May 24, 2013
First, congratulations again to everyone who graduated from the University of Kansas schools of Health Professions, Nursing and Medicine this past weekend. It was an honor to celebrate commencement with our graduates, and thank you again to the entire KU Medical Center faculty and staff for your crucial role in educating these new members of the 21st century workforce.
As you know, educating a 21st century workforce is one of three promises I made to the people of Kansas when I started as Executive Vice Chancellor in February. I got a chance to provide an update of those promises at a town hall meeting on Wednesday. It was a smaller crowd than my first town hall on Feb. 14, and I'm not surprised: Given that so much of what I've been reporting lately has been gloomy budget news from Topeka, many of you may be tired of hearing from me. But I'm grateful to those of you who attended the late-afternoon meeting in person or via ITV (a video of the session is posted here).
I spent much of the time recapping my activities since taking office. Back in February, I listed several areas of our medical center and the state that I needed to get to know better. I'm happy to report that I have a much deeper understanding of our Wichita, Salina and Lawrence campuses now. I have, however, spent much more time than I'd planned in Topeka, working with Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little and many of our other supporters to help a new group of legislators understand how higher education works and its extraordinary return on investment.
As of this week, we still do not have a final state budget, but we are anticipating cuts to KU Medical Center of around $8 million over the next two fiscal years. There is much confusion around the term "salary cap," which the legislature is using to describe one of the cuts that is most devastating to the medical center. Legislators are not using the term to mean they would "cap" individual employee salaries at a certain level; rather, they want to cut our budget by the amount of money we were saving on salaries for unfilled positions when they took a snapshot of our expenses back in April (essentially, this penalizes us for being frugal and planning our finances to anticipate future needs). The budget cuts that seem certain to pass will come on top of a 13 percent cut to our state funding since 2008 - and federal budget cuts that are adding up to a 10 percent loss of research funding across our institution.
The good news is that we are in a better position to respond to the current fiscal reality than we have been in recent memory. During the town hall meeting, Matt Schuette in the Office of Enterprise Analytics mentioned the financial reorganization that he and his colleagues have been working on with ECG Management Consultants. This reorganization will allow us to reallocate resources and build sustainable funding models for our education and research missions. A more integrated clinical enterprise between the medical center, The University of Kansas Hospital and The University of Kansas Physicians will also ensure more efficient funding of medical education. You'll hear updates on both of these efforts in the weeks ahead.
And even though federal research funding is harder to get, I am proud of our highly competitive faculty. I spotlighted a few principal investigators - Matt Mayo in Biostatistics; Rajendra Kumar in Molecular & Integrative Physiology; Udayan Apte in Pharmacology, Toxicology and Therapeutics; Carol Smith in Nursing; Jianming Qui in Microbiology, Molecular Genetics and Immunology; and Won Choi in Preventive Medicine - who have each been awarded more than $1 million in NIH funding just this year. I'm thankful to all of our faculty who are working hard for the resources that will allow us to continue making discoveries that change the world. And for those of you who are curious about the status of the new Midwest Stem Cell Therapy Center created by the Kansas Legislature this year, we have posted a fact sheet here (it will evolve as more details become available).
Finally, I want to thank Steffani Webb for asking what has been the best thing about being Executive Vice Chancellor and what I am most optimistic about. My answer: people and people. By far, the best thing about this job is the great people at KU and their commitment to what we do every day - our students, our staff and our faculty as well as our partners. We are facing significant challenges, but most of them are the same as those faced by other universities all across the country. What keeps me optimistic is that each and every one of you represents our opportunities, and we will meet our challenges through greater collaborations with fantastic partners in our communities, across Kansas and throughout the world. Thanks to all of you for making this job, and this institution, so great.