TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Long-standing tensions between some Kansas lawmakers and the University of Kansas have been evident in recent negotiations over the higher education budget.
The Lawrence Journal-World (http://bit.ly/1iub9C1 ) reports that some university defenders say the disagreements stem from the perception of the Lawrence community and campus as liberal in an otherwise conservative state. Some legislators say the university has hurt itself by being slow to recognize the reality of the state’s budget problems.
The tensions have been evident as the university tries to convince legislators to increase funding for certain projects, including a new building at the medical center campus in Kansas City, Kan.
Mike O'Neal, a former House speaker and now president and CEO of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, is a KU alumnus and supporter of the university. However, he believes KU leaders have hurt their credibility by not recognizing a change in political climate in the Statehouse.
He said the perception is KU will do what it wants with spending regardless of what the Legislature authorizes, such as salary increases.
“Unlike K-12, the state in terms of its relationship with higher ed is not the sole source of funding anymore,” he said. “The mindset of the Legislature right now is, with limited resources, what is the state’s role in higher ed in terms of the funding it does provide? And, as to the percentage of funding it does provide to higher education overall, what is the return on investment?”
University spokesman Tim Caboni said the message isn’t lost on KU, but disagrees that relations are fractured.
“The votes may not always go in our favor,” he said, “but when you walk around the Statehouse with the chancellor, you can see she has remarkable relationships with legislative leaders.”
Caboni said the university was trying to work with legislators to target any investments of new funds, including a $2 million program for the pharmacy school which would help commercialize research.
Some see the source of the tensions as far back as the anti-war protests in 1970 that led to the burning of the Student Union. Others note that Lawrence and Douglas County lean Democratic, having supported President Barack Obama in the last two presidential elections.
The city also pushed for a living wage requirement for companies in 2003, prompting Rep. Mike Kiegerl, a conservative Republican from Olathe, to note: “Why should we not allow Lawrence to hurt its local economy? We all know that Marxism is alive and well only in academia.”
Lawrence House members defend the city, suggesting others want what the community has, said Rep. Tom Sloan, a Republican, which is “a vibrant education community, a good economic system, social opportunities.”
Information from: Lawrence (Kan.) Journal-World, http://www.ljworld.com