Education

Wichita oil man gave $12 million to WSU. Now he’s getting an honorary degree

Wichita State University gets largest cash gift in school history

Wichita Oil producer Wayne Woolsey and his wife, Kay, are giving $10 million to help build a new home for the W. Frank Barton School of Business and another $2 million to WSU's department of geology.
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Wichita Oil producer Wayne Woolsey and his wife, Kay, are giving $10 million to help build a new home for the W. Frank Barton School of Business and another $2 million to WSU's department of geology.

A Wichita oil producer who gave $12 million to Wichita State University — the largest cash gift in WSU’s history — will receive an honorary doctorate from the university this month.

Wayne Woolsey will receive the honorary degree of Doctor of Philosophy during WSU’s fall commencement ceremony Sunday, the university announced. He is the fifth person to receive an honorary degree from WSU in the past 30 years.

An honorary degree, which state universities may award with approval from the Kansas Board of Regents, is given without the fulfillment of the usual requirements.

According to Regents policy, the degrees “may be conferred only upon persons of notable intellectual, scholarly, professional, or creative achievement, or service to humanity.”

An honorary degree “shall not be awarded for philanthropic activity or service to the University or the State of Kansas,” the policy says.

Woolsey, 87, is chairman of Wichita-based Woolsey Companies, an oil and natural gas exploration and production company.

In a letter to the Board of Regents submitted in August, WSU President John Bardo nominated Woolsey for an honorary doctorate.

“Mr. Wayne Woolsey is an entrepreneur the likes of which Kansas needs more,” Bardo said in the letter. “An innovative businessman whose success can inspire today’s students to be tomorrow’s visionaries.”

Woolsey was the first person to apply large-volume hydraulic fracturing, known as “fracking,” to recover deposits of oil and natural gas in south-central Kansas.

In recent years his company explored large shale deposits in the Illinois Basin and was the first to apply for and obtain a fracking permit in that state. Last year his company announced it wouldn’t use the permit, however, citing market conditions and the state’s “burdensome and costly” regulations.

“Though the payoff never emerged, Mr. Woolsey’s leadership and vision in pursuing this resource were seen as testimony to his pioneering spirit,” Bardo told the Regents in his nomination letter.

“As an entrepreneur driven to think big, take risks and advance the knowledge of his field, Mr. Woolsey is worthy of the distinction of an honorary doctorate at Wichita State University,” he said. “His vision and achievements as a Kansas business leader will inspire WSU students in the years to come.”

A native of Texas, Woolsey earned a degree in geology from Texas A&M and came to Wichita in 1968 while working for Texaco. He left Texaco a year later and started his own company in 1970.

In May, WSU announced that Woolsey and his wife, Kay, were giving $10 million to help build a new home for the W. Frank Barton School of Business. The couple donated another $2 million to Wichita State’s department of geology to support its petroleum geology program and field camp experiences for students.

In recognition of the Woolseys’ gift to Wichita State, the university announced that a 136,000-square-foot building on WSU’s Innovation Campus would be named in honor of the couple.

Construction on the $50 million Woolsey Hall, which will house the W. Frank Barton School of Business, is expected to begin next year. The university recently launched an effort to raise student fees to finance part of the new business school and other campus improvements.

Wichita State, which did not award an honorary doctorate from 1989 to 2014, has awarded one each year since.

In 2015, the university honored Donna Sweet, a leading physician in the AIDS and HIV community.

In 2016, WSU awarded an honorary doctorate to Karla Burns, an operatic mezzo-soprano and actress who grew up in Wichita.

Last year the university honored Lee Pelton, president of Emerson College in Boston, a Wichita native who earned his doctorate in English literature from Harvard University.

WSU’s fall commencement ceremony begins at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Charles Koch Arena at the corner of 21st and Hillside.

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