By Viviana Vidal
It is 2:27 p.m. on a Thursday. While many students and faculty are in class, Dr. Kenneth Hawkinson is running around getting to know the people who make up KU inside and out.
From the landscaping crew who keep the campus pristine, to the board of directors who make the major decisions concerning our student body, and the student leaders and faculty who carry on the legacy, Hawkinson is keen on familiarizing himself with every single player who makes KU the vibrant institution it is.
“It’s been absolutely wonderful. People have been extraordinarily gracious, and helping us to adjust and learn the system,” said Hawkinson in an interview with The Keystone.
As first time President, Dr. Hawkinson understands the challenges he faces, but his hopes of improvement have not diminished. “I believe very, very strongly that the purpose of a university is to awaken young people,” he said.
Since the recession, higher institutions of education are dealing with lack of state funding, low enrollment rates and even lower retention rates. As president, his new initiatives are in place to deal with those issues, especially one in particular.
“I am pleased to announce the establishment of a new scholarship to be called the Sesquicentennial Academic Honors Scholarship — it will offer students $7,000 a year or $28,000 over four years,” he said.
With initiatives like this one, it will not only entice students to attend, but it will also offer much needed support, which will assist in retention. However, numbers are not solely what Hawkinson is concerned about.
“My greatest ambition would be not to have a great number of students, but rather to have the highest retention and graduation rates in the state,” he said.
Hawkinson acknowledges how positive university relationships are crucial in turning words into action. Having been a union leader himself, Hawkinson believes in interest-based negotiations.
With many concerned about unions working without contracts in relations to budgets, he said, “It’s very hard to be angry with someone who you have a very friendly relationship with. Usually you’re angry at people you don’t know that well, so you vilify them.”
He continues on, “There’s a line I learned a long time ago and that line is simply, ‘By knowing all the facts, reasonable people will always agree.’ The facts do point to resolution, but people have to rely on the facts and data, and not rely on ideology or personal ambitions.”
Dr. Hawkinson stresses that without proper regulations in place, fiscal management can be the much more difficult to accomplish.
Since these issues are so prevalent now, some doubt if Dr. Hawkinson may be able to deliver on his promises. Although he may be new to the position, his long list of credentials and accomplishments speak for themselves.
He came up in the ranks of higher education. Dr. Hawkinson spent 10 years as a professor, three years as an associate dean, four years as an associate provost and four years as a provost.
He was vice chair of the faculty senate for short time, he’s been involved major faculty committees and has been professionally active nationwide, both as a faculty member in his research areas, and also as an administrator.
“What I hope that I can bring in addition to basic competency is the life experiences that will help me to set an example to faculty, students and alumni. Through the things I’ve done in my life, such as serving in the peace corps and serving in the military, these are things that made me into the kind of person I’d be able to inspire people to do things above and beyond what they may have done before.”
With a humble presence and contagious optimism, Dr. Hawkinson may be the fresh air to take KU to the next level in the higher education system.