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LAWRENCE — Bernadette Gray-Little, the 17th chancellor of the University of Kansas, has announced she will step down from the position in summer 2017.
Chancellor Gray-Little announced her plans to the Kansas Board of Regents recently and in a subsequent campus-wide email to the KU community.
“It has been an honor to lead the University of Kansas,” said Chancellor Gray-Little, who came to Lawrence in 2009 as a highly regarded administrator and researcher. “KU has always been a special place with terrific people and an instinctive spirit to change our world for the better. During the past seven years, we have made tremendous strides as a university and positioned KU for even greater achievements in the future. Leading this remarkable institution is a privilege I always will cherish, and I’m grateful to the entire KU community for believing in our mission.”
Chancellor Gray-Little said the timing of her decision makes good sense for the university.
“With many critical initiatives either completed or nearing completion – including a $1.6 billion Far Above campaign and our transformational Central District project – now is an ideal time for the University of Kansas to identify a new chancellor to guide the next chapter in the university’s history,” Chancellor Gray-Little said. “Additionally, by announcing my decision now, we give state and university leaders a full academic year to conduct the important work of recruiting the next chancellor without the need for an interim, which will ensure a smoother transition.”
The university, in conjunction with the Kansas Board of Regents, will announce details of the search process for Chancellor Gray-Little’s successor in the coming weeks.
“Chancellor Gray-Little has been a transformative figure for the University of Kansas and has ably guided the university during the past seven years,” said Zoe Newton, chair of the Kansas Board of Regents. “On behalf of the Board of Regents, I want to thank her for her service and leadership and wish her the very best.”
Since arriving at the University of Kansas, Chancellor Gray-Little has advanced KU’s mission of lifting students and society by educating leaders, building healthy communities, and making discoveries that change the world. Through the Bold Aspirations strategic plan, KU has changed the way it prepares students, fosters research and scholarship across all disciplines, and shares the benefits of a flagship university with the state and world.
Chancellor Gray-Little led the effort to create new admission procedures for the University of Kansas – which took effect in 2016 – and to revamp financial aid by creating four-year renewable scholarships and expanding the Jayhawk Generations Scholarship. She also approved the move to locate admissions recruiters permanently in seven U.S. cities and provided significant additional resources to the university marketing efforts. Due largely to these efforts, the university now has had four straight years of freshman class growth. Moreover, these freshman classes have set records for academic talent and diversity.
During the 2012 session, the Chancellor worked with the Kansas Legislature to secure state funding to bring 12 new Foundation Professors to the university. The Foundation Distinguished Professor initiative is a unique partnership between the university and the State of Kansas to attract eminent scholars to KU in support of one or more of the university’s four strategic initiative themes. Beyond this effort, she also has enhanced efforts to expand the faculty at KU Medical Center and in Lawrence.
Under Chancellor Gray-Little’s leadership, KU launched its first university-wide curriculum, the KU Core, which incorporates both classes and experiences, making KU a leader among its national peers. Additionally, Chancellor Gray-Little has overseen the creation of the Office of First-Year Experience to help new students transition to KU and the establishment of Chancellor’s Doctoral Fellowships to support outstanding doctoral students.
In recent years, the university has partnered with state and industry leaders and private donors on separate projects to expand the schools of Pharmacy, Medicine, and Engineering, meeting a growing demand for graduates in these areas and ensuring the future health and prosperity of Kansas communities.
Chancellor Gray-Little championed the university’s expansion of its KU School of Medicine-Wichita program from a two-year program into a four-year program in 2011, and the creation of the new School of Medicine at Salina that same year. Both expansions were undertaken without any additional state funding in an effort to provide more doctors for underserved Kansas communities.
The university also strengthened its commitment to turning discoveries into treatments and cures under Chancellor Gray-Little’s leadership. In 2011, the KU Alzheimer’s Disease Center received national designation from the National Institute on Aging. In 2012, the University of Kansas Cancer Center achieved National Cancer Institute designation, which Chancellor Gray-Little’s predecessor, Robert Hemenway, had previously anointed as the university’s top priority. In addition to ensuring that Kansans are able to get world-class diagnoses and treatment close to home, the drive for NCI designation has created 1,830 jobs and $930 million in regional economic activity.
With Chancellor Gray-Little at the helm, KU collaborated with the City of Lawrence and other partners on the creation of the Bioscience & Technology Business Center at KU, an on-campus business incubator network that now has more than 30 tenant companies totaling more than 130 private-sector jobs and a combined payroll of more than $8 million.
Chancellor Gray-Little has been instrumental to Far Above: The Campaign for Kansas, KU Endowment’s widely successful $1.6 billion comprehensive fundraising campaign, which concluded July 1, 2016. This historic fundraising effort has provided unprecedented support to fund scholarships, faculty recruitment and new facilities.
Chancellor Gray-Little has overseen the university’s Changing for Excellence initiative, a top-to-bottom review of KU’s business functions designed to make administrative operations more efficient, with the savings being invested in education and research. Those savings have become crucial in the context of declining state support for higher education in recent years.
In 2013, prior to federal sequestration cuts, the University of Kansas’s research expenditures grew to $240.1 million, a 6.9 percent increase over the previous year. This was a record total and marked the fourth consecutive annual increase for KU. In the years since sequestration, the university has maintained its research funding rank.
Earlier this year, the university broke ground on its Central District redevelopment, a once-in-a generation project that will fundamentally change the face of education and research at the University of Kansas. The project will bring to the Lawrence campus a new Integrated Science Building – something KU has sought for decades but until now had been unable to achieve – as well as new living spaces for students, a new student union and crucial infrastructure improvements.
In addition to the Central District project, the physical transformation of the KU campus under Chancellor Gray-Little’s leadership includes construction of the Learned Engineering Expansion Phase 2 building, Capitol Federal Hall, the DeBruce Center, McCarthy Hall, a renovated Swarthout Recital Hall, and the new Self and Oswald residence halls. Other projects still under construction include the Earth, Energy and Environment Center — featuring Slawson and Ritchie halls — the Health Education Building at KU Medical Center, and a renovated Spencer Museum of Art. Athletic facilities also were enhanced significantly with the construction of Rock Chalk Park in west Lawrence.
In 2013, Gray-Little was named to the Boards of Directors of the Association of American Universities (AAU) and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU). In 2015 she was named APLU’s Chair of the Board of Directors, a position she currently holds. She also serves on the Advisory Committee to the Director of the National Institutes of Health, the National Commission on Financing 21st Century Higher Education, and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She previously has served on the board of trustees for the Online Computer Library Center, an international organization dedicated to expanding public access to information and research.
Chancellor Gray-Little also holds the distinction of being the first female and first African-American chancellor in KU history.
Prior to becoming KU’s 17th chancellor, Gray-Little held leadership positions at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, including executive vice chancellor and provost.