Washington State University’s nine regents unanimously chose the current leader of a land-grant university in Kansas to be their 11th president.
Kirk Schulz’s concern for the needs of students and faculty, familiarity with WSU’s mission and his experience working with multiple campuses in a university system led each regent to speak in his favor Friday at WSU Tri-Cities in Richland.
But even as the Board of Regents remarked on Schulz’s qualifications and then welcomed the news that he’d accepted the presidency after Regent Mike Worthy, who’d led the search committee, called to him, they couldn’t help but note the deep pool of candidates.
“To me, it’s astonishing we’re not going to hire two of these people,” said Regent Laura M. Jennings.
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Several of the regents said it was the work of late WSU President Elson Floyd who set the university up as a destination for the best in academic leadership. But Chairwoman Ryan Durkan noted that while Floyd left a great legacy, the regents were not looking for his replacement.
“We’re looking for someone who can take what he started and continue that trajectory,” Durkan said.
Schulz, 52, has been Kansas State University’s president since 2009. He’s been credited with working to make KSU, one of the nation’s first-land grant universities, into a Top 50 research institution. The university moved up in research activity rankings kept by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
He is also chairman of the board of governors for the National Collegiate Athletic Association, or NCAA, the ruling body for major college sports.
(Kirk Schulz) was very excited to accept our offer. It was clear he really wants to lead our university.
WSU Regent Mike Worthy
Schulz previously worked at Mississippi State University, Michigan Technological University and the University of North Dakota, according to a release.
He was raised in Norfolk, Va., and graduated from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University with a doctorate in chemical engineering.
Durkan still must negotiate an employment contract with Schulz and that must be approved by the regents for his hiring to be official. Worthy noted that Schulz’s hiring was also a “package deal.” His wife, Noel, will be invited to join WSU’s engineering school, though the tenure process will be followed.
“He was very excited to accept our offer,” Worthy told the board after speaking with Schulz by phone. “It was clear he really wants to lead our university.”
Schulz is scheduled to visit Washington state and all the WSU campuses as early as next week to meet with university officials. He said in a letter to KSU faculty, staff and students posted online that he plans to serve as that university’s president through mid-May and transition to WSU in mid-June.
“Noel and I have thoroughly enjoyed our seven years at Kansas State — it has been an exciting time to be a Wildcat and a part of the K-State Family,” he wrote. “Being part of transforming our multiple campuses has been the highlight of my career in higher education.”
Schulz will take on a WSU in the midst of transformation. University administrators are preparing for the accreditation of the university’s fledgling medical school, pushed for and now named after Floyd, that will be based on the WSU Spokane campus.
Enrollment is growing and WSU’s regional campuses are stepping up to the demands of its communities, such as WSU Tri-Cities’ efforts to graduate more students in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, skills.
Academic goals will continue to be balanced by the financial challenges facing all of higher education and the ability to work with government and business interests to support the university’s educational mission.
Regents said Schulz’s track record demonstrated these skills. Several noted Schulz’s ability to serve not just KSU’s main campus in Manhattan, Kan., but a campus in Olathe, Kan., near Kansas City and a polytechnic campus in Salina, Kan. KSU also maintains a research and extension system.
“He purposefully spent a day every month with every campus in his system,” said Regent Lura Powell, who lives in the Tri-Cities. “He really understood the opportunities and challenges.”
Friday’s meeting was the first public discussion of the university’s search for its next president. The regents and a 25-member committee have searched for a new president since Floyd died of cancer last June. Provost and Executive Vice President Daniel Bernardo has served as president in the interim.
It was a very hard decision but that’s what we want. It’s appropriate.
WSU Regent Harold Cochran
More than 200 applied for the position with eight selected for formal interviews by the search committee. Those eight were then culled to three finalists who met in closed meetings with the regents this month.
Despite Friday’s public discussion of the finalists, Schulz’s identity wasn’t known until after he’d accepted the job. He and the two other finalists were referred to as candidates A, B and C during the regents’ talks. WSU didn’t reveal the top candidate names to protect their confidentiality, though Powell confirmed the other two finalists also are associated with universities.
Several regents said it was difficult to pick the best of such a qualified field of candidates but they were confident in their choice.
“President Floyd elevated the stature of WSU. This was a highly sought out position,” said Regent Harold Cochran. “It was a very hard decision but that’s what we want. It’s appropriate.”