July 14, 1995

New chancellor sets fast pace

Hemenway talks about his first weeks at KU

The university's new chancellor has been on the job for six weeks now, and curiosity about him is still intense.

The same words seem to crop up when people talk about Chancellor Robert Hemenway. You hear and read over and over that he's hard-working, energetic, dedicated, approachable, visionary.

But what is not so immediately apparent are the deeply held convictions that motivate Hemenway - convictions that have molded his leadership style, convictions that, ultimately, will set university policy.

His hard-working and energetic traits are immediately apparent.

Hemenway starts his day in the office at 7 a.m., and it's a full day of meetings, lunches with people on and off campus, often a special function or two at night. Unless he has an event off campus, he usually doesn't leave the office until about 6 p.m. Then he goes home to ball practice with sons Arna and Zach. He has dinner and conversation with his wife, Leah. And often, after everybody in the household has gone to bed, he goes to his office at home to answer E-mail messages and to get just a little more work done.

During the fall semester, he'll teach a 7:30 a.m. American literature class. In addition to his usual chancellor's duties, he'll have the reading and grading that go with the course.

In fact, Hemenway has so much to do this fall that he has decided to postpone until the spring semester the official installation ceremony normally held for a new chancellor. "Right now, there are just too many other things we have to focus on," he said.

Hemenway openly speaks of his dedication to his new position.

"I love my job. I enjoy working at a university. I've had the privilege to be in jobs that can really make a difference in a university. My work never gets tedious. It can get tension-filled sometimes, and I can get frustrated when I make a mistake or fail to capitalize on an opportunity.

"This is the kind of job where you never get bored. You get a chance to receive one of the best educations available to a human being because you have so many smart and ingenious people to work with and to talk with. It's the best continuing education experience that any individual could ever have," he said.

His "people skills" have already gotten a workout during his strolls on campus and his visits around the state.

Recently he and his wife were hosts to a group of incoming students who attended KU's first Freshmen Summer Institute.

Chris Benton, Topeka freshman, told the Lawrence Journal-World, "He told us personally that if we have any questions, any problems, to come up to his office."

But beneath the flurry of activity are deeply held beliefs about education, values and the future of KU.

An easy conversationalist, the new chancellor described some of his KU experiences and their meaning to him.

The welcome to campus

"People seem pretty free to contact me by E-mail, and I've had a number of letters. I've been pleased that people are willing to stop me on the street and say `Hi. I'm so-and-so. Welcome to KU,' or, `Welcome to Kansas.' That has been particularly gratifying to me," he said. "I have felt welcomed in this process, and my family has felt the same thing. Everybody has been kind and thoughtful and solicitous of us. That says something to me about the spirit of this place."

Working at a university

"Working at a university is not just another job," Hemenway said, "and that's true whether you're the chancellor, a faculty member, a staff member or a student employee.

"Every day there's a chance to feel that you're a part of something that will be meaningful to society, a chance to make a difference. That is one of the special attractions about working at a university.

"It tends to make the people who work at a university pretty dedicated people. They tend to be willing to work an extra 15 minutes if it means getting the job done. They tend not to bring a paperback book to work because they want to fill in their dead time. When they have some free time and they haven't been specifically assigned something, they tend to take the initiative and think about other things they should or could be doing."

Walking around campus...

Hemenway took the opportunity to walk and talk to people around campus before he assumed his duties June 1.

"I've been saying I want to learn how to be a Jayhawk. And the only way you learn is to get out and talk to the people who make up the University of Kansas," he said.

"Universities are a collection of human, physical and fiscal resources that come together to try to make a difference in society. But the key to that collection of resources is the people.

"There are a lot of places that have fiscal resources and physical resources, but it's the human resources that make the difference. And unless you know the human beings involved, unless you've talked to them, unless you've come to understand their perspective on their institution, you don't really know the university."

...and what he found

Hemenway described some of the things he learned during his campus strolls.

"I discovered that students feel good about their KU experience. Even if they don't like some aspect of the university, still their overall experience is very positive," he said.

"I had a funny experience with a student who was telling me how much he liked KU. I said , `Come on, there must be something you didn't like.' He said, `Well the advising system sucks, but it's still a great university.'

"That made me feel really good, even though it probably means we must work on the advising system."

Hemenway also found things that bothered him.

"For example, I was surprised to find some offices closed over the noon hour. I know that is a prime time for students to come in when they need help. One thing that has to be true of a student-oriented campus is that you stagger your lunch hours so that the offices that serve students are open. Actually, I'm not sure if all university offices shouldn't be open over the noon hour, if lunch hours can be staggered. I'm not going to micromanage the institution by issuing some sort of edict, but it's something to think about."

He also looked at communication on campus. "I'm not sure the channels of communication are as uncluttered and as clear as they should be in a university of this size," he said.

"In talking to people at the department level and asking them about things that the dean or vice chancellor or chancellor had done, I've come to some tentative conclusions that we need to work on the communication process in the institution.

"We need to make sure that we're using the normal administrative channels for communication and also that there is some constant feedback mechanism from the faculty and staff on up the administrative ladder.

"If those communication channels are not open, there is no way you can sit in Strong Hall and know what the effect any given policy is having.

"We probably need to do some work on improving the communication flow, both from the top down and the bottom up."

The beauty of the campus

Hemenway talks frequently about how much he enjoys walking on campus.

"I've learned that ours is one of the most beautiful campuses in the world. It's a great joy to walk out in the sunlight and walk down the Hill," he said.

"I traced the path that students take when they walk down the Hill at graduation. I wanted to get a feel, to imagine what they must be feeling as they go down the Hill.

"I deliberately was not here on commencement day this year because I felt this was (former Chancellor) Del Shankel's commencement, and I did not want my being there to take away the attention from him.

Hemenway noticed how other people care about the campus.

"How we go out of the way to make the campus beautiful is very reassuring to me," he said. "I've noticed that people will pick up trash that they see on the sidewalk because they know it is marring the beauty of this campus, and I find myself doing the same thing.

"I was walking to Strong Hall the other morning and saw someone had left a beer can on the sidewalk. Of course, it occurred to me as I was throwing it in the trash can that if somebody were to walk up just then and see me with a beer can in my hand at 7 a.m., they might wonder what the chancellor was doing."

Learning to be a Jayhawk

"I learned a number of things," Hemenway said about becoming a Jayhawk. "One is that there is tremendous pride in KU, that being a Jayhawk means something. There is also a very rich and strong and powerful sense of tradition.

"People think of this as a special place. They all have in their mind's eye a visual image of the beauty of this institution that they carry with them constantly. Whether they're going to New York, or San Diego, or Seattle or Miami. That has really impressed me. I didn't fully realize the strength or the power of the traditions of KU until I actually went out and talked to people.

"I now tell people that I'm not a Democrat or Republican but rather I'm a member of the Jayhawk Party."

Midwestern values

Hemenway frequently speaks of being raised in Nebraska and Iowa and the importance of Midwestern values to him.

"I can give you an illustration of this. On one of my visits, I needed to buy a bag to take back to Kentucky some of the things I had purchased here. I stopped in a store in downtown Lawrence and told the salesman I wanted his cheapest canvas bag."

The salesman said the cheapest bag in the store was about $24 and suggested that Hemenway might want to go down the street to another store that had a cheaper bag.

"Well, I said anybody who's as honest as you are to tell me about that, I'll go ahead and buy this bag. When he rang up the purchase, I noticed the bill totaled $22."

Hemenway asked about the difference, clerk said, "Since you were nice enough to buy it here, I gave you a 10 percent discount."

Hemenway said: "Now my argument to you would be that this is a Midwestern transaction - there are not too many other places where such a transaction would take place. It wasn't a negotiated transaction. He was simply doing it out of honesty and a desire to reward me for my willingness to buy it there, and I also was trying to reward him for being honest.

"I think that kind of exchange, with people mutually respecting each other, is a typical Midwestern exchange.

"One of the dominant values of the Midwest is a tradition of community - it's to recognize a mutual responsibility for the quality of life in this city, this university, in this academic department.

"That sense of community responsibility is a very powerful instrument for good in the university. It's one of the things that has made KU a very strong university."


Hemenway is the only chancellor in the Big Eight Conference who will teach a regularly scheduled class in the fall.

"Just because you become chancellor doesn't mean you should give up the fun of teaching. I teach for a couple of reasons: One is that I can't imagine a life not teaching," he said.

"For a chancellor, teaching is great because it gets you out of the office, it gets you in contact with the students, it challenges you to stay flexible and supple enough to understand young people's interests and needs. It keeps you young. You meet generation after generation of students, and you get to see the best minds of the new class.

"I think it restores your faith in human nature and in human progress. Year after year, young people come forth with new ideas, new experiences, discovering old truths in new ways. That is a continuing restoration of your faith in the human race, that it will be all right. We may have a lot of problems, but you gain a sense of human renewal.

"There's a kind of chemistry in the classroom. There are plenty of opportunities as you get older to become cynical and pessimistic. As I was walking around, I met a number of (retired) KU faculty who are now in their 90s, and they strike me as being uniformly hopeful about the future, even though they know that they are not going to live forever. That is a characteristic of people who are teachers and people who are associated with the university."

Hemenway said he will not teach a regularly scheduled class in the spring because of the legislative session, but he may still teach a seminar or a short course.

Research at the university

"The best definition I know of research," Hemenway said, "is that it's formalized curiosity. That curiosity occurs everywhere at a university, in the laboratory, in the library, in the classroom, on the field trip. Formalized curiosity is what inspires a university.

"Curiosity pushes teachers and students to stretch their imaginations, to dream of other worlds. In a real sense, the job of the scholar is to make sure that curiosity finds its formal expression.

"At KU, we're absolutely committed to making sure that the curiosity of our students, the curiosity of our faculty, come together in the classroom so that mutual learning occurs."

Trips to western Kansas

During his first week on campus, Hemenway visited Liberal, Hugoton, Johnson, Lakin, Garden City, Cimarron and Dodge City. During his second week, he visited Hays and Larned. He was the keynote speaker at several alumni gatherings.

He plans to continue his visits around the state as his schedule permits.

"I want KU as a statewide university to have a statewide presence," he said. "It's just as important to be in Ford or Finney County as it is to be in Wyandotte or Johnson County. We have a statewide mission. The people of Kansas expect KU to fulfill its obligations to all parts of the state. I think that's an honorable responsibility, and I think we should try to fulfill it."

But Hemenway admitted he had an ulterior motive.

"Another reason I was there is that I am always looking for students, and there are good students in western Kansas, and we want them to come to Lawrence. And if they're going to become doctors, or nurses or physical therapists, we want them to go on to the KU Medical Center.

"One of the most stimulating parts of being in western Kansas for me was the chance to talk to alumni. You learn what the university means to them and discover the dimensions of your job as chancellor, in fact, some of the extraordinary responsibilities you have as chancellor.

Hemenway also used the opportunity to discover how some people perceive KU.

"I was talking to someone in western Kansas, and I asked him what he thought of KU. He said: `Well, KU is a place where you get a really excellent education, and it's expensive.'"

Hemenway asked the man how it could be expensive when the tuition is only about $1,000 a semester. "And he said he didn't realize that," he said.

"He knew about KU's reputation, and he just thought that if you're going to an excellent university, it must be expensive. That's an important perception for us to know, and it is one that, as we recruit students, that we need to counteract."

Budget problems

"The university's budget problem is not the relatively small budget cut this year," Hemenway said, "The challenge is to renew the traditional commitment of the people of Kansas to higher education."

Noting that he was born and raised in the Midwest, Hemenway said, "Midwestern people have believed that an investment in education was an investment in the future, that you made a public investment in young people in your state because you knew that they were going to graduate, prosper, contribute to the economy of that state and contribute to the quality of life in that state.

"I think the evidence and the wisdom of that policy is all around us. You have the state of Kansas that has only about 2.5 million people, yet it has an excellent education system that includes a major land-grant institution and a major public university.

"The question we have to face in Kansas is whether we are going to walk away from that historic and time-honored commitment of investing in the future. I don't think we are. I think people are going to say we want the quality of life that has been available to us in Kansas, a quality of life dependent upon education.

"It's easy to forget about the effect and the impact those investments have had for Kansas. It's up to us in the university to do two things. One is demonstrate that in difficult times - and these are difficult times - any investment in higher education is going to be well-managed and that the taxpayers are going to get real value for their dollar invested.

"I also think we have the responsibility to show that when you come to KU, you're going to get a first-rate education. There should be no question that the money Kansas invests in young people enrolling at KU pays off."

KU Medical Center

"We have a lot of challenges facing us at the KU Medical Center," Hemenway said, "not just because we've had some newspaper stories about the heart-transplant program, but because we treat 7,600 patients a week at the Medical Center, and we must continue to do an excellent job of it."

Academic medicine is caught up in the same struggle as the rest of the nation's health-care system, Hemenway said.

"Academic medicine is struggling right now to sort out what its role is going to be in a managed-care environment. Are we going to be a managed-care organization? What's going to happen to medical education in a managed-care environment? Are the managed-care organizations going to contribute money toward the training of future doctors? If not, where's the money going to come from?

"The state only provides around 22 percent of the budget of the KU Medical Center. The rest of it comes from federal grants and contracts and from clinical income - physicians treating patients. What's going to happen to that in the future? We don't know exactly, and we have to chart a course," he said.

Hemenway said he was pleased to be able to hire Dr. Donald F. Hagen as the new executive vice chancellor for the Medical Center.

"I'm pleased we were able to get someone of his expertise and with his distinguished career - surgeon general of the Navy and commanding officer of Bethesda Naval Hospital, where presidents and members of Congress are treated. At one point, he was in charge of all medical education for the Navy, 73 different accredited programs. He was a vice admiral, a Vietnam veteran. In fact, he was awarded the Bronze Star in Vietnam. ... He brings a world of experience and knowledge that should help us chart that path.

"But we know that these are very treacherous times for academic health centers. Many of them are threatened with extinction. I don't think that will happen to KU, but we must do more than survive. We have to emerge as a leader in the new environment."

Five years from now

When asked where he saw the campus five years from now, Hemenway responded, "I would hope that we would have made significant progress on the 10 characteristics of a great university."

Those principles were printed in the Feb. 3 Oread.

"On a practical level, I would hope that we would be a much better networked campus," he said.

"I would hope that the Legislature would believe that any money spent at KU is going to be well spent; that the institution is very effective; that it is fiscally responsible; and that the people responsible for KU do their work with integrity and honesty.

"I guess I'd like to see an even stronger relationship between Lawrence and KU because we are mutually reinforcing assets. Everyone who graduates from KU comments on how much they like Lawrence and how their KU experience in Lawrence was special.

"I would also hope that we would have done a better job of defining the KU experience as one that is not just Lawrence but Kansas City, Wichita, Topeka, Johnson County, all those places where we have campuses established. I think that all those pieces need to come together in a whole that is understood to be one great university," he said.

"The two most important things, however, are that five years from now we will be able to identify KU as even more of a student-centered campus, and that KU's commitment to intellectual achievement has remained true to its noble tradition."

By Kay Albright

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