Has small-town Kansas outlived its role?
Are Kansans eating themselves to death?
Can we afford public education?
Is the free market enough?
These are some of the questions that will be considered at a symposium wrapping up the Kansas Sesquicentennial by looking at the state’s future.
The Kansas in Question Symposium will be Dec. 5 and Dec. 6 at the Hyatt Regency Wichita. People in leadership positions from around Kansas are expected to attend, and anyone else who cares about Kansas should also participate, said Ted Ayres, vice president and general counsel at Wichita State University and one of the symposium planners.
The cost is $50, and only 88 of the 300 spots in the symposium remained open as of late last week. The organizers and primary hosts for the event are The Wichita Eagle, the Kansas Health Foundation, the Kansas Leadership Center and Wichita State University.
“One thing that makes this unique is it’s an opportunity for a broad cross section of Kansans to articulate a vision for the state,” said Ed O’Malley, president of the Kansas Leadership Center. The center and the Kansas Health Foundation are among the sponsors of the symposium.
“Often we have an elected official or a key figure articulate the vision, but what’s different about this is it’s a cross section.”
People who helped brainstorm earlier events for Kansas’150th anniversary of statehood, including a parade and concert in October, decided that after “spending 12 months celebrating the past 150 years, wouldn’t it be unique, wouldn’t it be special if the concluding event would allow people, leaders who are invested and care about the state, to see what the next 150 years are going to look like?” Ayres said.
The result will be attendees breaking into groups to look at six areas: education, employment, the environment, health, rural Kansas and urban Kansas. Among the “provocative” questions and statements that will be posed to the groups:
• How can we create more than just McJobs?
• Is it time to go back to the one-room schoolhouse?
• Should teachers do more than teach?
• What if being a good place to raise a family isn’t enough?
• Should small towns be allowed to die?
• Don’t tell me how to lead my life – just pay my medical bills.
• On the environment, is Kansas a leader, a follower or a victim?
• Tornadoes, drought, floods and hail: Is the land trying to tell us something?
Because participants will be from all parts of Kansas, they will get a new perspective on the situations that people in different areas are facing, said Jon Rolph. He is the president of Sasnak Management, which owns Carlos O’Kelly’s and Applebee’s restaurants, and he will be the “conversation catalyst” leading the discussion on employment.
The other “conversation catalysts” will be Bob Moser, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, on health; Angie Sutton, member relations director of Kansas Farm Bureau, on rural Kansas; Andy Tompkins, president and CEO of the Kansas Board of Regents, on education; Susan Kang, development director for the Dole Institute of Politics at the KU Endowment Association, on the environment; and Mark McCormick, director of communications for the Kansas Leadership Center, on urban Kansas.
Gov. Sam Brownback is expected to address the symposium, and James Chung, president of Reach Advisors, a strategy and research firm based in New York, will give a keynote address on Kansas demographics. Chung will examine Census data for what Kansas looks like now and for how it will look in the future, including how consumer demand and workforce dynamics will shift this decade and for how shifts in education will drive state economics.
Attendees will get to be part of two 90-minute discussions – one in the morning and one in the afternoon Dec. 6 – and will be asked to reflect on the future of Kansas with regard to its most crucial problems and opportunities and with regard to the public vs. the individual good, Ayres said.
When the groups come back together, summaries will be presented from each of the six areas of discussion, and then 30 minutes will be spent looking at where the discussion goes from there.
“We hope there’s a lot of momentum and fire built up,” Ayres said. “We are really hoping this will be a springboard” for the participants perhaps deciding to continue to meet and to perhaps create a blueprint for action.
Said O’Malley: “I think this is one of those things when you start it you can’t control where it goes, and that’s exciting.
“I believe it will go someplace. I believe there will be ideas and relationships that people will want to continue.”
The evening of Dec. 5 will include a tribute to late Kansas historian Craig Miner by Friends University history professor Gretchen Eick and a film on Kansas civic leadership. A fun run and a walk to the Keeper of the Plains will be optional activities for the morning of Dec. 6.
For more information or to register, go to the website kansasinquestion.com or call Jana Henderson at 316-978-6493. The $50 registration includes dinner Dec. 5 and breakfast and lunch Dec. 6. A special rate of $106 is available for a room at the Hyatt.