University of Missouri-Kansas City Chancellor Leo Morton has been front and center in recent years on two crucial projects.
One would raise tens of millions of public and private dollars to build a Downtown Campus for the Arts, bringing a dose of new energy to the core. The other would light a fire in the world of entrepreneurship and create more jobs in Kansas City.
But could a recent round of bad news for UMKC’s Bloch School of Management adversely affect those efforts?
An independent audit released last week said UMKC officials had falsified data submitted to the Princeton Review, which led this week to the loss of high rankings for the school’s entrepreneurship program.
The developments tarnished the reputations of UMKC as a whole, of the up-and-coming Bloch School and of Morton, who failed to take seriously enough The Star’s similar findings last year.
Indeed, the defensive approach of UMKC throughout this matter, which continued as late as last week, is one reason to be concerned about the future.
Overall, the Princeton Review-related negative development could wind up harming the capability of Morton himself and UMKC generally to succeed in promoting entrepreneurship and in fundraising for a downtown arts campus.
Both are Big 5 initiatives unveiled in late 2011 by the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce. Morton is the “champion” of the downtown arts campus idea, and he was one of the original top leaders of the entrepreneurship proposal. That was sensible because UMKC is trying to raise the profile of its entrepreneurship program at the Bloch School, an effort that ultimately went horribly awry.
I asked UMKC officials and the two initial leaders of the Big 5 — Burns & McDonnell chairman and CEO Greg Graves and chamber president and CEO Jim Heeter — for comments.
Morton declined to offer his views. In a statement, UMKC said it has “owned” and is fixing the Princeton Review problem, adding: “In the meantime, the great work of the students, faculty and staff at our university will continue on — whether that’s helping deliver on the Big 5 initiatives or providing Kansas City’s leaders and workforce for the future.”
Graves pointed out “the truth is several of the Big 5 simply can’t be a success without a thriving UMKC.” After praising Morton and UMKC for helping with “consistent and important progress” on entrepreneurial programs, Graves noted:
“A true entrepreneur knows how to face adversity, rise to the occasion and come out stronger on the other side. That’s exactly what I expect from UMKC.”
Graves said the recent setback should have no effect on the arts campus: “It’s a great idea for downtown, it’s a great idea for the arts, it’s a great idea for UMKC.”
Still, current and potential funders of this project — which ultimately could include state taxpayers — must have confidence that Morton and UMKC are giving them accurate information, especially when it comes to expected costs and expected benefits for students.
Heeter said he was confident Morton would take the “necessary steps to make this right and to continue the pursuit of excellence at UMKC.”
But when Heeter said the chamber expects “the Bloch School to be an important factor” in Kansas City’s desire to project itself as “America’s most entrepreneurial city,” that gave me pause.
What we don’t know right now — can’t know — is how badly the ratings fiasco will hurt the Bloch School in attracting bright students and highly motivated faculty. If the damage is lasting, that could undermine important work by the school.
The arts campus and entrepreneurial initiative are needed catalysts for a stronger Kansas City. But UMKC’s actions regarding its rankings erected unnecessary roadblocks to progress on both.