Ed McKechnie, Kansas Board of Regents chair, declared his support for President Kirk Schulz’s K-State 2025 initiative, the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF), and athletic director John Currie during a campus visit Friday.
The entire board visited K-State Thursday and Friday as a part of its biennial tours to Regents campuses. The nine Regents and president/CEO Andy Tompkins spoke with various KSU deans, faculty and staff, and students.
“It’s really an opportunity for us to sit down face to face with those broad constituency groups and hear their concerns, so that as we’re trying to make decision through the year, we have a greater understanding of the day-to-day challenges are here,” McKechnie said.
They also toured the basketball training facility, the Large Animal Research Center and the Justin Hall addition.
McKechnie said a big part of the Regents’ plans involve strategic plans for all the universities. He said K-State 2025, the university’s effort to be a top 50 public research institution by 2025, is at the forefront of the Regents’ planning process.
“It’s a great goal and one that the board completely supports,” he said. “It’s one that we think adds great value to the state.”
McKechnie said the Regents’ job is to keep K-State on track as they set the tone for the plan. He said K-State leadership has to be the ones to keep things moving.
“Our real responsibility in that is to make sure it’s being done in an appropriate way, that we’re spending the money the way it should be spent and that the goals are aligned with what Kansas needs,” he said.
McKechnie said facilities and recruiting faculty will be a big part of the plan’s success. In order to do those things, the Regents will need to lobby the state legislature to provide the funding for K-State and the other Regents universities.
Attracting faculty to the university includes increasing their salaries, which are consistently at the bottom of the Big 12. Money would also be needed for new facilities, although Schulz has said private donations will likely be the key driver of those projects.
“When in tough economic times, it’s sometimes tough to dig deeper and make the strategic investments,” McKechnie said. “I think the legislature will recognize that in order for the economic to be strong in the future, you have to have Kansans who are trained and can add to the economy.”
McKechnie also stated his belief that the NBAF will be built and Manhattan will prosper from it. Future funding for the facility has been put on hold as the Department of Homeland Security reassesses the project at President Barack Obama’s request. Some estimates have the project, originally estimated at $650 million, reaching $1 billion.
The NBAF is thought to be a strong part of K-State 2025 as well as the overall growth of Manhattan. “The key is not just to build the facility but to partner economic development teams and business and industry across the state, so that investment is transformative for this part of the state,” McKechnie said.
McKechnie said one area where the Regents don’t get involved is athletics. “There’s no being a little involved in athletics,” he said. “Either you’re completely involved in athletics or you’re not involved.”
But speaking as an individual, he said he’s “a big John Currie fan.” “I think he does a great job leading K-State Athletics,” he said.
Currie has been under fire by some K-State fans with the departure of Frank Martin to become the head basketball coach at South Carolina. Some have faulted Currie for instigating, or at least not doing more to discourage, Martin’s departure.
Bruce Weber, former University of Illinois head coach, has been hired by K-State to take Martin’s place. McKechnie said K-State fans need to support the team. “I think Coach Weber is a good find,” he said. “We need to give him every opportunity to be successful.”
McKechnie said some of the shock has to do with the long-term coaches that Kansas State and the University of Kansas have had over the years.
“There’s turnover in college sports,” he said. “Kansas has been spoiled to have Bill Snyder, Roy Williams and Bill Self. We’re used to having high-profile coaches stay a long time at a school.”
McKechnie said he thought Martin captured the spirit of Kansas State well. He attributed the move to Martin’s desire to go to greener pastures. “I think he will in his life realize that the pastures are pretty green here at K-State,” he said.