Chancellor’s Message: Reflections on our Academic Year
Dear faculty and staff,
Yesterday we celebrated Commencement for both the Class of 2020 and the Class of 2021. It was an unprecedented ceremony – due to a global pandemic last year and inclement weather last week – and it was wonderful and cathartic to finally gather for such a joyful celebration after a year of adversity.
With yesterday’s ceremony capping off our semester, it’s worth looking back on an academic year that’s been like no other in history and celebrating your contributions to our success.
Health and safety
This year, we faced difficult decisions about how to move more of our campus online, deliver flexible learning options and protect ourselves during a global pandemic, all while continuing our mission of education, service and research. In the process, all of us had to be more innovative and resourceful in the office or in the classroom. This often was paired with additional challenges and responsibilities at home, and, for many of us, illness and personal loss.
We learned a lot — and we’re still learning — but I’m proud of our resiliency as a university. Thanks to your work, we concluded this academic year with no known cases of COVID-19 transmission in our classrooms and research facilities and no outbreaks stemming from university events. Additionally, because of our commitment to the broader community, Douglas County is among the state leaders in vaccinating its residents and has consistently been safer than most other parts of the country.
It was never a given that we would be where we are today, and we shouldn’t take that for granted. We’ve made it this far thanks to you. You should take pride in all you’ve done to help us get to this point, and to help us prepare for a return to relative normalcy in the coming months.
This year, our researchers continued to excel in the face of a challenging semester. Scholars in Lawrence and at KU Medical Center addressed the COVID-19 pandemic head-on with specific projects and clinical trials. We also had some terrific recognition of our work outside of the pandemic. Kristin Bowman-James, University Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and director of Kansas NSF EPSCoR, was named to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. And Beth Bailey, Foundation Distinguished Professor of History, was named one of 26 researchers in the 2021 class of Andrew Carnegie Fellows.
Three of our students — Anton Barybin, Emma Cosner, and Jonah Stiel — earned Goldwater Scholarships this year. We now have an impressive 71 Jayhawks who have earned these top undergraduate awards for encouraging excellence in STEM fields.
And we saw our top-flight KU Debate team continue to experience success. Azja Butler and Ross Fitzpatrick made it to the Final Four of the National Debate Tournament, becoming our 18th team to do so, and the fourth in five years.
Recruitment, engagement and campus culture
This spring we celebrated the groundbreaking of our Jayhawk Welcome Center, which will provide a lift to our recruitment efforts, and the fourth annual One Day. One KU. fundraising event, which raised $3.4 million for our university.
We’ve continued to focus on social justice by reorganizing and incorporating work to enhance diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging through all units of the university. We also created the Task Force on Community-Responsive Public Safety and announced we are implementing all of its recommendations for enhancing public safety on campus.
This year, we welcomed new leaders to campus and said goodbye to others. We introduced our new chief financial officer, Jeff DeWitt, to help us on our path to fiscal recovery. We also welcomed Travis Goff, our new athletics director. I am confident their respective departments are in good hands under their sound leadership.
Also, we noted the retirement of several long-time Jayhawks, including former CFO Diane Goddard and former University Architect Jim Modig. Like so many other faculty and staff retirees, they gave this place so much of their time and talent, and we are grateful for their service.
We also mourned the passing of two great Jayhawks — former Chancellor Gene Budig and longtime public servant Reggie Robinson. Each left an indelible imprint on our university, and we’ll miss them both.
As you know, we continue to manage fiscal challenges, including a structural budget deficit for the Lawrence campus. As we navigate a $26 million cut for the next fiscal year, our goal is to move beyond year-to-year financial decision-making and get to a sustainable, balanced budget that enables us to make strategic decisions and invest in priorities such as salary increases and research excellence while addressing deferred maintenance and other obligations.
Related to that, we will look forward to your participation in the next stage of our Jayhawks Rising strategic planning process, which will ensure we are continuing to fulfill our mission as a leading research institution and member of the Association of American Universities.
And of course, we will continue preparing for a return to a full on-campus presence next fall so we can meet our obligations to our students and state as a world-class residential learning community.
This has been a remarkable year that has affected each of us deeply, and I know we have asked a lot of our faculty and staff. Thank you for all you’ve done for the university. I remain grateful for all the talented faculty and staff who have helped us — and our students — complete another year and prepare for all that is to come.
Douglas A. Girod