Shortly after arriving at UMKC last June, Chancellor Mauli Agrawal seemed all-in to turn this school into the top-ranking, urban public research university he fully believes it can be.
It’s been an interesting year at UMKC, to say the least. After many unforeseen setbacks and repeated blows to UMKC’s reputation, many are questioning Agrawal’s vision for the future of the university.
To determine whether or not the chancellor’s ambitions at this point seem plausible, let’s take a comprehensive look back at his first year at UMKC.
Agrawal’s goals and ambitions
Last October, Agrawal announced his 10-year plan for the university. Most notably, Agrawal expressed his desire to increase enrollment by 25% over the next five years, and by 50% over the next decade. What remains unclear is how exactly he plans to do this.
Agrawal has stated his intent to transform UMKC from a commuter school to a traditional university in which the majority of students live on or near campus. It’s a lofty ambition for a school where the vast majority of students commute from all around the metro, and on-campus housing is still scarce.
However, the chancellor has made clear his intentions to increase on-campus housing options. When and where such buildings will be built, as well as how the university intends to pay for them, remains unclear.
A key component of his mission is to bolster school spirit and create a more cohesive, on-campus community.
In an effort to achieve this, Agrawal moved the men’s basketball games from downtown at Kansas City’s Municipal Auditorium back to Swinney Recreation Center in November. The move proved successful, boosting student attendance at the basketball games. The decision has been lauded by many community members.
Last November, the chancellor publicly stated he wished to renovate and revitalize the notorious Epperson House, which has sat abandoned and decrepit for the better part of the last decade.
It is estimated that bringing Epperson House up to a useable standard will cost somewhere north of $10 million.
Agrawal assembled a taskforce dedicated to exploring different options for the old building’s future. Just recently, the taskforce finalized and submitted its report to the chancellor. The details of the report have yet to be publicized.
Other goals include funding and building new facilities for the Conservatory of Music and Dance and the School of Computing and Engineering and increasing research and discovery, community and civic engagement, as well as diversity and inclusion.
In recent years, UMKC has been planning to build a new building for the Conservatory of Music and Dance. The first proposed site was downtown Kansas City. The new building was estimated to cost around $100 million.
However, plans for a downtown building were abandoned after former governor Eric Greitens vetoed a bill that was passed in the Missouri General Assembly that would have allocated $48 million to the new conservatory.
Subsequently, the Kauffman Foundation, an early supporter of the project, withdrew its $20 million pledge, effectively arresting development on the new conservatory.
Despite all these setbacks, Agrawal announced in January the new conservatory will be built on the Volker campus, adjacent to the current performing arts building and will also purportedly be funded by the state government and private donors.
The scandals, lawsuits and controversies
Ashim Mitra, a former professor in the School of Pharmacy, found himself entwined in not one, but two separate scandals at UMKC within mere months of each other.
Last November, The Kansas City Star published an article in which a number of former students alleged he used them for forced labor. These students were international students hailing mainly from India, and they claimed that Mitra threatened to compromise their place at UMKC and their student visas if they did not comply with his demands.
Litigation regarding the case is ongoing.
In a separate case, a former doctoral student joined UMKC and the UM system this February in a lawsuit against Mitra. The plaintiffs alleged Mitra stole the student’s invention and stands to profit millions of dollars from it within the next several years.
Mitra denies all allegations in this case, and litigation is ongoing.
This past February, The Star published an article featuring a number of former and current UMKC softball players levelling allegations of sexual misconduct against assistant coach Greg Bachkora.
Bachkora took a leave of absence following the allegations.
Shortly after The Star’s article was published, 25 former and current players came out in support of Bachkora in an open letter. They claimed The Star’s reporting was inaccurate and did not reflect the nature of their experiences with Bachkora.
There has been no official word yet as to if or when Bachkora will resume his job at the university.
This past April, UMKC’s Young Americans for Freedom hosted an event with conservative political columnist, Michael Knowles, who gave a speech titled “Men are Not Women.”
The event was hotly protested, and at one point, UMKC student Alexis Dabu sprayed Knowles with a water-gun filled with essential oils and other non-toxic household chemicals.
Dabu was promptly arrested. The video of the arrest made its way online, where it received a lot of attention on social media.
Following the event, Agrawal issued a statement stressing the importance of free speech on UMKC’s campus, even if the content of said speech does not align with the institution’s core principles of diversity and inclusion.
Many conservatives, including Knowles, Fox News host Tucker Carlson, as well as a few Missouri state representatives felt Agrawal’s response to the situation fell short of the apology Knowles was owed.
Some called for UMKC to be shut down, lose its funding, and/or demanded Agrawal resign from his post. None of which occurred.
Agrawal may have gotten a little more than he bargained for when he eagerly joined the university almost a year ago.
It is unfortunate an administrator with such big plans and ideas for the betterment of UMKC has been bombarded with one public relation nightmare and financial setback after another.
However, all storms pass over eventually, and the chancellor seems poised and determined to stay true to his word and do right by this institution.
But without meaningful policy change, greater transparency and more concrete plans, it may be difficult for community members to shed their skepticism of UMKC and of the chancellor’s goals.
All we can do now is wait and see what he does in the years to come.