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John Bardo takes oath as Wichita State president

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, Oct. 12, 2012, at 6:44 p.m.
  • Updated Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012, at 7:09 a.m.

John Bardo used his formal inauguration as president of Wichita State University on Friday to describe “storm clouds” in Wichita’s future and outline his plans for moving the university and the regional economy forward.

As other community leaders have said for years, “the vast bulk of our exports (from our region) are in one industry, aircraft,” he said. “We have to think differently about what our base economy could look like.”

With other countries developing aircraft manufacturing, global competition makes it critical that we continue aviation manufacturing while diversifying our base and supporting new businesses, Bardo said.

At WSU’s Hughes Metropolitan Complex at 29th North and Oliver, Bardo took the formal oath as WSU’s 13th president, three months after he unofficially took over, and reminded hundreds of listeners that Wichita has prided itself for decades on past achievements in entrepreneurship. Pizza Hut was founded here, as was Rent-A-Center, but “that entrepreneurial spirit is not what it once was,” he said.

Given that a modern economy will be driven by technology, it is of special concern that “half our workforce is unskilled and nowhere near ready” for that kind of economic challenge, Bardo said.

Universities across the nation have faced drastic budget cuts in state and national support, he said.

With Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback sitting only a few feet behind him on the stage, Bardo issued a plea for everyone to remind themselves how much an investment in education is necessary.

“Unfortunately, our nation is in grave danger of forgetting the core purposes of education, and college education is being redefined as a private good rather than a public necessity; it is more and more being seen as a fancy form of vocational education that is aimed only at jobs and increasing income. Global competitiveness and earning a living are truly very important, but myopic focus on that aspect of education endangers our entire way of life.”

He pointed out that an old saying goes that nothing is as certain as death and taxes. That saying in the modern world should be updated to now say “death, taxes – and change,” he said.

“The world in which we live requires the ability to think critically, to understand vast amounts of information, to continue to learn through our lifetimes, and to expect change,” Bardo said.

Bardo, as he has done in recent weeks, outlined several areas he plans to concentrate on heavily in the coming months.

He is insisting on academic quality in spite of budget cuts, and on maintaining quality of campus life. He has ordered planning to begin for a new set of linked and study-heavy residence halls.

He also spoke about how he wants to get WSU’s talented engineers and other creators of intellectual property more directly linked to grant sources, private investors and the private sector.

“We must expand our capacities in technology transfer and in partnering with private enterprise,” he said.

He wants to strengthen the graduate research program and research in general. One of the grand surprises he encountered when he took over July 1, he said, was how many times he visited another campus department and ended up asking with delight, “Does anybody even know what’s being done here?”

He hopes to do much more in seeing licensing agreements for intellectual property developed at WSU, enhancing local technology-based businesses and supporting other such efforts in the community.

He wants to expand online learning and evening classes for those who can’t attend traditional or daytime programs.

In talking with WSU personnel, he said, someone told him, in describing Kansas modesty, that WSU is an “ ‘aw, shucks’ university located in an ‘aw, shucks’ city in an ‘aw, shucks’ state.”

But he said it is time that WSU stood up more, and recognized how much must be done.

Reach Roy Wenzl at 316-268-6219 or rwenzl@wichitaeagle.com.

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