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Samira Sayeh

Samira Sayeh, assistant professor of French and Italian, specializes in Francophone literature and culture and the history of countries other than France that speak the language. Read More

KU sets state, federal legislative priorities

Budget expected to rule session

The new year is shaping up to be a challenging one for just about every sector of society, and higher education is no different. With another legislative session set to begin, KU is focusing its legislative priorities, at both the state and federal levels, on meeting the workforce needs of Kansas, improving health care in the state, drawing more and brighter students to the university and advocating for continued government support.

A legislative brownbag lunch will be held at noon Jan. 23 at Alderson Auditorium in the Kansas Union. Chancellor Robert Hemenway, Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Richard Lariviere and Kathy Damron, KU’s director of state government relations, will be on hand to talk about state budget woes and their effects on KU. The local legislative delegation has been invited as well. The event is open to the campus.

STATE PRIORITIES

The 2009 Kansas legislative session began Jan. 12. As expected, the budget will command lawmakers’ attention this year. Damron said with the budget in mind, KU will continue to show the value of the state’s investment and push for new avenues to help the state deal with the tough economic times.

“Of course this is going to be a challenging session,” Damron said. “We’ll work from a strong advocacy platform to show how KU can meet the needs of Kansas.”

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius issued her budget recommendations Jan. 13, which called for a 3 percent reduction for higher education this fiscal year, and a 7 percent cut to the regents block grant in fiscal year 2010. The numbers could change before the session ends.

Damron said KU will rely strongly this year on Kansas families, who know better than anyone what it takes to put a student through school. Decreased funding from the state would in many cases put more pressure on families of students.

KU recently reported to the Kansas Board of Regents measures it is taking to hold the line on costs and to identify new areas for savings and improved efficiencies. The efforts, which include realignment of Information Services, KU’s purchasing pilot project, maximizing reimbursements from federal research projects, energy conservation and recycling, have allowed KU to save roughly $9 million.

Producing graduates who work in areas of need in Kansas is also high on KU’s priority list. Damron said the university will advocate for funding from the state to increase the numbers of graduates in hard to fill positions such as engineering and teachers ready for the classroom. Last year, a push was made to increase the number of pharmacy graduates. That remains a priority, but the effort is being broadened to meet more areas of vital need.

One new method to help meet the goal is under way in the School of Engineering. The school has begun working with state high schools and the private sector to help pre-identify students that would have a good chance of succeeding in the field. The aim is to reduce the number of students who need to change majors, which ultimately is a detriment to everyone involved.

Damron said KU will also advocate for legislation that would allow for waiving portions of out-of-state tuition for students who have at least one parent who attended KU. The measure would not only help attract some of the nation’s brightest students but also encourage them to stay and work in Kansas upon graduation, helping meet the state’s workforce needs, she said.

As in previous years, the fight against cancer remains KU’s top research priority, and the university will seek to continue the state’s annual investment to help obtain National Cancer Institute designation for KU’s Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Also on the agenda is improving the efficiency of building projects. Many KU building projects are undertaken with private funds. Yet they are still subject to state regulations that can slow progress and lead to higher costs. KU will propose easing these restrictions, allowing a more streamlined hiring of architects, engineers and contractors while remaining under the review of regents and the legislature.

FEDERAL PRIORITIES

Congress is again in session, and like nearly every state in the nation, budget is prominent in the minds of Kansas' lawmakers. Keith Yehle, director of federal government relations, said the Federal Stimulus Bill will be tops on KU’s list of priorities as well. Last month, Hemenway sent a letter to the Kansas Congressional delegation urging them to consider three points in relation to the bill.

First, lawmakers should secure as much money as possible for federal student aid, Yehle said. The importance of such funds to the state of Kansas is especially important during difficult economic times. If money is available for what Yehle calls “shovel-ready projects,” KU will encourage lawmakers to consider the university. The proposed west campus pharmacy building is indeed shovel ready, Yehle said, and ground could be broken very quickly if funding is available. The building would help produce more pharmacy graduates, helping achieve the previously stated goal of meeting the state’s workforce needs. KU also has numerous “brain ready projects.” If funding is made available for research on topics such as alternative energy or cancer research, KU has abundant available expertise to perform such projects.

Energy will likely be in play, as President-Elect Barack Obama is widely expected to call for a new energy bill, which would likely include an alternative energy package. That could lead to more competitive research funding, with the goal of mass-produced and mass-consumable alternative energy sources.

The fiscal year 2009-10 budget will also be high on the agenda. The struggling economy will likely mean flat to declining funding for federal research agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation and others. Yehle said he will focus on showing the importance of such funding, not only to universities, but also to the states and regions they serve.

Last year, Congress passed the Higher Education Act, which provides federal support across the spectrum of academe. The Department of Education this year is seeking leadership from universities to help with the rulemaking process. Yehle said KU is working to make the department aware of the expertise available at KU to help in the process.

“This is one opportunity we have to make sure the rules we all will have to live with for the next several years are fairly developed and utilized,” he said.

Lastly, Yehle said, his office is working to grow and activate a network between KU and leaders in Washington, D.C. KU has about 5,000 alumni in the area in numerous positions of leadership. A robust network could lead to countless benefits to the university and students, including increased advocacy for KU, internships for students and prominent campus visitors.

Yehle, who visits Washington about twice a month, said his office can help arrange meetings between faculty and staff and KU alumni in the area to share expertise and network.

For more information on legislative agendas, budgets and meetings with legislators, visit the Government Relations Web site, www.govrelations.ku.edu.


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