May 28, 2023

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Rare KSU Opportunity

Kansas State University officials have an opportunity to score one of the greatest “touchdowns” in the school’s history. A winning touchdown for its students and faculty, the city of Manhattan and for the entire state.

President Richard B. Myers announced he will be stepping down from the school’s leadership at the end of the current year. In many ways, this comes at an ideal time.

The $1.3 billion National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility being built in Manhattan adjacent to the KSU campus will be the nation’s most advanced center for the study of human and animal food safety, security and health. It is scheduled to be completed by the end of this year or early 2022. This comes at a time when the U.S. and the rest of the world have been ravaged by the Coronavirus and the threat of terrorist activities….possibly by infecting and poisoning grains and meat.

With the combination of world-class scientists, engineers and researchers at NBAF along with the talented and nationally-recognized faculty at KSU, there is every reason KSU/Manhattan could become a truly outstanding research center….attracting a host of companies, research facilities and support operations that would benefit the university, the city, state and nation.

The one essential ingredient to maximize this opportunity is for KSU leaders to select a truly outstanding individual to move into the school’s presidency.

One of the first and most important actions should be to gather the right combination of individuals to define the attributes necessary for the person to move into this rare opportunity.

What should be considered as essential “skills”? A well-deserved national reputation, an individual who will merit the respect and confidence of KSU faculty and leaders, a person excellent in communicating and inspiring, visionary and courageous, totally honest and above all, a LEADER?

The makeup of the search/selection committee should be far different than the usual brand of a Kansas academic search team. This isn’t a team to project political correctness, a team where political IOUs are rewarded, a team based on school allegiances, or team members who are afraid to step on toes or rock the boat. This needs to be a hard-nosed, all business, truly committed group to find and recruit the best possible individual….and, offer a salary commensurate with the importance of the job and opportunity.

(Miracle of miracles, consider the possible positive benefits if university officials offered similar contracts and fiscal incentive packages to those they are recruiting for presidencies/chancellorships as they do for all-star, or even mediocre, football and basketball coaches.)

Such a situation, opportunity, is sure to get the attention of and attract many highly qualified individuals.

An outstanding university president or chancellor makes the difference between a good university and a great academic research institution.

KSU offers a perfect example. The university was in bad shape in 1985, in most every category. The school was losing students, faculty morale was bad, private fiscal support was bad, research dollars were embarrassingly low, new student enrollment efforts were weak, the school’s physical plant was in poor shape and the KSU football team was called the nation’s worst.

A relatively unknown, Jon Wefald, a leader of the smaller Minnesota state colleges, was brought to KSU in 1986 and over the next 23 years he worked miracles. He changed, saved, the school through his leadership, vision, putting together a team of “doers” and his own tireless efforts. Enrollment numbers climbed, faculty and student morale was energized, private generosity increased, new buildings were added and the football team became an almost annual post season “bowl” team lead by a coach Wefald recruited.

Frankly, KSU had the benefit of superior leadership during Wefald’s 23 years, something KU has been missing for far too long. Remember what KU chancellors such as Franklin Murphy, Clarke Wescoe, Archie Dykes and Gene Budig were able to accomplish.

Since Wefald moved out of the presidency, the school has drifted, unable to sustain the upward momentum he injected.

First there was Kirk Schulz who served for seven years as KSU’s leader and then General Richard B. Myers, a Kansas City native and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Both good and talented but unable to fire up enthusiasm in the university and alumni community.

Now at an almost magical time, can or will KSU select an individual to lead the school to greater academic/research levels through visionary leadership and interaction and cooperation with NBAF?

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Will KSU attract a true winner to take the school to new heights of academic/research excellence or, will they whiff on this rare and special time in the school’s history?
Hopefully, for the good of KSU and the state, Kansas Regents will do a far better job in arriving at a decision as to who to hire as KSU’s next president than they have done in past years with other chancellor/president selections. The universities and state have paid a penalty and have been seriously handicapped by this carelessness and lack of vision.
All Kansans should hope the best possible individual is selected for this important job.