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to work together rather than competing for programs and
money. “It was worth being blunt—and it was worth being
fired,” said Davies, whose contract was not renewed in 2002.
“Putting aside the petty stuff that occupies many people in
Kentucky higher education now, we started a revolution. And
even revolutions that fail add something to our experience.”
Thomas Layzell, former commissioner of higher
education in Mississippi, succeeded Davies. To him fell the
task of brokering distribution of cuts that were made in
the universities’ budgets during an economic slowdown.
“That was an important event to make that happen,” said
Ron Carson, senior fellow for policy development at the
postsecondary council. “It was an early test.”
“Gordon brought a degree of intensity that was really
necessary to take the details in the legislation and make them
happen,” said Aims McGuinness Jr., of the National Center
for Higher Education Management Systems, a consultant on
the reforms. “One of the skills that Tom brings to the job is
that he is very much a peacemaker, bringing people together.
They simply have different leadership styles for different
times.”
The question remains, however, whether the council is
strong enough to keep the universities from slipping back
into their old competitive, territorial ways. For example,
the reforms call for the regional universities to be four-year
baccalaureate institutions with only UK and Louisville
offering Ph.D.s. Yet by 2002 the
Lexington Herald-Leader
was reporting that the presidents of both Eastern Kentucky
University and Western Kentucky University wanted to offer
doctorates in education. Davies had resisted such ambitions,
calling them “mission creep,” and so far the council has
received no formal proposals for these programs.
Layzell said that having the reforms both written in law
and as part of a public agenda “gives you a very strong basis
to argue against institutional self-interest. You can say, ‘Hey,
this isn’t about you. This is about Kentucky. This is about the
needs of Kentucky.’ As long as that framework remains in
place, this is going to continue.”
State spending on higher education increased by 40
percent in the early years of the Patton administration. But
in 2001 the economy soured, and higher education budgets
were cut for three years in a row. A new
governor, Republican Ernie Fletcher, took
office in 2003, and there was deep concern
that the reforms might be derailed by either
budget constraints or politics or both.
“Governors don’t adopt their
predecessor’s babies,” Patton said in an
interview. “I didn’t, and I didn’t expect my
successor to adopt mine. Education is a
little more universal than a pet program,
though, and I’m sure Fletcher understands
that. The reforms should be able to
survive. And I hope the universities will
concentrate on trying to make the pie
bigger instead of fighting over the pieces.”
Fletcher said he had no problem with adopting Patton’s
reform agenda as long as it was good policy— “and this is,”
he said in an interview. Fletcher wants to take the reforms
to the next level, which he described as having universities
and colleges look not only at academics but also increasingly
at their roles in community and economic development.
“We’ve had some challenges” economically since the reforms
were passed, Fletcher added, but he pointed out that the state
increased higher education budgets by 12 percent, or $81.6
million, this year over last.
The budget increases generated renewed hope among
educators. “If you had asked me this time last year (about
how the reforms were doing), I’d have said awful,” Morehead
State Provost Michael Moore commented. “Now I’m
optimistic. The legislature and governor’s office gave a clear
positive signal in support of higher education.”
However, other leaders say the three years of budget cuts
have left Kentucky higher education several years behind.
“The rate of improvement has slowed down,” said Michael
Nietzel, former provost of the University of Kentucky. “We
got off to a fast start in 1998 and it wasn’t reasonable to
expect that it would continue, but it decreased more quickly
than we expected.” But Nietzel added, “I don’t think that
the economy was the only reason. It’s hard to stay with
the reform agenda.” It’s also hard to divorce politics and
regionalism from a state in which higher education was set
up to be regional.
The low levels of educational attainment that prompted
the reforms stemmed not only from Kentucky’s poverty but
also from what some say is the state’s historical failure to
value education. University of Kentucky President Lee Todd
Teresa Younce, helped by Kentucky’s higher education reforms,
graduated from Morehead State University with a degree in
sociology.
“It was worth being
blunt—and it was
worth being fired…
Even revolutions that
fail add something to
our experience.”
—Gordon K. Davies
Stewart Bowman for CrossTalk