In the 40-plus days since he took over as president of Wichita State University, John Bardo has identified five ideas he wants to talk about as he develops plans for the university.
Ideas include rebuilding the university’s residence halls and finding ways to harness the university’s innovations to make the world better while earning grants and other income for WSU.
In an interview last week at his office, he said the five ideas are interlocked.
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Budget cuts in recent years have prompted worries that the quality of the basic liberal arts education might suffer. So this is a priority, Bardo said.
“We’re a very good university,” he said. “We can be better.”
The support from the state for WSU used to make up the majority of the university budget; it is now 23.6 percent of the 2013 budget of $282 million, said interim WSU provost Keith Pickus. As recently as 2005, the state percentage was 37.3 percent (of $175 million).
Last year became the first in which income from tuition (at slightly more than 25 percent of WSU’s budget) exceeded income from the state. The rest of WSU’s budget comes from grants, fundraising and other money, he said.
In the latter years of Bardo’s first career stop at WSU (as a teacher from 1973 to 1983), the university’s enrollment reached 17,000. It’s been at about 15,400 in recent years.
Growing enrollment, he said, means he will seek ideas on everything from quality of classes to online education, “blended” education (online and classroom), adult learning, college transfers from community colleges, and how to help former military personnel get the education they want.
Bardo said he already knew before coming here that WSU had internationally known researchers such as John Tomblin, director of the National Institute for Aviation Research, which tests materials and innovations for the aviation industry, and Ravi Pendse, director of WSU’s Cisco lab. Cisco designs, manufactures and sells networking equipment.
What surprised him, Bardo said, was how many other WSU people are doing interesting work in a variety of fields.
Related to basic research, as far as a university chief is concerned, is the reality of state budget cuts coupled with the enticing possibility that research universities can make their own money from their own inventions and innovations. Universities increasingly do this, Bardo said.
“By definition, a research university like WSU is in the business of creating ideas, but where a university sometimes falls flat is, what good does a work of research do if the only people who ever read about it are other people in the same discipline?” Pickus said.
“John is very keen on all of us developing a close working relationship with businesses, industry and any appropriate enterprises, so we can get better at migrating the creativity and intellectual capacity of faculty at the university toward better helping the private sector.
“What he’s saying is that at an urban-serving university such as ours, this kind of collaboration can be more pronounced.”
Quality of student life
Bardo heard repeatedly from WSU students as he met them that taking better care of students would mean more people would want to enroll and stay to complete degrees. The Rhatigan Student Center is being remodeled; it’s not enough.
Bardo has asked staff to prepare ideas on rebuilding the university’s residence halls, starting by 2014, and to consider building them in a cluster with dining, learning centers and activities built in.
WSU’s residence halls currently house about 1,100 students, 8 percent of the student body. Fairmount Towers and Wheatshocker Apartments were built in the mid-1960s, Brennan Hall in the 1950s, all at different locations.
“Regarding enrollment, we don’t have the competitive advantage that you need. Clustering residence halls around dining and activities has become more common in other universities,” he said. “When you have the kind of residence halls that you need, a lot of local people who might be thinking of going elsewhere for their education might decide to stay here and live in our residence halls while still being close enough to home that they could go home to Mom’s dinner.
“The way people live their lives has changed, and expectations have changed a lot.”
He doesn’t yet know how much this will cost and finding the right location will take study, he said.