page report, an executive summary, and the consultant’s PowerPoint presentation can all be downloaded. A hard copy is available for in-person review at the Office of Diversity & Equity, the Provost Office, 250 Strong Hall.

Congratulations to Assistant Professor of Photo Media Dan Coburn who was named one of the 2017 Fellows by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. The fellowship recognizes individuals who have demonstrated productive scholarship or creative ability in the arts.

The Center for Undergraduate Research is accepting student job descriptions from faculty and research staff interested in mentoring a first-year student as an Emerging Scholar. The program uses federal work-study funds to enable these students to work as undergraduate research assistants alongside faculty and staff. The job descriptions are due Monday, May 1.

KU postdoc researchers will showcase their work at the fifth-annual University of Kansas Postdoctoral Association Research Symposium from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday, April 27, in the Kansas and Malott rooms of the Kansas Union. The event features lectures, poster presentation, networking, and a keynote talk by Susan Marriott, professor of virology and microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine. All are welcome.

Thank you to Professor of Environmental Studies and Kansas Biological Survey Senior Scientist Kelly Kindscher and the KU students working to restore the Prairie Acre just south of Blake and Twente halls. The project, now in its second year, is a valuable educational resource and a showcase for the plants native to this region.

A panel discussion “Free Speech on a University Campus” will begin at 7 p.m., Tuesday, April 25, at Spooner Hall. The panel features Stefan Bradley, associate professor of history at St. Louis University; Connie Burk, executive director of the NW Network; Susan Kruth, senior program officer with FIRE; and Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center.

Nominations for several Chancellor’s Teaching Awards are due May 1. Learn about the nomination process for the Chancellors Club Career Teaching Award, the Chancellors Club Teaching Professorship, the Ned Fleming Award and the Byron Shutz Award.

Students, good luck with year-end projects and finals. The Health Education Resource Office at Watkins Health Services has partnered with Loving Paws Animal Assisted Therapy Program to offer stress-busting study breaks in Anschutz and Watson Libraries during finals week. All are invited to help support expansion of the program through a LaunchKU fundraising opportunity. Have a great summer!

Provost's Message Signature: 

Rock Chalk,

Neeli Bendapudi

Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor

Follow me on Twitter at @KUProvostNeeli and the Provost Office at @KUProvost. Join the office on Facebook at /KUprovostoffice/. Find the office on Instagram at /KUprovost/21.

This issue of Strong Ties as well as past ones can be found on the Provost eNews web page.

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