August 18, 2014

Bardo’s no-holds-barred vision for WSU

With Friday’s unveiling of more specifics of his envisioned innovation campus, Wichita State University president John Bardo further showed that he sees the institution as a big-time player in the real-world economy rather than an ivory tower. His 20-year vision is no-holds-barred, for Wichita as well as for WSU.

Bardo said: “Twenty years from now we want people to say that the innovation campus changed the economy of this community and made it possible for my child to stay here.”

Bardo, whose third school year as president began Monday, aims to transform the Braeburn Golf Course as he builds a $43 million “experiential engineering” building, a new $70 million home for the W. Frank Barton School of Business, and one or more privately funded “partnership buildings” with space leased to companies that will work with faculty and students. He also imagines private mixed-use development on 17th and 21st streets along with a new hotel at 21st and Oliver, with other possibilities a new residence hall on the innovation campus and new parking garage near the Rhatigan Student Center.

But Bardo obviously can’t construct more than a dozen buildings with his aspirations alone.

NetApp, Tech Mahindra and ABI Group of Companies already have committed to opening offices on campus, and other companies will need to step forward with dollars to not only help fund construction but to help sustain programs.

Students will pay more, though tuition and fees already have risen 33 percent during the past five years.

Bardo also will need buy-in by a state government that, because of the 2012 tax cuts, is on track to have a $238 million revenue shortfall by July 2016. While some other state universities are just hoping to avoid cuts (“Flat is the new up,” University of Kansas spokesman Tim Caboni told the Lawrence Journal-World), Bardo would like $12 million from the state for the business school, for example.

And he has designs on part of the revenue from the proposed 1-cent citywide sales tax going to voters Nov. 4, perhaps for 17th Street infrastructure upgrades in keeping with the $80 million earmarked for job development.

While Bardo’s plan emphasizes jobs, entrepreneurialism and product development, WSU’s academic disciplines including the humanities and the arts must not be shortchanged. As New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote last week, the world would be poorer “if we were all coding software or running companies. We also want musicians to awaken our souls, writers to lead us into fictional lands, and philosophers to help us exercise our minds and engage the world.”

In any case, Wichita’s need for jobs is immediate; the unemployment rate rose from 5.9 percent in June to 6.5 percent in July in the Wichita area, which is still struggling from the loss of 16,300 aircraft-manufacturing jobs since late 2008.

Wichitans can hope Bardo knows what he’s doing – and help him do it.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman

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