The Sunflower

Revisiting John Bardo’s presidency through the lens of his inauguration speech

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Revisiting John Bardo’s presidency through the lens of his inauguration speech

President John Bardo at his inauguration Courtesy of Jeff Tuttle

President John Bardo at his inauguration Courtesy of Jeff Tuttle

Courtesy of Jeff Tuttle

President John Bardo at his inauguration Courtesy of Jeff Tuttle

Courtesy of Jeff Tuttle

Courtesy of Jeff Tuttle

President John Bardo at his inauguration Courtesy of Jeff Tuttle

Dr. John William Bardo was a man of action. He created. He constructed. He challenged.

He shook up Shocker Nation.

As president, Dr. Bardo steered Wichita State University into unfamiliar territory — implementing strategies for advancement and development with rapidity and ingenuity.

He was determined to foster new opportunities for research, technology, and development. He wanted to enhance the university’s relationship with local industry and business.

Bardo outlined these goals in his inaugural address. Those who knew little of the man and his methods before that speech walked away knowing where WSU was headed. In that speech, Bardo shared his vision for the future, and his plans. Big plans.

Five plans, actually.

Bardo’s top five priorities for Wichita State became something of a recurring theme during his tenure.

On Oct. 12, 2012, Bardo took the oath of office in a ceremony at the Eugene M. Hughes Metropolitan Complex. His inauguration theme was based on the title of his inaugural speech: “Ad Astra.” The Kansas state motto, “Ad Astra per Aspera” is Latin for, “to the stars through difficulties.”

“While our motto specifically refers to the travails of statehood, we know today that we also live in very difficult times,” Bardo said. “But one part of our state’s motto, ‘Ad Astra,’ to the stars, speaks to how this university can lead the way to a future that is brighter than we can conceive, and in which our children and grandchildren can live prosperous, meaningful and fulfilling lives. But, to do so, we are going to have to raise our own sights to the stars.”

In the last 10 minutes of the speech, he unveiled The Bardo Five, detailing his top priorities for the university and the ways and means to implement them.

His purpose was to take the university higher — to get WSU to reach for the stars.

The five points in this plan were to improve overall quality of education, increase enrollment, enhance basic research, pursue technology invention and industry partnerships, and improve the quality of student life.

The Bardo Five

  • Improving quality of education: Focusing on increased excellence in teaching, student support, administration, outreach. Finding new ways to increase student learning and student satisfaction, while reducing cost. “We need to focus on quality in everything that we do.” And we have to start with our undergraduates, and make sure that our undergraduates have the best opportunity and that we are drawing the best and brightest.”
  • Increasing enrollment: “I’m asking the faculty to consider forming a residential honors college. Not just an honors program but a residential honors college focused on keeping the best and brightest here so that they can work with you. This college should be open to every college in every major. Let’s get to the situation where students choose us over Princeton because they get a better education at a better cost right here at home.”
  • Enhancing basic research: Building more research facilities, upgrading laboratories and raising the university research capacity. “We need to continue to build our capacities in graduate education, in postgraduate education and in research. We are making some moves today by restructuring the office of Research Administration to try to provide greater support for funded work.”
  • Pursuing technology transfer: Taking the ideas and research of faculty, staff and students to the marketplace and enhancing public/private partnerships. “It is really key that we engage systematically in technology transfer. That we systematically take the products of your minds and get them out to the community to improve the quality of life, improve this region’s global competitiveness, to assure that the industries that are committed to Wichita have the best capacity to compete globally.”
  • Improving the quality of student life: Making campus more attractive and convenient for students while giving students more opportunities to connect with their campus. “I’ve heard from students over and over about their love for Wichita State and their great desire to have more opportunities to engage with the campus, to improve their learning, to increase the quality of their campus experience. Now President Beggs took a major step when he authorized for the Rhatigan Student Center to be rebuilt and to be expanded. That will make a big difference. But we have to find other ways to enhance the quality of student life.”

Lou Heldman, now vice president for strategic communications, heard the inaugural address that day.

“Although some of the language changed over the course of six and a half years, there’s a pretty clear through line from the inaugural speech to the end of his time as president,” Heldman said.

The plans Bardo shared during the ceremony were surprising, he said.  

“He came with a clear-cut vision. The most typical thing for a new president would be to say, ‘First I’m going to do a lot of listening, and then, you know, sort of a year from, now I’ll tell you what I think we need to do,’” Heldman said.

Bardo told people what he thought needed to be done at WSU from the get go.

“He wasn’t coming in as a new president normally would. He was someone coming in who already had roots and branches on campus,” Heldman said.

Courtesy of Wichita State University Libraries and University Archives
An invitation to Bardo’s inauguration.

Heldman said because Bardo began his teaching career here and was friends with many WSU faculty, he was comfortable enough with WSU and confident enough in his decisions, to share his vision at the inauguration. He was honest from the start.

“He expressed a dissatisfaction with things as they were and said, ‘Not only do we have to be much better, but Wichita has to be much better,’” Heldman said.

“Clouds right now are on the horizon for Kansas. And we all know that clouds can bring storms and storms can be very dangerous in this state,” Bardo said. “We have a great danger in this metropolitan area in that the vast bulk of our exports are in one industry, aircraft. For us to remain competitive, we’re going to have to think differently about what our economic base looks like.”

Bardo also said it was critical to find ways to contain cost while enhancing education.

Bardo, always data-driven, shared some grim facts in his speech as well.

“Unfortunately, when you look at the indicators of research and of innovation, Kansas doesn’t stand out very well,” Bardo said. “We are 36th on federal research and development dollars. We are low enough ranked that National Science Foundation has given us a special status to encourage us to get more grants. Similarly, we lag in the number of patents per capita.

“Folks, we can do better.”

Bardo then announced the creation of a $50,000 fund to provide grants for students who engage in faculty-mentored research. He said he would be exploring ways to free up money to build more research facilities and upgrade laboratories.

He discussed plans to build a new residence hall, Shocker Hall.

Courtesy of Wichita State University Libraries and University Archives
Invitations to Bardo’s inauguration.

“We are going to be moving quickly, quickly to build the first new residence hall on this campus since the 1960s,” Bardo said. “We need to provide strong living, learning environments for our students so that they can get full benefit of the educational experience.”

Shocker Hall, an 800-bed dormitory, opened in 2014.

Next, he challenged the faculty to create an honors college.

They did.

Heldman said the honors program has been extremely successful.

“We’ve gone from something like 200 students to more than 600 students, and the students are in all majors,” Heldman said.

He credits this increase to a few decisions Bardo made early on.

“Because of the commitment that Dr. Bardo made and the leadership of Dean (Kimberly) Engber, the WSU Foundation was able to secure a major gift from Dorothy and Bill Cohen,” Heldman said. “And in the past six months or so, they’ve given a second major gift.”

In recognition of their first donation of $5 million, the College was named the Dorothy and Bill Cohen Honors College. They pledged their second gift of $2.5 million three years later, in 2018.

The other topic Bardo discussed was how to improve relationships with local business and industry sectors.

“Wichita State, given its mission, can be the center of business innovation for this state,” Bardo said. “We can become the center of development of SBIR (Small Businesses Innovation Research), of technology transfer, and of making sure that the knowledge that we gain from our research makes a difference for the quality of life for the people we serve.”

This became Dr. Bardo’s most widely known initiative and resulted in both the Innovation Campus and the creation of the office of technology transfer.

Located at WSU’S eastern edge, on the former Braeburn Golf Course is this research park, the Innovation Campus includes three engineering buildings, the Wichita-Sedgwick County Law Enforcement Training Center, two residence halls, the AIRBUS partnership building, and three retail buildings.

Courtesy of Innovation Campus website

A YMCA and student wellness center has broken ground. A hotel and aviation crash lab are in the works.

Plans for a new $50 million business school are currently on hold after WSU students recently rejected a referendum to raise student fees again.

The proposed fee increase would have accounted for $20 million of the cost of building, the remaining $30 million being provided by private donors.

Innovation Campus has raised eyebrows for a number of reasons.

Some are impressed. Others still are critical of business decisions associated with the venture. Others aren’t sure what to think.

Dr. Bardo wrote a message to the university about Innovation Campus to address concerns, saying, “Innovation Campus itself has become controversial in some quarters because it involves public-private partnerships, known as P3s, that have been common in American higher education for decades, but are still relatively new to many in Kansas.”

It remains a complex issue.

Regardless, it’s sure to be the keystone in Bardo’s legacy. Innovation Campus was his biggest initiative — an initiative to enterprise academia.

Bardo will be remembered for this ambitious priority and for his commitment to Wichita and the university that bears its name.

“WSU is an intellectual giant in the middle of the country that is awakening,” Bardo said at his inauguration. “It is setting direction and is moving with purpose. It is that giant that can reach higher than anyone ever expected.”

“You have the capacity to reach the stars. Friends, you are that good.”

The Shocker alumni magazine
John William Bardo was formally inaugurated as Wichita State University’s 13th president Oct. 12 at the Eugene M. Hughes Metropolitan Complex. Others on stage for the ceremony included Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, second from left, who presented Bardo with the presidential medallion; Don Beggs, former WSU president, just to the right of the podium; Eric Melgren ’79, U.S. District Court judge for the District of Kansas, second from the right, who administered the oath of office; and, at far right in the blue robes, the inaugural speaker Charlie Nelms, who served as the 10th chancellor of North Carolina Central University from 2007 to 2012. In his inaugural address, President Bardo took the opportunity to emphasize the critical importance of higher education.
“Unfortunately, our nation is in grave danger of forgetting the core purposes of education,” he cautioned. “College education is being redefined as a private good rather than a public necessity. It is more and more being seen as a fancy form of vocational education that is aimed only at jobs and increasing income. Global competitiveness and earning a living are truly very important, but myopic focus on that aspect of education endangers our entire way of life.” Bardo – whose academic interests focus on the myriad relationships between higher education, the economy and quality of life – also noted that “WSU is not just a university in the city, it is a university of the city. Being of the city has always made a huge difference, and all indications are that in the globalized world, it will be of even greater importance.”

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