The Kansas Board of Regents named Jay Golden as the next president of Wichita State University on Thursday.
Golden, 55, is a Cambridge-educated native of Los Angeles, California. He is a systems engineer and vice chancellor at East Carolina University. His tenure at Wichita State will begin in January, when he’ll move to Wichita with his wife, Dina Golden.
Although he has only been to Wichita “a couple of times” before Thursday, he said, the city already “feels like home.”
“It’s a big city with all the amenities that you would want in a big city, but without . . . that claustrophobic feeling I get when I’m in certain cities,” he said.
He said he is not taking the job to change things, but to build on a solid foundation laid by his predecessor, John Bardo.
“I’m not coming in here as a change agent,” he insisted. “But I am coming in here as a leader who is going to take time to talk to members of the community, our faculty, our students and our staff. At the same time, to challenge everybody to think through what are the programs — academically — for research that actually provide the greatest opportunities for our students’ success upon graduation.”
He has been at ECU for two years as the head of research, economic development and engagement. Before that, he was associate provost for research and directed corporate relations at Duke University. He also served as the director of Duke’s Center for Sustainability and Commerce. He was previously an assistant professor at Arizona State University.
His educational background includes an undergraduate degree in management from Stanford University, a master’s degree in environmental engineering and sustainable development at Cambridge and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He holds a doctorate in engineering from Cambridge.
Golden vows to carry the university forward with transparency, shared-governance, inclusion and respect.
The months-long search for a successor to the late John Bardo was conducted in secret, with search committee members under a gag order that prevented disclosure of finalists for the position.
Wichita State paid an Alabama headhunting firm about $95,000 to recruit potential candidates for the position.
The new president walks into a situation where students and faculty have demanded increased transparency in recent years. And Golden said that’s at the top of his leadership principles.
“I hope that I work hard to be able to earn the trust and respect of people in the community,” he said.
Bardo, WSU’s 13th president, who died in March of a chronic lung condition at age 70, had a bold vision for the university when he took over in 2012. But many of his visions outlined in his long-term plan for Kansas’ largest urban research university remain unfulfilled, leaving room for growth on Innovation Campus and improvement on the main campus.
Wichita State underwent a major transformation under Bardo, and changed its mission statement to reflect the new priorities of the university to be “an essential educational, cultural and economic driver for Kansas and the greater public good” through applied learning and research.
Golden wants to build on those priorities, he said.
“With the rapid advances in technologies and expansion of globalism, students must build intellectual curiosity and critical thinking skills required for the new economy,” he said. “What’s going to be our secret sauce? What will provide our students a competitive advantage in starting their careers? It will be the legacy of Dr. Bardo,” he said.
The idea behind Innovation Campus is to harness Wichita’s entrepreneurial spirit, leveraging public funding and university research capabilities with private funds and industry leaders. For students, the Innovation Campus helps provide internship opportunities and industry experience.
The concept was to create an incubator that hatches start-up businesses with Wichita State technology, partner industry leaders with university researchers, and diversify the state’s economy. The new buildings and research opportunities would improve student life and serve as a catalyst for enrollment growth, which would make up diminishing state funding.
With state funding constantly imperiled, growing enrollment to increase tuition dollars had been a nagging concern. Bardo told The Eagle as recently as 2015 that he wanted to boost enrollment to 22,000 students using Innovation Campus as a “competitive advantage” compared with other universities.
But growth has been hard to come by, with enrollment stagnant across the state. Since the school broke ground on Innovation Campus, Wichita State has gained two full-time students, according to Kansas Board of Regents data.
This fall, however, Wichita State reported an enrollment increase and had more than 16,000 student enrolled for the first time in 30 years.
Golden said he wants to build on that momentum, training students not only for the jobs of today, but also the jobs of the future.
“How do we do this? In part, by promoting critical thinking,” he said.
That should be accomplished by exposing students to the humanities, the arts and social sciences, he said.
One of Golden’s top priorities, he said, is accomplishing the mission of the university without driving up the cost of attending Wichita State.
“I strongly believe we need to find ways to make college more affordable,” he said.
The Board of Regents will decide compensation for Golden sometime in the near future, Regent Mark Hutton said. On Thursday afternoon, Golden left his new colleagues with a promise to earn their respect and increase the university’s profile.
“Wichita State University will be a brand that we will build to benefit our graduates and our region,” Golden said. “But it will take all of Shocker Nation working together. I will devote all of my energy to this great institution and region, and I look forward to earning your respect.”