EKU Conveys "Clear, Concise, Consistent" Message to General Assembly

You’ve heard the three R’s often applied to education.

But it was the three C’s that Eastern Kentucky University successfully employed in its appeal earlier this year to the General Assembly.

A “clear, concise and consistent” message, carried by the Board of Regents, President Michael Benson, alumni, students and others, helped the University make its case with legislators, who recently approved almost $300 million in allocations and approvals for EKU over the next biennium.

While all public universities will deal with a 1.5 percent cut in operating budget funds in the first year of the budget, it was still “a very successful year,” according to David McFaddin, executive director of government relations for EKU. “There were a lot of constraints on the budget and a lot of expectations for K-12 and higher education. Looking at all that, Eastern fared very well in this cycle.”

The dollars for EKU include:

·         $69.7 million appropriation each year (2014-15 and 2015-16) for operating budget, including $200,000 earmarked for the Center for the Arts.

·         $66.3 million to construct Phase 2 of the University’s New Science Building. A groundbreaking ceremony will be held later this year.

·         $15 million in agency bond approvals for improvements to athletics facilities.

·         $75 million for public-private housing partnerships. (Eastern will be allowed to enter into an agreement with a private partner if that partner can fund up to $75 million in housing improvements, similar to an arrangement at the University of Kentucky.)

“A lot of the credit goes to stakeholders like the Board of Regents, Alumni Board and Foundation Board, who were all very involved in reaching out and conveying the Eastern story,” McFaddin said.

The effort also included a “very comprehensive grass-roots campaign,” McFaddin added. “Everyone should feel like they had a part in this success. It was a real team effort.”

Likewise it was a team effort in the General Assembly, one of the few state legislatures in the nation with control of the chambers split across party lines. The Democrat-controlled House and the Republican-controlled Senate put partisan differences aside to do what was best for higher education throughout the Commonwealth, McFaddin said, adding that local legislators State Rep. Rita Smart (D-Richmond) and State Sen. Jared Carpenter (R-Berea), “worked diligently to represent EKU and carry our voice.”

McFaddin also cited the leadership of Senate President Robert Stivers (R-Manchester), Speaker of the House Greg Stumbo (D-Prestonsburg), House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins (D-Sandy Hook), and Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer (R-Georgetown), and saluted Gov. Steve Beshear for “seeing the value of higher education and getting the ball rolling.”

For what was probably the first time in EKU history, the Board of Regents held its annual retreat in Frankfort this past February, incorporating an afternoon visit en masse to the State Capitol to visit with key legislators in what McFaddin termed a “show of solidarity.” Some legislators remarked they had never seen any university board converge on the Capitol in such a fashion. “It’s so much more impactful when other people are telling our story,” he said.

McFaddin also credited Board of Regents Chair Craig Turner for “setting a tone and following through to make many trips to Frankfort to visit with legislators,” 15 of whom earned degrees at Eastern, and “tell the EKU story.”

Benson did the same early in his presidency, traveling throughout the region, meeting legislators in their hometowns and demonstrating how Eastern was making a difference in those communities.

“It’s all about building relationships,” McFaddin said. “Dr. Benson excels at telling the EKU story, laying out clearly what the needs are and then following up. He loves Eastern and believes in our mission and vision, and he’s going to do anything it takes to move us forward as an institution.”

After approval of the state budget, Benson returned to the Capitol to hand deliver personal notes of appreciation to key legislators “who were instrumental in moving the budget process forward.”

The next capital construction priority for EKU is a College of Education/Model Laboratory School complex, for which Benson unveiled plans last fall. The University will also continue to seek ways to improve housing and enhance the student experience, McFaddin said.

Published on April 25, 2014