KSU has to change


Kentucky State University President Mary Evans Sias, in a commentary published recently by The State Journal, reflected on change. Touching on the seasonal transition marked by the turning of autumn leaves, she went on to discuss the necessity for her institution to adapt to economic and academic change.

The next day, in her annual State of the University Address, she filled in some of the details. Because the school’s once-growing enrollment has taken a downward shift, she told faculty and students she would freeze all vacant positions in an effort to save $3 million; failing programs would be scrutinized.

The president explained why she believes KSU is losing students – and the money they bring to campus and the local economy. Like the university, which has lost 11 percent of its funding since 2005, students are up against a financial wall. Tuition is increasing to replace diminished funds and many find they can’t afford to pay the price, especially those who depend on federal Pell grants, now waning. Sias reminded her audience that 73 percent of KSU’s students qualify for those grants when they’re available.

Nevertheless, in both her speech and her column, she pledged the institution will not give up on its mission to educate young people who need financial and/or academic assistance. She still hopes it can nearly double total enrollment to 4,300 by 2020, with a student body including gifted scholars as well as many who need a hand – being the first in their families to venture into higher education.

Not everyone is convinced she’s on the right track to achieve these goals. Lacy L. Rice Jr., a 1994 KSU graduate who continued his business administration studies elsewhere, believes the president has failed the school and its alumni, even though the Board of Regents has generously rewarded her efforts. In an op-ed piece for The State Journal, Rice wrote scornfully of the string of “retention” bonuses the board has granted Sias since 2008. “In all,” he pointed out, “she can accumulate $400,000 no matter how the university performs, just to stay in 2016.” It’s a pattern he likened to the awarding of bonuses to Wall Street bankers who plunged the nation into economic chaos.

Presidents of Kentucky’s other public universities have been offered bonuses, too, but some have declined them, all or in part, in light of the dismal economic conditions the nation and the commonwealth have battled over the past five years. Perhaps Sias should consider following their lead, especially with her subordinates expected to make sacrifices.

Rice further questioned the president’s academic priorities. “The university has been quick to enroll too many unprepared students,” he complained, “while many honor students were left waiting for answers or offers.” He said KSU has not only fallen short of enrollment targets but has tallied abysmal retention and graduation rates.

Change, which the president promised to deliver, can be a good thing or not, depending on your viewpoint. It’s certainly something the university has experienced throughout its history. What began in 1887 as the State Normal School for Colored Persons finally desegregated in 1954 but is still classified as a historically black university. It’s also a Land Grant university which rightly takes pride in its aquaculture program and the ongoing effort to rescue family farming in Kentucky.

Declining enrollment and funding are changes KSU did not want but cannot easily reverse. A university that cherishes tradition must also embrace innovation and rededicate itself to achieving excellence in difficult times.

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  • e editorial cartoon captures the current problems with KSU's lack of leadership, a president only interested in her own profit while KSU rots away around her. Mr. Rice’s courage, insight and loyalty to his alma mater should be greeted. I am sure that he has expressed his opinion at great peril, and has opened himself up to the full barrage of the Sias machine. I hope that he will continue his efforts and ask all concerned to pray for him and support or join him. Allow me to say that the last thing that KSU needs is any more of Sias's brand of change, least of all change that has taken her nine years to realize was even necessary. As someone who attended KSU and now works for State government, we have to recognize that a college president can only do so much. The most important thing they can do is to raise money, make sure that educational priorities are followed and assemble capable administrators who can deliver on those priorities. In Mary Sias's case, she has done little over the past eight years, and as alum Mr. Rice points out, she has been a horrible failure. Even KSU itself publishes the data necessary to fairly and thoroughly evaluate Sias’s performance as Mr. Rice did, at : http://www.kysu.edu/about/divisions/officeofthepresident/institutionalresearch/ And you have to wonder what the KSU Board of Regents is using to grant her contract extension and unjustified “retention bonus.” It took me less than an hour to find this information and grade Sias’s performance, and here are my top 10 reasons that she has been a miserable failure and should resign. #10 Lack of priorities The State Journal and state newspapers have been full of past articles on the threats posed by the economy and shrinking tuition dollars for Kentucky colleges, beginning in 2006. That’s six years!!!!! and Sias has done absolutely nothing to prepare KSU for surviving the recession and these threats in her 9 years there. Instead of setting priorities for increasing resources she has built a new dormitory that isn’t even half full, built a gate to nowhere, expanded Alumni Stadium to create even more empty seats, cut faculty positions, run off the most competent administrators who disagree with her, had a revolving door of administrators with no experience or record of success and paid them obscene salaries for nothing, killed the morale of long serving faculty and members who still struggle to survive without raises. Millions of dollars are spent on an athletics program that is simply an unproductive joke. Attend a football game or other athletic event, excluding the show put on for homecoming, and other than the band absolutely no one is there. What has been the athletic accomplishments over the past 8 years????? Are they generating revenue or being subsidized by funds that could be put toward more urgent priorities??? Why not consider participating in the Kentucky Intercollegiate Conference like every similar size institution in the state??? Those schools have budgets that are a fraction of KSU's and their reputations, support and success rates far exceed KSU's. Need I say Georgetown College, Kentucky Wesleyan, Bellarmine, etc all with national reputations for athletic AND academic excellence. #9 Failure to recognize and address threats. When Sias accepted the job KSU needed to increase it's enrollment, dropout and graduation rates, faculty salaries, number of Kentucky students being served and the support available for teaching. Looking at education department records it appears that she has done little to address these threats. If we grade Sias, as the Board of Regents should have done, according to KSU’s very own website published information, when Sias took over as president, here is what we get. - In 2004 enrollment was 2,335 students/Fall 2012 enrollment was 2,524 /Grade= C- In 2004 the average ACT score was 17.45/ In 2011 the average ACT Score was 17/ Grade = D - In 2004 the average grade point average was 2.61/ In 2011 the average grade point average was 2.63/ Grade = C #8 Declining Graduation rates. Sias inherited a KSU graduation rate of slightly higher than 40% when she arrived 9 years ago. The last reported rate was 21%, and getting worse every year. I predict from Sias’s trend that KSU will continue to drop into single digits if she is allowed to continue. After 9 years you would think that this priority would rise to the top of her agenda. Instead we get a boondoggle gate to nowhere, an unproductive athletics program, obscenely paid administrators, bloat in administrator positions not related to teaching, and on and on, at cost that could have been used for other support. Almost half of the students that I went to school with were not from Kentucky and left after a couple of semesters, if that long. - In 2004 the retention rate was a whopping 66%/ In 2011 the retention rate was 49%/ Grade = F - Small wonder that enrollment is sinking, when many students come but so few stay. In 2004 the graduation rate was 41%/ In 2011 the graduation rate was 21%, meaning that only 2 out of every students enrolling in "Frankfort's university" have a chance of graduating. /Grade = F - In 2004 , KSU awarded 330 degrees/ In 2011 KSU awarded 328 degrees/ Grade = D #7 Declining support for professors and teaching. I considered myself a good student while at KSU. I also think that the faculty members that I worked with were committed and excellent role models. But they complained about the lack of resources, teaching with outdated chalkboards, many times without any chalk, old computers, unable to copy materials, and little in compensation. My major advisor was the department’s secretary !!!!!!!!!!, who also helped most of my fellow students. Speak to any faculty member and you will quickly see the despair, lack of morale and sheer anxiety that has simmered in them under Sias. It is a miracle that such committed professors as Tucker Landy, Albert Assiby Mensa, Gashaw Lake, Edwin Conner, Patricia Pearson, Trammell, Kumar and tens of others stay at all. In 2005 there were 192 faculty and 47 executive administrators for a ratio of 4:1/In 2011 there were 182 faculty and 46 executive administrators for a ratio of 3:1/ Grade= F - In 2005 23% expenditures were spent on instruction/In 2011 it was 20%/Grade = F #6 Declining alumni Support. Speak to any KSU alumni and they will tell you that they will never give to the college because the money will not be used properly. The ‘pledge’ that graduates take at Commencement is a joke!!!!!!!! The Kentucky graduates leave and will not support the university because they feel the money will never go to support teaching and student learning. The Non-Kentucky students simply leave and never look back. Many leave without even graduating, and with huge outstanding bills that are never paid, adding to KSU's deficits. Speak to alumni, at least those who have not yet been bought out by Sias, and you will easily see their frustration. #5 Declining presence. Except for occasional, ‘town hall meetings’ with the SGA and Homecoming, I never saw Sias on campus. When I tried to contact her she was always “out of town”. There was never anyone willing to be in charge. If it were not for the staff in student affairs many students would leave KSU after the first week there. To this day, I still do not know who was in charge of academics. The president should be accessible and visible. Ask any student how often they see the current president. #4 Declining Kentucky enrollment. Almost half of the students at KSU are not from Kentucky. Enough said! - In 2004 69% of students were from Kentucky/Fall 2011 56% of the students were from Kentucky/ Grade= F. #3 Where is the beef.? Sias is supposed to be an extraordinary fundraiser, but where is the evidence. What significant progress has been made to raise money for the university, unless you call forced employee donations effective fund raising? The business community saw through Sias long ago, and giving has spiraled downward for years now. #2 Lack of Vision. see all of the above. And the number one reason, #1 Incompetence. After nine years at the head of KSU it is appalling that Sias has failed to recognize and act on these threats. She has been either unwilling or incapable of addressing these threats and continues to offer the same tired old excuses. If she has a plan, other than maximizing her own pay, what and where is it? What justification can the KSU Board of Regents offer for Sias's "accomplishments" continued pay raises and outlandish bonuses? Do either the board, Sias or the governor care or even recognize any of these? Or is there a sinister plan afoot to simply allow KSU to die on the vine, and rise anew, as something totally different? Her only plan is always to “reorganize." I for one will be waiting to see the "reorganization " plan that will surly be rubber stamped by a incompetent Board. Will it be the same old Sias bait and switch of simply adding more and more high priced administrators? Or will it be an effort to finally address the threats, even if to late? I understand that both students, faculty and administrators have representatives on the board of regents. When will they STAND UP WITH MR. RICE and represent their people. Are they afraid or have they to been bought out. I wager that it will be the same old same old, cutting low wage hard working staff members, while at the same time hiring additional so called "critical" experts to supposedly bail KSU out of this crisis, sifting off even more dollars from professors and teachers, with hardly a mention of athletics and the tens of vice presidents that already are on the payroll. WAKE UP people!!!!!!! When a leader like Sias does not know how to solve a problem, they always "reorganize" as a four cornered offense, buying more time to rob the state's coffers. This reorganization should certainly buy her enough time to get that well deserved bonus check. KSU unfortunately will have very little time if Sias remains in leadership of the college. Mr. Rice is absolute right. Any president who ignores all of these threats for even 2 years or like Sias for 9 years should be shown the door. KSU deserves fresh and capable new leadership, not reorganization.