Hemenway arrived at KU in 1995 as the successor to interim chancellor, Del Shankel. Prior to his tenure at KU, Hemenway served as chancellor of the University of Kentucky from 1989–1995 and Dean of Arts and Sciences at the University of Oklahoma from 1986-1989. Hemenway was succeeded as chancellor by Bernadette Gray-Little.
In addition to his duties as chancellor, Hemenway has served as Chair of the 18-member NCAA Division I board of directors from 2002 to 2005 and as a member of the Board of Directors of the American Council on Education. Since 2002, Hemenway has served on the Board of Directors of the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges.
Upon his arrival at KU, Hemenway prioritized making KU a Top 25 academic institution in America, which he has continued at an even greater pace in more recent years. In 2007, KU ranked 88th  according to the US News & World Report ranking of all national universities (public & private). During Hemenway's tenure, KU has ranked as high as 30th (1998) in the US News & World Report ranking of public universities and was ranked 45th in 2005. KU ranks 3rd among public colleges and universities for the number of Academic All-Americans since 1990. Hemenway has also made research a pillar of KU, especially in medical fields, and, in 2006, made a commitment to cancer research through the designation of the KU Cancer Center.
On December 8, 2008, Hemenway announced that he would step down from the chancellor position on June 30, 2009 after serving 14 years in the position. He announced that he would be transitioning to the role of faculty member after taking a sabbatical during the 2009-10 academic year, to write a book on intercollegiate athletics and American values. Hemenway will be replaced by Bernadette Gray-Little.
- Hastings (Neb.) High School (1959)
- University of Nebraska at Omaha (1963), B.A. with Honors, English
- Kent State University (1966) Ph.D., English.
Under Hemenway’s leadership, KU has achieved records in enrollment, ACT scores and diversity of faculty, students and staff. The university has grown in national stature, more than doubling its research activity to almost $300 million in annual expenditures, and undergone an unprecedented expansion and remodeling of campus facilities to attract top students and faculty. To emphasize the importance of teaching, Hemenway created a Center for Teaching Excellence and special cash awards to present to 20 faculty at the start of each school year.
Among KU’s accomplishments so far during Hemenway’s tenure as chancellor:
— A fall 2008 record enrollment of 30,102 students — including the largest number of Kansas resident students in state history, the most diverse group of students in KU history and the brightest freshman class on record in terms of ACT scores.
— One of the top four universities, along with Stanford, Emory and Michigan, to excel in the Chronicle of Higher Education’s “Great Colleges to Work For” 2008 survey.
— An unprecedented addition of new campus buildings and renovations. More than $150 million has gone to new research labs, $100 million to athletics facilities and $60 million toward student housing. Programs and activities emerging from the Dole Institute of Politics and the Hall Center for the Humanities have enriched the cultural and intellectual life of the region as well as the university.
— Progress toward the No. 1 priority that Hemenway announced in 2005 to achieve designation as a National Center Institute comprehensive cancer center, which will bring cutting-edge clinical trials to Kansans. In November, the KU Medical Center announced that it had been invited by NCI to apply for the coveted status in 2011.
— Johnson County voters’ approval in November of a sales tax that will fund an estimated $10 million a year toward KU Medical Center cancer programs and Edwards Campus graduate programs.
— A $20 million research award in October from the National Institutes of Health for a Specialized Chemistry Center, the largest single federal grant in Kansas history.
— KU Hospital’s transition to a top performing academic hospital, a turnaround attributed to Hemenway’s proposal in 1998 to move the hospital from state status to a public authority free to compete and succeed nationally.
— Achieving an increase of more than 54 percent in minority faculty and a 33 percent increase in women faculty.
— Completion of a $653 million capital campaign, KU First, in 2004. Fundraising by KU Endowment has reached record heights in support from private donors, the number of donors and the amount of privately funded scholarships for students. In fiscal year 2008, KU Endowment distributed $112.1 million in support to KU’s four campuses.
— Initiating a “wounded warrior” education partnership with the U.S. Army in Fort Leavenworth, building on a faculty-student exchange he created earlier with the fort.
Other higher education leaders have recognized Hemenway’s administrative talents. In 2007, he was elected to the 11-member executive committee for the Association of American Universities, an organization representing the nation’s most prestigious research universities; in 2008, he was elected AAU vice chair. He has also served on the board of directors for the American Council on Education, the National Association of State and Land Grant Colleges and the NCAA Division I Board of Directors, which he chaired from 2002 to 2005.
Hemenway’s interest in athletics is widely known. Proud to be called the No. 1 Jayhawk fan, he was especially pleased to see KU win the NCAA men’s basketball championship and a BCS Bowl game, the Orange Bowl, in 2008, joining the University of Florida as the only schools to have achieved that feat.
Hemenway’s early imprint on KU was an emphasis as a student-centered university that provided a world class education, streamlining administrative structure, uniting the KU campuses into “one university,” upgrading technology and invigorating the university’s research programs.
A scholar of American literature, Hemenway has taught an undergraduate class every year, in recent years alternating between American literature and honors seminars on global poverty and development issues, topics reflective of Hemenway’s wide-ranging intellectual interests.
Hemenway reaffirmed KU’s mission as a research university that serves the state well, finding cures for cancer and other ways to enhance health, and is known nationally and internationally for its faculty expertise. By the late 1990s, KU was identified as one of 21 “rising stars” in the book “The Rise of American Research Universities: Elites and Challengers in the Postwar Era.”
For a decade, Hemenway has ensured KU’s partnership with a bi-state effort to make the region a bioscience hub, earning kudos from “Time to Get it Right,” an assessment of higher education and research in the greater Kansas City area authored by Benno Schmidt, former chancellor of Yale University.
A few years after arriving at the University of Kansas, Hemenway travelled with Bryant Freeman of the Institute of Haitian Studies to Haiti. Together, they facilitated scholarships for a Haitian choir, called Melimeloman, to study at KU.
Hemenway drew national attention in 1999 and again in 2005 when he voiced concern about attacks on science and evolution. Christian Science Monitor columnist John Merrow noted that Hemenway was one of just three higher education leaders in 2005 to publicly address attacks on politically motivated threats to science education.
Hemenway is known for his biography of African-American novelist Zora Neale Hurston, a “Best Books” pick by the New York Times in 1978 and a Quality Paperback Book Club selection in 1991. Writer Alice Walker cites Hemenway’s “thoughtful and sensitive” biography as her inspiration to lead a national rediscovery of Hurston — “Zoramania” — that thrives today. Arnold Rampersad, nationally known scholar and biographer of Langston Hughes, Jackie Robinson and W.E.B. Dubois, has credited Hemenway with initiating a late 20th-century surge of African-American biography.
In 2002, the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos in Peru, the oldest university in the Americas, awarded him an honorary degree for leadership in higher education and promotion of multicultural literature.
Hemenway has spoken at institutions in the Far East, South and Central America and Europe, checking in on KU alumni at every stop. In 2005 he was among a select group of world political and education leaders invited to attend the annual world economic forum in Davos, Switzerland.
In 2006, KU’s strong ties to Chinese higher education paved the way for KU’s Edwards Campus to become the site of the nation’s fourth Confucius Institute, providing free language and cultural courses for Kansas businessmen and other travelers. In December 2007, the Chinese government named KU’s Confucius Institute one of the top 20 such institutes in the world.
In the summer of 2008, Hemenway traveled to the University of Nottingham, England, with Gov. Kathleen Sebelius to meet with top researchers and leaders of a life-sciences firm, OncImmune, which had opened its North American headquarters in Kansas City because of its proximity to Lawrence campus and KU Medical Center research faculty.
Later in the summer, he traveled to Greenland with an international delegation of government and academic officials to view an ice-drilling site, which draws scientists from KU’s National Science Foundation-funded Center for the Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets. His traveling party included the chair of a Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization and Thomas Friedman, a New York Times columnist.
KU’s growing research and academic reputation has galvanized university fundraising efforts. During Hemenway’s years, KU Endowment has received the largest private gift in history to a Kansas college or university — $42 million in 2004 from the Hall Family Foundation.
Hemenway has been a relentless advocate for international education, challenging KU students to learn languages and study abroad. Today, KU is a leader among U.S. public universities in the percentage of students who study in other countries. KU is one of few universities to win the Sen. Paul Simon award for campus internationalization.
Teaching and scholarship
- Authored "Zora Neale Hurston: A Literary Biography", about the Harlem Renaissance author, which was named one of the New York Times' Best Books of 1978.
- In addition to serving as chancellor, Hemenway teaches English.
- Professor of English at the University of Kentucky and the University of Wyoming
- 2008-09: $340,352 (maximum; includes up to $73,175 in KU Endowment funds; $267,177 general funds) 
- 2007-08: $332,051 (maximum; includes private funds; $260,660 general funds) 
- 2006-07: $319,280 (maximum; includes private funds; $250,319 general funds) 
- 2005-06: $306,152.92 (77% general funds; 23% private funds); Hemenway is the 3rd highest-paid employee at KU.
- 2004-05: approx. $282,000 ($231,619 general funds; approx. $50,000 private funds) 
- 2003-04: $272,711 
- 2002-03: $219,420 
- 2001-02: $207,489 
- 2000-01: $202,428 
- 1995-1996: $160,000 
- Nicknames: Chancellor Bob (referred to himself as this at 2006 commencement ); Uncle Bob (sometimes used by students)
- Married Leah Renee Hattemer on December 19, 1981.
- "USNews.com America's Best Colleges". Retrieved March 19, 2007.
- "KU chalks up lowest ranking yet". Retrieved March 19, 2007.
- "Governor's Budget Recommendations". Retrieved March 19, 2007.
- "Special Message from KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway". Retrieved 2008-012-9.
- "KU Chancellor Hemenway given 2.5 percent pay raise". Retrieved September 18, 2008.
- "Hemenway, other regents presidents receive raises". Retrieved October 18, 2007.
- "Hemenway gets 4 percent raise". Retrieved April 13, 2007.
- "2005 Lawrence Journal World Report of State Salaries". Retrieved March 19, 2007.
- "2004 Lawrence Journal World Report". Retrieved September 2, 2007.
- "Year in review: A month-by-month look at 2003 in Lawrence - June". Retrieved September 18, 2008.
- "Hemenway gets 5.75 percent pay raise". Retrieved September 18, 2008.
- "Chancellor pay raise approved". Retrieved September 18, 2008.
- "Sound Off". Retrieved September 18, 2008.
- "Sound Off". Retrieved September 18, 2008.
- "Remarks by Chancellor Hemenway at 2006 commencement". Retrieved March 19, 2007.