The academic field of play

New AD Zenger envisions strong scholarly, athletic interaction

Sheahon Zenger recently started his term as director of athletics. A Kansas native who has lived in Lawrence and earned advanced degrees from KU, he recently sat down to discuss his ideas for collaboration and interaction between athletics and the university.

How did your doctoral studies at KU help you in your role as AD?

You know, the best answer I could give you is that it did in many ways. And I donít know that I could even delineate specifically, as to what those things would be, other than, those studies prepared me to have an understanding of the measures that my colleagues went through in pursuing their own intellectual goals and therefore really having a common ground with other faculty and staff on campus. And not just in teaching in the classroom, but particularly the research efforts that go on on a daily basis for most of our faculty on this campus.

Sheahon Zenger

What is the role of an athletics department in the university today?

Well, thatís even more complex. Itís multifacted. More so than I think it should be. Athletics has grown exponentially over the years, from 100 years ago when you had an athletics director and a business manager and a sports information director to a quite large staff that oversees so many internal activities, so many external activities. But when you say, specifically, ďWhat is its role?Ē I think that athletics is A: an educational arm of the institution for those 500 student athletes that we have. Itís an extracurricular activity for them. But itís also an extracurricular activity for the other 30,000 students that we have. Itís something for them to participate in and kind of rally around. And that certainly goes further, to the staff, the faculty, the alumni, the external groups that we have. And so, having said all that, to some degree itís a public relations arm of the institution also.

What role do you see for faculty members of the athletics board?

Well, you know as part of that advisory board, I think itís critical and essential. As I made a comment from day one with the media that our role as an athletics department will never exceed the mission of this institution. We will always be within the mission of this institution. The president of another institution that I once served at liked to refer to athletics as ďthe front porch of the university.Ē And if thatís the case in this day and age, then I certainly would invite the faculty and the staff to put their furniture on that front porch. And use our venues and resources as a place to sound the trumpet about our accolades that weíre receiving in research and teaching and all the other components of university work.

What relationship would you like to see between KU faculty and staff and athletics?

Obviously the answer to that would be strong. For me personally, I think what people would find over the years would be that some of my closest friends are typically faculty on any campus, and the institution I just left, one of the most enjoyable moments was a lunch that I got to have with the deans. We all got to say goodbye, and it was both a good time of being together, but it was sad. And it was indicative of the relationships we had formed over the years. So really, I would just tell them that it will be an informal relationship as much as anything. Whereas we have the formal relationships on the advisory board and other places such as that, there will be informal relationships that will develop, I hope, over the next few weeks, months and years.

What interactions have you had so far with faculty and staff at KU and how have they gone?

Very good ones, obviously everything from impromptu meetings at games and just on the Hill, but Iíve had some fun moments when Iíve popped in my old School of Education and some other places where I enjoy just getting away from the office and spending time around the members of the academic community.

Are there any examples of faculty, staff and athletics interaction or collaboration that took place at Illinois State that you would like to bring with you to KU?

Absolutely. Obviously in the formal areas of advisory board, committees, associations and things of that nature. But I had the opportunity as an individual to interact with the deans and the department chairs on other projects. Whether it be with the library or with the honor society for the students, the higher-end students, I had a chance to be part of their celebrations in the last few years. And those are things that I hope to be able to continue here at the University of Kansas.

Is there anything else that youíd care to expand on?

Iíd just tell you that the academic side of an institutionís been a part of my life since I was a child. My parents were, or my father was a graduate student here in my earliest memories and we spent time in Bailey Hall and we have home video of being around Bailey Hall back in the 1960s. And obviously my time in Bailey Hall back in the 1990s and even in Strong Hall are very important to me. But I would just say itís my very nature, I think itís just part of the nature of a number of people in our department. And we just look forward to forging strong relationships with folks on the Hill.

Campus closeup
Dennis Valenzeno, associate dean for basic sciences, School of Medicine-Wichita
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