TOPEKA — Gov. Sam Brownback on Thursday named U.S. Senator Jerry Moran's wife, a former legislator who led the governor's transition team and a prominent Kansas City-area attorney to the board that oversees the state's higher education system.
Brownback said he has told new Board of Regents appointees Robba Moran, of Hays; former state Rep. Kenny Wilk, of Lansing; and Fred Logan Jr., of Leawood, that he wants to them to push the board to set new goals to improve higher education and consider consolidating programs.
"They are an all-star team," Brownback said during a Statehouse news conference.
The regents oversee the state's six universities, 19 community colleges, six technical colleges, Washburn University in Topeka and the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City. The higher education system's current budget is $2.3 billion and the board and state universities have more than 17,000 employees.
Since the board's creation in 1925, its seats have been considered perhaps the most prestigious non-salaried positions in state government, often going to ex-legislators, other former elected officials, highly regarded educators and business leaders.
Brownback said because the state's dollars are limited, he wants the regents to measure the effectiveness of academic programs and shift resources into programs most effective in helping build the state's economy. He's also looking for the regents to improve programs, he said.
"Any more, I think, in the United States, if you're going to walk out on the field, you'd better aspire to be the top at it, or it's questionable whether you ought to walk out on that field," he said. "We know where our colleges rank when it comes to the sports teams.... I want us to know that academically."
The appointments must be confirmed by the state Senate after the Legislature reconvenes in January. But the appointees will be allowed to serve in the meantime with consent from a Senate committee.
Robba Moran has a law degree from Duke University and is an assistant professor of business at Fort Hays State University. Her husband, a Republican, was elected to the U.S. Senate last year after serving 14 years in the U.S. House.
She said Kansans are proud of their public schools and higher education institutions but she wants them to move "from good to excellent." She also said the state's residents need to remember that the system also includes technical colleges that provide job skills.
"We need to be sure we have a workforce that is capable of using their hands as well as their minds," she said.
Wilk is a retired Hallmark Cards Inc. executive who served in the Kansas House from 1993 through 2008, including as chairman of its Appropriations and Taxation committees. He's now a community outreach and strategic planning consultant.
"When I started serving here in the Capitol, we talked a lot of about the knowledge-based economy. We no longer talk about it. We have the knowledge-based economy," Wilk said.
"Our regents have and will continue to lead us, and that role that they will play in the future is absolutely critical."
Logan is a former Kansas Republican Party chairman who's also served on the Board of Trustees of Johnson County Community College.
He said Brownback's goals don't doom less-visible academic disciplines because, "There will even be room for poets."
"Excellence is not a narrow thing, it seems to me," Logan said. "Nobody's knees should be knocking, other than if they're not committed to excellence."
The appointments are the Republican governor's first to the nine-member board since he took office in January. They replace three regents who had been named by Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius in 2007. Board members serve four-year terms.
Former Lt. Gov. Gary Sherrer, of Overland Park, abruptly stepped down from the board in May, six weeks before his term expired, citing conflicts with other board members in deciding to leave early.
The other two departing regents' terms expired June 30. They are Jarold Boettcher, of Manhattan, the president of three small businesses in the Beloit area, and Richard Hedges, of Fort Scott, and the retired president of Fort Scott Community College.