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Editorial: Leadership key to universities’ success

Kansas State University

Higher education receives its share of criticism, in Kansas and across the county, with each report of an increase in tuition and student debt or when a student or faculty member does something to bring unflattering attention to his or her university.

Reports from the president of Washburn University and leaders of the state’s two largest universities, published recently in The Topeka Capital-Journal and at CJOnline.com, focus on a broader picture and all indications are those universities are making great strides in serving their students and the entire state. Those advancements are a credit to the leaders of Washburn University, Kansas State University and The University of Kansas.

■ Topeka’s own Washburn University, led for the past 17 years by president Jerry Farley, is embarking on a construction boom that will include a $15 million overhaul of Morgan Hall into a student center and gateway to the university, a $55 million crime laboratory for the Kansas Bureau of Investigation that also will provide room for science instruction and a $40 million building to house the university’s law school. Farley also has led the school’s successful venture into technical education and merging it with degree programs.

■ At Kansas State University, where president Kirk Schulz has been at the helm since 2009, the school’s fundraising, research and research funding have risen to new heights. KSU has landed 880 research grants in the past year and has been named the lead institution for a research center dedicated to wheat genetics. KSU also has been the top choice of the state’s high school seniors for the past four years.

■ Bernadette Gray-Little has been chancellor of The University of Kansas since 2009 and successfully steered the school’s quest for the coveted National Cancer Institute designation for The University of Kansas Medical Center, which was received in 2012. KU was second among Big 12 Conference Schools in research expenditures in 2012 and in the midst of a $1.2 billion fundraising campaign that already has secured $957 million. The school also had implemented a plan to enhance its retention rate of freshmen and its overall six-year graduation rate.

A lot of the accomplishments listed above concern fundraising and money, but it takes a lot of effort and money — from alumni, friends and other sources — to take a university into the elite category and keep it there. The competition for research funding is especially fierce and that KU and KSU have done so well bodes well for their future.

The leadership shown by Farley, Schulz and Gray-Little in many areas indicates Washburn University, Kansas State University and The University of Kansas are in very good hands.

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