Hopes and Dreams for a Hometown University
On Oct. 2, 1933, after more than a dozen years of false starts and delicate negotiations, the civic leaders of Kansas City, Mo., launched an institute of higher learning, the University of Kansas City. The city, which had first taken root a century earlier as a tiny settlement at the convergence of two great rivers, the Kansas and the Missouri, was a natural crossroads for the nation’s great western trails. By 1933, it had burgeoned into a dominant metropolitan hub for railroads, and later for aviation and the nation’s interstate highway system.
Interest in establishing a hometown university had occupied the community and civic organizations since the end of World War I. Recognizing the necessity of building widespread and deeply rooted consensus, a committee appointed by the Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors spent several years developing a plan that would “crystallize sentiment and stimulate interest in the establishment of a real university in Kansas City.”
By 1925, the chairman of the committee, A. Ross Hill, former president of the University of Missouri, issued a detailed blueprint for moving forward a recommendation to establish a city university.
Even before the committee’s blueprint could be publicized, difficulties developed.
Lincoln and Lee University
Kate W. Hewitt, widow of the former President of the Kansas City Dental College, Dr. Calvin B. Hewitt, offered 147 acres of land to the Methodist Episcopal Church. Located at today’s 75th Street and State Line Road on the Missouri side, the Hewitt land was then the site of the Meadow Lake Golf Club. Mrs. Hewitt placed several stipulations on her proposed gift: the establishment and maintenance on the land of an institute of higher learning devoted to Christian education; the campus educational buildings constructed at no less than $500,000*; and a $5,000 yearly annuity for herself. [*According to Consumer Price Index statistics from Historical Statistics of the United States, today’s 2009 cost would be $5,709,394.27.]
At a meeting on June 20, 1925, to discuss Hewitt’s proposed gift and the future university, representatives of Kansas City’s Methodist community determined to form an Organizational Committee and to invite the Chamber of Commerce to “have a substantial representation on the [University’s] Board of Trustees.” The meeting concluded with a decision to appoint six church representatives, whose names are listed in the minutes, to serve on a committee “chosen to look after the matter of attendance of colored students.” No further reference was made to this subject in later minutes or in future documents related to the early establishment of the university.
By the start of 1926, the merged committees had met 22 times and made several major decisions. Minutes from those meetings reveal that committee members repeatedly pressed for two important objectives. One was to establish an institution that would qualify for the “Grade A” level of the North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools. A second goal was to build strong alliances with local educational institutions, possibly forming reciprocally beneficial mergers.
As its first significant action, the combined committees adopted a Charter with 17 provisions and two amendments. A majority of committee members insisted on an amendment stating that no “religious tests shall ever be required as a qualification for any professor, teacher, student, or candidate for degree.” A second amendment changed the school’s proposed name “from the University of Kansas City to the Lincoln and Lee University of Kansas City.” The Charter was granted on Jan. 5, 1926.
The issue of financing the university also occupied much of the planners’ meetings, including a decision to hire a team of architects to advise about the campus layout and building design. Plans were also developed for launching a $5-million capital campaign between January and June of 1926.
Confidence ran high. In fact, the Kansas City Western Dental College, founded in 1881, decided in the fall of 1926 to merge with the proposed Lincoln and Lee University. Diplomas, printed with the School of Dentistry, Lincoln and Lee University name, were issued to the College’s 1927 graduating dentists.
By early 1928, however, lagging contributions to the capital campaign revealed underlying doubts about the project. Only $800,000 had been raised, and the majority of that money was in pledges. Two other obstacles particularly diminished enthusiasm among potential backers: first, the proposed campus was too far from the city, and second, its mission, as stipulated by the terms of Mrs. Hewitt’s bequest, was too sectarian.
University of Kansas City
Determined to overcome those obstacles, a new citizens group, the University Organization Committee of the Chamber of Commerce, signed a document which became the foundation of the university’s new charter, called the “Essentials of Agreement” and signed by the committee’s 124 members.
Thus unified, the committee wasted no time putting together an official charter for the University of Kansas City, which was granted on June 10, 1929. By the time the committee held its last meeting – Nov. 28, 1930 – plans for establishing Kansas City’s public institution for higher learning were on a clear and undisputed path. The driving force behind this final push to launch the university was a man often referred to by contemporary journalists as “Mr. Anonymous.”
William Volker was a wealthy businessman and philanthropist who shied away from the press. In 1930, he paid the estate of William Rockhill Nelson (founder of The Kansas City Star) $100,000 in school bonds for 40 acres just south of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, whose groundbreaking was on July 16, 1930. The following year, Volker purchased the William S. Dickey mansion and its 10-acre grounds adjacent to the Nelson acreage. UKC Trustees dubbed the newly acquired land as the Volker campus.
Volker’s generosity was the principal reason that the Trustees realistically hoped to open the university only two years after the acquisition of the Dickey mansion, but Volker’s gift was only one reason. Luckily, the mansion required little remodeling to convert its interior to administrative offices, classrooms and a library. In addition, discussions to incorporate an existing school, the Horner Junior College, into UKC progressed quickly and successfully. Finally, in the midst of the nation’s economic depression and the pursuant collapsed job market, the Trustees easily hired top qualified faculty.
UKC – The First Years
On Oct. 1, 1933, two thousand people assembled on the south lawn of the Dickey mansion for the formal dedication of the University of Kansas City. Besides the house, the university’s buildings included the mansion’s greenhouse (converted into a science building) and the carriage house (renovated as a gymnasium and power plant). The following day, a Monday, classes began with 260 students and 18 faculty members.
Shortly after returning from his honeymoon in 1911, the 52-year-old William Volker announced that he intended to give his new bride $1 million and donate the rest of his considerable fortune to charity.
Until his death on Nov. 4, 1947, Volker kept his word, granting $10 million to philanthropy, much of it anonymously.
The University of Kansas City, which received an estimated $2 million from Volker, was one of the chief beneficiaries of a man known to most Kansas Citians as “Mr. Anonymous.”
In the beginning, the Board of Trustees managed the University of Kansas City through an administrator or Executive Secretary, Ernest Newcomb, the former President of the Central College for Women in Lexington, Mo. Academic matters were assigned to Orin G. Sanford, the school’s Dean, who developed the curriculum and hired faculty. This organizational structure proved problematic, however, and before the close of its first academic year, the university faced its first internal crisis. When the Trustees decided not to renew the contracts of three popular faculty members, the students retaliated by waging a strike. In addition to the faculty dismissals, an underlying problem was the ongoing power-of-authority disputes between Newcomb and Sanford. The situation, which highlighted the need for organizational changes, led to a new appointment: A UKC President, who would serve as the university’s leader.
After the brief tenure of J. Duncan Spaeth, the Trustees appointed Clarence R. Decker as UKC’s President. For the next 15 years, 1938-1953, Decker guided the institution through the longest term of office served by a UKC chief executive. Influenced by the ideas of Robert Maynard Hutchins, the young President of the University of Chicago and later the chairman of the Board of the Encyclopedia Britannica, President Decker believed institutes of higher learning should focus on liberal arts, eschewing specialization and vocational education. He successfully resisted calls for intercollegiate athletics and national Greek fraternities and sororities. Despite his strong beliefs, Decker remained popular with faculty, students and community leaders for most of his presidency, and the university continued to grow. Within four years of its opening, enrollment had risen from 260 to 700; by 1941, it was 1,280.
Although the humanities dominated UKC’s curriculum in its early history, several area professional schools merged with the university during pre-World War II years. The Kansas City School of Law joined in 1938, and the Western Dental College in 1941. Two years later, UKC incorporated the city’s School of Pharmacy.
A number of capital improvements coincided with the mergers. A new library, Newcomb Hall, opened in 1936; Haag Hall, endowed anonymously by a wealthy widow, in 1937; and Swinney Gymnasium, in 1941.
UKC – The Years of World War
World War II abruptly altered the course of the university. Enrollment growth, mergers and capital improvements ceased. During the second semester of AY1941-42, enrollment dropped 22 percent as a result of students enlisting in the military after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
Along with the entire nation, Kansas City and UKC geared up for war. Swinney Gymnasium became barracks for the Army Air Force, and Epperson House, at that time home of the School of Dentistry, served as the education center for the Army’s Specialized Training Unit and the Navy’s V12 program, which allowed students to finish baccalaureate degrees. Of the 900 UKC students who joined the military, 29 lost their lives by the end of the war in 1945.
With the sudden surge of returning veterans and with the help of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 [the GI Bill], UKC, along with other schools across the country, experienced a sudden and dramatic leap in enrollment. In the Fall 1946 semester, UKC’s enrollment increased 60 percent – to 3,350 students – compared to the previous academic year.
To ease the strain on housing, classrooms and laboratories caused by the enrollment surge, more faculty members were hired and class schedules were extended. In addition, five war-surplus buildings were brought to campus. Three were used by the School of Pharmacy, first-year dental students and as general classrooms. Another became the student center. The fifth one, which had been the post theater at Camp Crowder in southwest Missouri, was converted into the 510-seat University Playhouse. Epperson House handled some of the overflow of student housing needs, but people in the neighborhood also helped, opening their homes to out-of-town students.
The end of the war brought another major change. UKC admitted its first African American students, with the enrollment of seven students in January 1948. Decker and the faculty had long supported the removal of the whites-only policy, and in 1947 the Trustees voted to open UKC to all students, regardless of race, color or ethnicity.
UKC – Mid-Century
Despite these post-war improvements, President Decker’s continued insistence that the university remain a small, liberal arts institution came under increasing attack by students and faculty, who favored the growing trend in higher education for serving a greater proportion of the general population and providing professional academic programs. When most of the Trustees continued to support the President, despite a faculty and student vote of no confidence, several members of the administration turned in their resignations. The Trustees refused to accept the resignations, but on Feb. 23, 1953, after almost two years of an embattled Presidency, the governing body did accept Decker’s resignation.
Under the leadership of the university’s next president, Earl J. McGrath, who had recently resigned as U.S. Commissioner of Education, having also served under President Truman, UKC’s academic mission quickly expanded from its former emphasis on arts and humanities:
- Within a few months of Decker’s resignation, two new schools were established at UKC: Business Administration and Education.
- Several new programs – science, home economics and medical technology – were also added to the College of Liberal Arts, which changed its name in 1957 to College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
- New graduate level programs included master’s degrees in theater, city planning and public administration.
- An Evening Division, changed to Division for Continuing Education in 1958, was launched, which offered non-credit courses for the city’s working adults.
In 1955, UKC opened a four-story brick dormitory, which President McGrath predicted would “fundamentally change” the university and campus life. Additional student-focused initiatives continued to broaden the university’s appeal to potential students. National Greek-letter organizations formed chapters on campus; a debate team was formed; an intercollegiate athletics program was organized, beginning with a men’s basketball team.
This transformation coincided with UKC’s 25th anniversary. The official appointment of the university’s fourth chief executive, Richard Drake, was part of the 1958 anniversary commemoration ceremonies. Now titled Chancellor, after a decision by the Trustees, Drake’s inauguration ceremony was unprecedented. Conducted privately for faculty and Trustees, the event was broadcast live on six regional television stations and was seen by more than four million people. The year continued with celebrations that included lectures, symposia, concerts and theatrical productions.
The decade ended with one of the university’s most important mergers when the Kansas City Conservatory of Music, an institution founded in 1906, joined KCU in 1959.
Hazel Browne Williams, a Kansas City native, graduated from Lincoln High School in 1923 and later attended the University of Kansas. By 1929, she had earned her undergraduate and master’s degrees in English and was elected into Phi Beta Kappa. She began her first teaching job in 1932 at the Louisville Municipal College in Kentucky, a black liberal arts school. After earning a master’s degree in guidance and counseling from Columbia University, she received her Ph.D. from New York University in 1953. Three years later, she was a Fulbright exchange teacher and taught English in Vienna, Austria.
In 1958, she was offered an associate professorship at UKC’s School of Education. With this appointment, she not only became the first African American teacher at the University, but also the first full-time black female to receive such an appointment in Missouri, outside Lincoln University. Two years later, Dr. Williams became a full professor and taught for another 16 years. When she retired in 1976, she was granted emeritus status, the first black person given this honor at UMKC.
In her honor, UMKC created the Hazel Browne Williams Scholarship for degree-seeking students, with preference given to minorities. The scholarship was the first in the University’s history created in recognition of an African American.
Dr. Williams died in 1986.
From Private to Public – From UKC to UMKC
Despite the enduring benefits to KCU of the Conservatory merger, any visitor to the campus in the early 1960s could see that the university was going through a difficult time. Faculty salaries remained among the worst in the country. Facilities throughout the campus were in disrepair. The new residence hall was half full. Evidence of the mounting budgetary crisis soon became apparent to everyone when KCU leaders voted in 1961 to abolish collegiate athletics and to close KCUR-FM, an NPR affiliate founded in 1957.
Before the end of the year, President Richard Drake resigned and the Trustees appointed the university’s Vice President for Academic Affairs, Carleton Scofield, as the new Chancellor. Scofield, who did not intend to take the job permanently, accepted the position on two conditions: first, that an active search be launched for a permanent president, and second, that the necessary funds ($12,375) be paid to bring back KCUR. The Trustees agreed.
For years, community leaders had tried to raise an endowment sufficient to sustain KCU as a private university. Along with Scofield, the Trustees recognized the unlikelihood and impracticality of this solution. One option, which had long been discussed, was to merge with the University of Missouri. Shortly after taking office as acting president, Scofield left for Columbia to talk with Elmer Ellis, the University of Missouri president. Although Ellis favored the idea of creating a university system that would include campuses in both of Missouri’s largest cities, St. Louis and Kansas City, negotiations for the merger were complex and often difficult and involved securing approval and funding from the state’s legislature.
Finally at noon on Tuesday, July 23, 1963, the University of Kansas City became the University of Missouri–Kansas City.
UM System Curators:
The University of Missouri Board of Curators is the governing body of University system. The following statement is found on the Curators’ Web site:
The University of Missouri, which refers to the institution, in all of its parts, persons, property and relationships wherever situated, owned, operated, controlled, managed or otherwise regulated, is under the supervision or direction of The Board of Curators of the University of Missouri.
The Board of Curators, the governing body of the University of Missouri, consists of nine members, who are appointed by the governor, by and with the advice and consent of the senate; provided, that not more than one person shall be appointed from the same congressional district, and no person shall be appointed a curator who shall not be a citizen of the United States, and who shall not have been a resident of the state of Missouri two years next prior to his appointment. Not more than five curators shall belong to any one political party.
The term of service of the curators shall be six years, the terms of three expiring every two years. Curators, while attending the meetings of the board, shall receive their actual expenses, which shall be paid out of the ordinary revenues of the university.
UMKC Trustees Mission Statement: “To promote excellence in programs at the University of Missouri–Kansas City, over and above those standards which the Curators of the University of Missouri are otherwise liable to maintain.”
The origin of the UMKC Trustees began at the founding of the University of Kansas City, the institution that proceeded UMKC prior to UKC’s merger with the state university system. In 1925 a group of Kansas Citians associated with the Chamber of Commerce joined forces to establish the city’s first institution of higher learning. After several months of meetings by Chamber members, a Board of Trustees, comprised of 75 people, was elected to develop plans for launching a capital campaign to finance the proposed university. Shortly after a Charter was granted on Jan. 5, 1926, the Board met to initiate a practical timeline for creating the University and to adopt by-laws to govern the University’s management.
Although today’s Board of Trustees does not have official governing power, the business owners, UMKC alumni, political representatives and residents on the Board are among the most active and influential people in the Greater Kansas City area. Because they live in the metropolitan region, the Board members have a unique perspective on the University and its place in the community, and their opinions, recommendations and support are important to UMKC’s success.]
The late 1960s brought widespread anti-Vietnam War protests to many U.S. campuses. Although UMKC experienced a few protest rallies and sit-ins, the fact that the student body mostly comprised older-than-average students who commuted to campus rather than living in University housing reduced the opportunities for the extended anti-war organizing prevalent at other universities in the region. Nevertheless, UMKC’s student newspaper, University News [UNews], which had once primarily included articles about social and sports events, turned increasingly political. By 1963, UNews regularly featured an editorial by nationally syndicated columnist, Eric Sevareid, and also a student-written column called “Washington Window,” with updates on the war. One annual UMKC tradition originated during those times of national political unrest: the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Symposium. Begun in honor of Sen. Kennedy, who was assassinated in 1968, the first RFK Symposium in February 1969 focused on the theme, “Dissent,” and featured many of the country’s best known anti-war activists. Despite widespread criticism in the city, the Curators allowed the Symposium to proceed, which it did with much publicity but with no confrontations.
During Fall 1963, after joining the UM System, enrollment equalled 4,394. Cost was $22 per semester hour for part-time students and $310 for students enrolled in 15 or more hours.
During the 1960s, the nation’s college campuses also saw a burgeoning interest in many social justice and civil rights issues. By the early 1970s, for example, the “Women’s Movement” dominated on- and off-campus discourse, especially regarding such matters as women’s education, birth control, housework, marriage, sexuality, child rearing and scholarship about women. The changing role of women in society became the impetus for the establishment of UMKC’s Women’s Resource Center in 1971.
In 1972, as an indication of UMKC’s broadening vision of community engagement, a delegation of physicians from the People’s Republic of China, the first to visit the U.S. since the Chinese Cultural Revolution, toured the University. Nine years later, in 1981, UMKC established its first formal international exchange agreement with the Shanghai Second University of Medicine and Medical Sciences in the People’s Republic of China.
Earnest efforts to create a school of medicine in Kansas City started in the 1950s when plans began to restructure the University of Missouri’s two-year medical school into an M.D.-granting, four-year institute. Leaders in Kansas City, who had hopes of establishing a medical school in their hometown, argued that Missouri’s next medical school should be built in the state’s second largest metropolitan area and not in Columbia. The ensuing battle was fierce and political, ending in a temporary setback for Kansas City. In 1967 and 1968, however, Kansas City’s medical school aspirations took two giant steps forward. The first step was a $14 million bond issue overwhelmingly approved by Jackson County voters for the construction of a new teaching hospital. The second was the 1968 publication of a report called “A Survey of Physician Manpower in Missouri,” which was produced for the Missouri Commission on Higher Education and described the state’s critical shortage of doctors, especially in rural areas. The response among Missourians was swift and consequential. Within weeks the Board of Curators sanctioned the creation of a school of medicine at UMKC.
Although other obstacles were ahead for the school’s founders, UMKC’s School of Medicine opened in Fall 1970 with 40 students. Four years later, a $13.25 million building was completed on Hospital Hill adjacent to two of the school’s teaching hospitals, Truman Medical Center (formerly Kansas City General Hospital) and Children’s Mercy Hospital.
UMKC’s School of Dentistry [SOD] joined the School of Medicine on Hospital Hill with the dedication of the nearby SOD building in March 1970. With space for 600 dental students, 100 dental hygiene students and 100 graduate students, the school’s new $7.5 million building was the largest dental school in the country. Although nursing degrees had been offered for several years through the UMKC graduate studies program, the school itself was not founded until 1979, when it joined UMKC’s two other health sciences schools on Hospital Hill. UMKC’s fourth and oldest health sciences school, the School of Pharmacy, began as a stand-alone institution in 1885 called the Kansas City College of Pharmacy, merging with UKC in 1943. Twenty years later, when UKC was incorporated into the University of Missouri System, the School of Pharmacy became the only state-supported pharmacy school in Missouri. The school remained on the Volker campus until 2007, when it joined the other three Hospital Hill schools after the completion of the Health Sciences Building, home for both the pharmacy and nursing schools.
The 1970s saw a construction boom at UMKC. In addition to the schools of Medicine and Dentistry, the University’s School of Education building was also completed in the early 1970s. Dedicated in 1973, it was the University’s first building-wide use of a closed-circuit television system and computer-assisted instruction center. The building represented an emerging interest in computer technology among universities other than vocational schools. Six years later, the technically advanced, $7 million School of Law building was completed. In 1983, researchers at United Telecom provided $2.5 million to establish an agreement — unusual for the time — between business and academia, jointly hiring scientists as teachers in a new computer science and telecommunications program and as researchers of United Telecom.
UMKC’s expanding partnerships with area businesses also resulted in a $1 million grant from the Hallmark Foundation in 1981, given to the Department of Theatre to attract outstanding faculty and create scholarships for students. At the end of the year, the Missouri Repertory Company mounted its first performance of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”
For more than 40 years, UMKC and the Kansas City Repertory Theatre [The Rep] have been partners in theatre and education. Founded in 1964, The Rep was originally a part of the University’s Department of Theatre. It became a self-governing not-for-profit professional theatre in 1979, and today operates as the professional theatre-in-residence at UMKC. The Rep, which operates mostly in University facilities, continues to train our theatre students by providing colloquia with its leading professionals and opportunities to work alongside, assist or understudy Rep artists.
Coinciding with the University’s 50th anniversary in 1983, the Trustees launched the New Horizons Campaign. The largest capital campaign in the University’s history, New Horizons ended a year earlier than planned and nearly $3 million more than its goal of $18.8 million.
At the close of its first half century, UMKC had 750 faculty and 11,500 students. The University offered 47 undergraduate degree programs, 47 master’s programs and eight doctoral programs. The makeup of the student population was also changing. Until 1980, male students at UMKC outnumbered female students. The trend slowly reversed after that year, and by 1991, females outnumbered males 56% to 44%, and by 2001 the figure was 58% to 42%.
In the late 1980s, UMKC’s Board of Trustees, in conjunction with the University’s advancement/development office, oversaw another campaign. This time it was the “UMKC Image Survey,” conducted by the Lawrence-Leiter Company. From March to July 1988, more than 1,500 people, on and off campus, were interviewed. The survey’s overall findings showed that most people considered UMKC a commuter college for people who were employed in Kansas City. Although respondents ranked the University among the region’s good schools, its graduate programs and social life for students were rated poorly. Respondents also expressed concern about UMKC’s potential for positive change, citing the fact that 50% of its faculty and staff were retiring by 1995.
Also in 1988, the Women’s Center conducted a survey of 527 undergraduate, graduate and professional women. The survey respondents reported several areas of concern: that professors treated women differently than men and that women did not hold positions of power, either among the faculty or the administration. Women also said that they felt disconnected from life on campus, noting that events and services were not planned for their convenience or interests.
The results of these surveys, as well as the powerful forces of technological advancements, expanding numbers of the region’s high school students opting to attend college, and declining resources from the state, helped to shape the direction UMKC would take during the next decade and into the 21st century.
Changes and Challenges for an Urban University
In 1990, Dr. George Russell, who became UMKC Chancellor in 1977, set as a goal the establishment of the University’s first 10 endowed chairs before the end of the decade. The next year, UMKC’s first fully endowed chair was announced: the Dively Chair in Orthopaedic Surgery. The same year, Curators’ Professor J. David Eick received a $4.4 million grant, the largest grant to a UMKC faculty member. The grant focused on continued research on new dental adhesives and non-shrinking polymers.
In 1992, after Dr. Russell became President of the UM System, Dr. Eleanor Schwartz was named Chancellor. During the 30 years prior to Chancellor’s Schwartz’s appointment, UMKC’s enrollment had grown dramatically, increasing from 3,409 to 11,159 between 1961 and 1991 and peaking at 11,983 in 1975. One of Dr. Schwartz’s administration’s first initiatives was to develop a comprehensive Enrollment Management Plan, which focused particularly on strengthening the pipeline between the University and Kansas City’s high schools. The number of UMKC’s first-time college students had peaked in 1968 with 1,332, but afterwards declined steadily, reaching 531 by 1991. According to the 1993 Plan, the University particularly hoped to enroll more minority students, a group that represented 12% of the city’s 1994 high school graduates, which included a total of 33,458 who identified themselves as college-bound.
UMKC’s minority enrollment statistics were not gathered until 1977, when 921 minority students were counted, with the largest number (392) being Asian/Pacific Islanders. By 1991, the minority student population rose to 1,344. During that same period, 1977 to 1991, international student enrollment more than tripled, from 174 to 604.
Race and ethnicity among UMKC’s highest executive and administrative staff was also being tracked annually. Of the 55 top leaders in 1985, one was African American and one was Native American. Nine years later, the percentage remained relatively the same. Of the 59 total, two were African American, with one Asian/Pacific Islander and two Hispanic.
Beginning in 1995, Chancellor Schwartz, shortly after initiating the enrollment plan, launched a strategic planning process, which culminated in 2000 with a final report listing five long-range goals:
- Raise the quality of instruction and research;
- Increase UMKC’s engagement with the community;
- Enrich the diversity of the University community;
- Build and employ more modern computing and communications technologies; and
- Improve institutional efficiency, effectiveness and accountability.
One of the biggest challenges facing Chancellor Schwartz was external — UMKC’s declining popularity with its surrounding neighborhoods. In 1998, angered by news that UMKC planned to expand through the acquisition of more residential properties, residents began displaying yard signs that read, “UMKC Kills Our Homes.” Local radio and television stations picked up the story of the growing rift between the University and its neighbors.
In response, UMKC eventually revised its Master Plan, forming an advisory group comprised of civic, business and surrounding community leaders. In addition, the university created a partnership with representatives from the neighborhoods in order to foster understanding of respective neighborhood and University issues and to develop mutually beneficial solutions.
Those partnerships were still being formed in 1999 when Chancellor Schwartz resigned, replaced by Gordon Lamb, an administrator from the UM System. Dr. Lamb served briefly as Interim Chancellor until the selection of Dr. Martha Gilliland, who took over as Chancellor in 2000.
Even before officially assuming the chancellorship, Dr. Gilliland scheduled meetings with UMKC students, faculty, staff and neighbors, as well as community, business and political leaders. She also organized an advisory group of 80 volunteers, selecting from people inside and outside the University, who would be responsible for drafting a vision statement for UMKC. After more than 60 open forum and discussion sessions, the advisory group created a document called “Blueprint for the Future,” which established a vision for UMKC to become:
- A Community of Learners
- Committed to Academic Excellence
- A Campus Without Borders
- An Environment That Unleashes Human Potential.
The advisory group also identified several “Breakthrough Projects” designed to turn the vision into action. In early 2001, to help carry out those projects, Chancellor Gilliland invited faculty, staff and students to volunteer to serve on an Extended Cabinet, comprised of 50 faculty, 50 staff and 20 student volunteers. The Cabinet’s purpose was to help advance the Blueprint process and the projects by sharing information throughout the campus, receiving campus feedback and advising the University’s administration. [More detailed descriptions relating to the studies about UMKC, including the “Blueprint for the Future,” are in the Criterion chapters.]
During the next three years, Chancellor Gilliland received harsh criticism from many faculty members who expressed concern over issues of shared governance regarding budget allotments and leadership appointments. The Chancellor’s critics also believed that her decisions relied too heavily on the advice of outside consultants and the interests of local civic leaders. As the Fall 2004 semester came to a close, faculty in four academic units – College of Arts and Sciences, Henry W. Bloch School of Business and Public Administration, School of Law and School of Biological Sciences – voted “no confidence” in her administration. Although Chancellor Gilliland received strong support from the UMKC Trustees and the Student Government Association, which, during its last meeting of the semester, passed a resolution in support of the administration and a disapproval of the faculty’s no-confidence vote, Chancellor Gilliland announced her resignation, effective Dec. 31, 2004. Despite the turbulent conclusion of her time in office, UMKC had achieved several milestones during her four-year administration, including completion of the Oak Street Residence Hall and groundbreaking of the Health Sciences Building on the Hospital Hill campus. UMKC also became the UM System’s most diverse campus, and its relationship with surrounding neighborhoods had notably improved during those four years.
An Assured Course to the Future
Following Dr. Gilliland’s departure and the appointment of Dr. Steven Lehmkuhle, Vice President of Academic Affairs at the UM System, as Interim Chancellor, Dr. Guy Bailey, the Provost from University of Texas–San Antonio, was selected UMKC Chancellor. During his two and a half years at UMKC, Chancellor Bailey oversaw the completion of a $200 million capital campaign, begun during Dr. Gilliland’s administration, and he created nearly $10 million in administrative savings that was put into the core academic mission of the University, including raising salaries to attract and retain faculty. During Chancellor Bailey’s tenure, about $175 million in new construction was approved, using primarily public/private funding partnerships.
In the summer of 2008, the University once again experienced a change in leadership when Dr. Bailey took a new post as President of Texas Tech University and Leo Morton was appointed by UM President Gary Forsee as Interim and then as UMKC’s permanent Chancellor. Unlike his two predecessors, Chancellor Morton was no stranger to UMKC and Kansas City. In 1994, he had joined the Kansas City-based company, Aquila, Inc., an electricity and natural gas distribution network. In 2000, he was named senior vice president and chief administrative officer at Aquila. Morton’s connection to UMKC was also well established. Having served as a UMKC Trustee since 2000, he was appointed in his third year as chairman of the Board of Trustees.
UMKC’s turnovers in leadership – six Chancellors and seven Provosts within eight years – belie the basic continuity of UMKC’s mission, which has created a strong and enduring foundation. In the final analysis, the success of our institution, whose history of accomplishments is described throughout this self study, has been measured by our ability to maintain a clear and steady sense of purpose, while adapting to the challenges of our community and the changing needs of our students. We are an urban University, founded on the hopes and dreams of the people we live among. Our mission, which arises from our city’s vision of a hometown University, has clearly helped shape our past. It is, however, our ability to assess current needs, anticipate challenges and recalibrate our mission that have allowed our University, for more than 75 years, to navigate an assured course to the future.
[Photographs for the History page were provided by UMKC's University Archives and the Western Historical Manuscript Collection. ]