The last finalist for the provost position said during a presentation Thursday that University of Kansas faculty and staff are the gatekeepers of higher education, and it will be their responsibility to show the value of coming to college.
Barbara Bichelmeyer, provost at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, received four of her degrees from the University. She said she was recruited to be a KU student by Suzanne Shaw, a former associate dean of the School of Journalism.
Bichelmeyer was nominated as a provost candidate — she didn’t initially apply, she said, but she wanted to come back to the University because she has “a compelling connection to KU.”
All provost candidates were asked by Chancellor Douglas Girod to present challenges facing higher education. Bichelmeyer started by saying that as the cost of attending college has increased, enrollment rates have decreased. As such, the University should prepare to show the unique elements and value of enrolling at a university.
“We are at a moment in history where we are experiencing transformational changes that are begging us to revisit this question,” Bichelmeyer said.
Similar to previous candidates, Bichelmeyer also said the University could improve in diversity and equity. This includes making higher education more financially accessible to lower-income students.
“We need not just the best and the brightest to have access,” Bichelmeyer said. “We need everyone who has a bright brain.”
Bichelmeyer is openly gay. She has understood how it feels to be left out and struggle with mental health while having an underrepresented identity, she said.
Higher education has moved from being a public good to a private good, she said. The University should look into different ways to make higher education more accessible to federal Pell grant students.
“We take a sacred trust,” Bichelmeyer said. “We take dollars from students, who don’t have the dollars to spend.”
Faculty have been concerned about the University’s ranking in the Association of American Universities — a group of colleges that are commended for their research. The University has been approaching the bottom of the list, but its' ranking could rise as the University meets the needs of society, Bichelmeyer said.
Bichelmeyer said she recognizes her background as an administrator hasn’t been at the University, but she said she counts on other staff and faculty to help make up for where she lacks.
“I know that I don’t know very much about KU,” Bichelmeyer said. “I’ve read a lot of webpage and a lot of reports. I would be walking in and learning from you.”