While K-State President Richard Myers has quickly cemented his presence on campus since going from interim president to the official pick by the Kansas Board of Regents in November, there were still a few i’s to dot and t’s to cross.
KSU held its official inauguration for Myers Friday morning inside McCain Auditorium, where the retired four-star general was formally introduced as the 14th President of Kansas State University.
Myers, a 1965 KSU graduate and the 15th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was called on after former K-State President Kirk Schulz surprised the Little Apple last year with his decision to take the same job at Washington State University.
In the opening remarks of his inaugural speech, the former principal military advisory to President George W. Bush echoed words often said by KSU football coach Bill Snyder when it came to the reason for his commitment to Kansas State.
“So almost a year ago to this day I accepted the opportunity to serve as interim president of Kansas State, and as I’ve said before, I really did not intend to pursue the permanent position, ” Myers said. “So you might ask, what changed my mind?
“As you would guess, first and foremost, the people.”
Myers said that after a lifetime of moving, he’s glad to stay put in a place so key in his personal history.
“I think we moved houses 27 times during my 40 years in the military,” he said. “So, it wasn’t really hard to come to Manhattan, but it was really special to come back to Manhattan where (my wife) Mary Jo of course grew up and where we met as students.”
Myers’ inauguration was full of K-State administration officials and a who’s who of university presidents from the Big 12 community. When Myers wasn’t at the podium, he sat close to his wife. Various state legislators were also in the audience and Gov. Sam Brownback also joined dignitaries on stage.
Brownback was one of the many speakers who led up to Myers’ address.
“Gen. Myers, Mary Jo, let me say welcome home,” Brownback said. “We’re happy to have you back. This is the place where you belong, and I’m just tickled pink to have them here.”
The governor praised Myers military experience, especially during 9/11, when he was the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2001 through 2005.
“I think he will be an extraordinary fit, with all of that experience that he has, with the ability to pull people together, to have them move forward in a common vision and a common effort, to make this place an even better institution,” Brownback said.
Dennis Mullin of Manhattan, who also serves on the Kansas Board of Regents and was the chairman of the presidential search committee, introduced Myers.
“A leader has to have the ability to persevere in difficult times,” he said. “I am honored today to introduce a person that exemplifies these leadership qualities.”
Myers praised K-State’s growing reputation as the “Silicon Valley of bio-agro defense” and its “town-gown” relationship with the city of Manhattan. But he also acknowledged recent funding challenges for higher education in the state.
After thanking Gov. Brownback and state lawmakers for their attendance and attention to those challenges, Myers reiterated the importance of such funding.
“An educated workforce is one of the keys to our state’s future prosperity, and frankly, we need to do more,” Myers said. “The continued decline of state funding for higher education is a real challenge, as it leads to increased tuition and financial burden for our students. We can’t fully achieve our land-grant mission, including accessibility and affordability goals, without adequate support from the state of Kansas.”
In March, university officials said KSU would reduce its budget by $6 million, due to cuts in state funding. That’s on top of previous cuts for regent institutions.
In February, Blake Flanders, the president of the Kansas Board of Regents, told the Topeka Capital-Journal regent universities in the state have lost $75 million over the past three years.
At the same time, the state budget has been in constant deficit and is expected to see a shortfall of $889 million by June 2019.
“It’s critical that we make sound decisions on budgets — tax policy for that matter — and the school financing formula to ensure Kansas stays competitive through the fundamental benefits of quality education,” Myers said, before being interrupted by enthusiastic applause from the audience.