K-State President Richard Myers said during the State of the University address on Friday that the refresh to the university’s 2025 visionary plan is on hold.
In February, Myers said a key goal of the K-State 2025 Refresh initiative launched in September 2019 was to re-engage the K-State community in university strategic planning.
“Last fall we talked about the 2025 Refresh and we came around to all of the colleges ... to get ideas,” he said. “Then suddenly all our energy was spent on responding to the COVID pandemic. So, we think we need to pause our plans to Refresh.”
The priority will shift to recovery from the pandemic and the implementation of the strategic enrollment plan. The strategic initiatives that were part of the Refresh will continue and ideas will not go by the wayside, Myers said.
“We’re looking to launch a new strategic planning process post-COVID that will have a 10-year horizon,” he said.
For fiscal year 2021, the priority is responding to the pandemic, focusing on enrollment and financial sustainability.
“We’ve got to make sure that we can pay the bills, pay the debt and take care of our people,” Myers said. “It’s a balancing act of enormous proportion — we’re dedicated to doing that.”
Myers spoke of the need to look after the physical and mental health of students, faculty, staff and the community. He acknowledged that mental health is a real issue, and the university will provide for those needs.
As K-State resets its vision to operate effectively and efficiently in a COVID-19 world and beyond, Myers said progress made over the past several years show the existing plan was working. But the pandemic has taken its toll.
“We are all very well aware this has been a year like no other,” he said. “Every one of us, I think, has been challenged by the changes caused by the pandemic and the economic downturn. It’s caused hardships, disorientation, illness, loss, uncertainty — all adding up to a lot of anxiety.”
However, there is another side to the coin, he said. One that shows, in typical K-Stater fashion, a response by faculty, staff and students of flexibility, innovation, perseverance, creativity and solidarity.
“I want to recognize and thank each of you for all you have done, for all your efforts, for your persistence and your character as we face this … unprecedented crisis,” he said.
His address took a snapshot of the progress made since 2011, when the university launched the goal of becoming a top 50 public research university by 2025, through a COVID-19 lens.
The pandemic interrupted projects underway as K-State researchers pivoted to the emergency at hand. Myers spoke of several ways the university’s research is helping solve a worldwide pandemic.
There are professors working on COVID-19 vaccines, drug treatments and therapeutic treatments.
“And there was a K-State study, the first to show that COVID-19 is not transmitted by mosquitoes,” he said.
Despite the pandemic, the university had a record year for research dollars awarded — $200.3 million across 1,138 awards.
In the Princeton Review’s list of the best 385 colleges, K-State came in No. 1 for the happiest students, No. 2 for students who love their college, and No. 3 in the nation for best quality of life and best health services.
“We sent students away after spring break and didn’t let them come back, then shift and finish their studies online,” he said. “And, find the character and perseverance to persist amid unknown and often difficult personal situations. They did all that, then they came back this fall. Through it all, they still told the Princeton Review that they love K-State.”
COVID-19 brought changes in everyday behavior. There were shortages of some products and a sudden demand for others.
“As a land grant university, it is our mission to serve our state, nation and world,” Myers said. “So, it’s not surprising to see our K-Staters step up to take on this fight.”
Volunteers under the coordination of the Department of Interior Design and Fashion Studies made scores of face masks, and the digital fabrication club at the College of Architecture, planning and design created three-dimensional printed face shields to distribute to healthcare facilities.
In the community, shoppers found store shelves empty of staples, including flour. To meet the need, the Department of Grain Science and Industry brought its flour mill back into operation.
development and technology transfer
K-State Research Foundation and the Institute for Commercialization merged in 2020 to form the Kansas State University Innovation Park.
“The new entity better represents and describes the organization’s national leadership positions in technology, commercialization, economic development and corporate engagement,” Myers said. “COVID hasn’t slowed the need for innovation.”
The university recorded more than $3.2 million in licensing revenue for FY20 and had a record 35 license agreements.
Faculty and staff
The major impact of COVID-19 at K-State was on the people, Myers said.
“We decided to continue paying all employees even while the state was under stay-at-home orders,” he said. “As the situation continued, we had to make fiscally responsible decisions.”
During the summer, K-State emergency furloughed 430 employees for an estimated $2.75 million in savings. In July, the university announced plans to furlough 1,438 faculty and staff members during fiscal year 2021 for an estimated savings of about $5.9 million.
Myers said he knows the decisions were painful for everyone, some more so than others.
“We had to implement emergency furloughs, administrative furloughs,” he said. “I can tell you, When I came to K-State in 2016, I never thought that would be part of our charter — to implement those, hiring freeze (and) voluntary pay reductions.”
However, the bright spot was the response of faculty and staff members who pivoted to online teaching in two weeks during the spring semester.
The pandemic slowed some of the construction progress and before students could return this year, working spaces required evaluation for ventilation and COVID capacity, Myers said.
“Despite COVID-19, some projects continued although with some delays and interruptions,” he said. “Rising from adversity, Hale Library’s first and second floors are now open to students. Renovation of the rest of the building is slated to be complete January of 2021.”
The Multicultural Student Center ribbon cutting is scheduled for Nov. 20, and the McCain Auditorium lobby expansion began in July.
“One of the things about K-State Athletics you ought to be most proud of is they’ve achieved a balanced budget for 11 straight years,” Myers said. “And it’s also one of the lowest of the Big 12.”
The Athletics department released a list of goals to take action on social justice issues. Officials have said they are making a concerted effort to provide an environment that is inclusive and to accommodate students who are hurting because of what is going on in the rest of the country.
As with all other areas of campus, athletics are also working on COVID-19 mitigation plans.
In June, following the social unrest across the country, K-State started Community Action Talks.
“These are panel discussions of timely topics such as racism, coronavirus and free speech,” Myers said.
The university also has posted an action plan designed to promote a more inclusive campus experience for all students and faculty on its website at k-state.edu/diversity-inclusion/initiatives/action-plan.
“Talk is cheap, action is harder and we want to take action,” Myers said.
The Alumni Association’s license plate program raises more than $5 million for student scholarship and recognition programs.
“Also, the K-State Alumni Association is still number one of the Big 12 for the percentage of alumni who are members,” Myers said. “Support of our Alumni Association directly helps current and incoming students. Every year, the Alumni Association awards more than $550,000 in student scholarships to more than 500 students.”
During the pandemic, the association started hosting Wildcat Chats, a virtual event featuring campus leaders to help people stay informed.