At the University of Missouri-Kansas City, we couldn’t agree more with the gist of The Star’s Sept. 15 editorial, “How Mizzou’s struggles could be an opportunity for UMKC.” The challenges we are facing in higher education in the state of Missouri and within the University of Missouri System are rife with opportunity for Kansas City’s university.
I found many points of agreement in the editorial. I agree that you can’t have a great city without a great university.
I agree that UMKC needs to be great. We need to be the best we can be to serve our city and our region well. That’s why we embraced the “Time to Get it Right” report in 2005 and partnered with civic leaders to create a blueprint for the future. That’s why we have moved forward urgently to achieve key goals from that report. That’s why I’m meeting with civic leaders right now, in my new role as interim chancellor, to deeply understand what this city needs from UMKC and to chart the next stage of our journey to the future.
I also agree that in an era when state appropriations for higher education are declining in most states, especially in Missouri, we need all the support we can get from city leaders and major benefactors. And I fervently hope people understand that educating our citizens is not an expense, but rather a great investment.
I also found a number of points on which I offer an alternative view.
UMKC already attracts top-tier faculty and students. We have our share of researchers who are funded by the National Institutes of Health, Department of Defense and National Science Foundation, and have received numerous other accolades. We have faculty who have won Guggenheim Awards and Pulitzer Prizes for their creative work. Our faculty engage in research with students from the undergraduate level on. Just step into your local dentist or doctor’s office, check out our Tony- and Grammy-award winning musicians or actors, take note of our city’s top entrepreneurs or look at all the UMKC-educated judges on the bench in Missouri to see that our highly diverse graduates excel in the world as it is and change it for the better.
Our incoming students have an average ACT score of 25.8, which is one of the highest among all institutions in the state of Missouri. At UMKC, we seek and attract high potential students who otherwise might be shut out of higher education. Accessibility is a core mission for our campus and vital to the success of our city and region. At UMKC, we believe we can’t afford to leave talent behind just because it comes in a non-traditional package.
This points to another way UMKC and each of the UM System universities are different from other institutions of higher education in Missouri. The four UM campuses are our state’s only public research institutions. What we do is different from the mission of our great comprehensive teaching institutions like Missouri State or University of Central Missouri or Southeast Missouri State, and it’s different from the mission of our community colleges that are doing such important work.
The UM System schools are committed to research-infused instruction, which carries a higher cost than other types of instruction, though it has incredible payoffs for our students and our state. It is more highly engaging for students, and it teaches students technical skills for today as well as cognitive and leadership skills for a lifetime, so they can succeed in careers that haven’t even been invented yet.
Our research mission also make us an economic development engine for our region and a provider of solutions to tough challenges facing the world today. Just a few quick examples:
A doctor at our School of Medicine who conducts research at Saint Luke’s Mid-America Heart Institute developed tools that are considered the gold standards for measuring patients’ symptoms, function and quality of life in coronary artery disease and heart failure — around the world.
One of our computing and engineering professors created a breakthrough technology that makes the unique blood-vessel pattern in your eye the only password needed to secure smart phones and mobile devices. That technology spun off into a company that recently sold for $100 million.
No question we want more world-changing successes like these. No question we have more work to do to achieve the greatness we desire. At the same time, it’s not a zero-sum game. The Star’s notion that we should take advantage of the tribulations of our sister campus in Columbia, to “outshine” them, goes against the values of inclusiveness and collaboration that we hold. Each of the four UM campuses have very different identities, histories, missions, strengths, limitations and potentials. We stand with them all, we respect them for the great things they do and we celebrate their determination and resilience to be ever better. We know our sister campuses respect and celebrate us at UMKC, too.
Every Missourian should want success for each of the institutions in the University of Missouri System. In order for the state of Missouri to be great, we need all of the UM universities, and all of our higher education institutions in the state, to be great.
At UMKC, we are doing our part.
Barbara A. Bichelmeyer, Ph.D., is Interim Chancellor and Provost at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
>This Guest Commentary is a reply to The Kansas City Star Editorial on Sept. 14, 2017: “How Mizzou’s struggles could be an opportunity for UMKC”