Wichita's future place within the University of Kansas has come into question in recent years, along with the future funding of the local graduate medical education program. But the KU-Wichita bond got some welcome fortification Wednesday, in a ceremony celebrating the KU School of Pharmacy-Wichita site to open in 2011 and in an Eagle editorial board meeting with new KU chancellor Bernadette Gray- Little.
The local pharmacy program won't begin accepting students until 2011, after completion of a new $4.5 million facility on the second floor of the KU School of Medicine-Wichita's building at 1010 N. Kansas. But it promises to make Wichita, along with the KU School of Pharmacy's $45 million building under construction in Lawrence, a crucial partner in countering the worsening shortage of pharmacists in Kansas.
Gray-Little told the editorial board she's optimistic that the Wichita pharmacy program, just like the Wichita medical school campus, will be a model for providing graduates to the areas of need around the state.
Gray-Little also said that she sees KU's Wichita campus as an asset to both the university and the area, mentioning its focus on community and rural medicine. "Students come here knowing it's been the goal and attraction of it," she said.
She noted the ambitious goal of H. David Wilson, the new dean of the KU School of Medicine-Wichita, for the campus to become a four-year program, rather than see its students continue to spend their first two years at the campus in Kansas City, Kan.
"I expect to see the school not only expand but have a higher profile," Gray-Little said of Wichita's campus.
Five years in the making, the pharmacy school's launch gets that expansion under way.
Among the chancellor's other comments about her "eventful" month and a half on the job:
* She shares Gov. Mark Parkinson's emphasis on the quality of higher education in the state and views higher admission standards as a tool to help motivate more students to prepare for college and, ultimately, foster student success. And "I'd like to see more of them leave with a degree," she said, noting the room for improvement in KU's six-year graduation rate of 60 percent.
* She was reassured by the Kansas Board of Regents' recent management audit of KU, which questioned one private $18,000 contract with athletic director Lew Perkins but found no major problems. It signaled that under retired chancellor Robert Hemenway, she said, there was "good management and attention to detail."
* It's been difficult to sort out the details of last week's fight between members of the KU football and men's basketball teams. In any case, she said, "It was disappointing. It was embarrassing."
* She's excited about KU Athletics' new commitment to donate $40 million to academics at the university, related to the $34 million expansion plan for Memorial Stadium — a rare and impressive example of a winning athletics program helping further academic success.