Audus to step down after 15 years as dean

This story was originally published in the Kansas Alumni magazine and posted here with permission of the KU Alumni Association. Special thank you to Steve Hill, associate editor and author.

Dean of Pharmacy Ken Audus will not seek reappointment when his current term ends in June.

The longest-serving dean on campus, Audus, PhD’84, began his tenure in 2004, and he is only the seventh permanent dean to lead the school since 1885. He spearheaded a successful effort to build support to expand KU’s PharmD program in response to a shortage of pharmacists in rural areas of the state.

Thanks to a grassroots campaign in which pharmacists and other alumni advocates in Jayhawks for Higher Education contacted legislators and worked alongside the school to secure state funding, KU in 2010 opened a new building that allowed the program to expand from 105 PharmD students per year to 170 while modernizing pharmacy education. The campaign also created a satellite campus in Wichita, which educated 20 of those students and enabled the school to recruit more students from rural areas in hopes that they would seek employment in or near their hometowns.

“That was very important to the state of Kansas,” Audus says. “In the small towns, sometimes the only caregiver or health care professional is a pharmacist, and so to keep the towns lively they all want a pharmacist. To the extent that we can help with that, I think it’s critical, because those small towns are kind of the bedrock of the state.”

Interim Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Carl Lejuez, who announced a search committee led by former engineering dean Michael Branicky, said Audus has “been at the forefront of efforts that created meaningful change in access for individuals in rural Kansas while also working to advance the profile of the school as both a leader in pharmacy education and research.”

When Audus became dean, seven rural Kansas counties had no pharmacist and several others had only one; the average age of independent pharmacists in the state was more than 50. Today, only two counties—Chase and Wabaunsee—are without a pharmacy.

Strengthening the graduate school faculty and maintaining the school’s top-five ranking in National Institutes of Health funding were also critical, Audus says.

“I look at that as important because we’re going through a time when getting NIH grants is just not that easy, and to maintain that level has been a challenge. We were able to recruit some top-flight scientists to work on drug discovery and development. Like every other program on campus, we’ve lost some good ones, but we’ve also picked up some good young people who are now keeping us moving forward in these areas.”

Moving forward is key for Audus—who says he never aspired to be a college professor, much less a dean, but that good mentoring along the way “nudged me in that direction.”

“It will be difficult to step away,” he says. “I find that difficult even to say, because it’s been a joy serving the school in this role, and I’ll miss it. But I look forward to making a bit of a change in my career, and doing some other things in my life.”