Faculty lead public input at forum on presidential search


Eduardo Castillo

Michael Ballew, a senior partner with Wheless Partners, writes down feedback during a public forum. Wichita State is paying the firm to help find candidates for its presidency.

Longtime history professor John Dreifort has been at Wichita State University through five of its presidencies, and he knows what he wants to see in the sixth: a president who understands the university’s story and identity.

“We should not try to become a vocational, technical college serving the needs just of industry and commerce in the city,” he said. “A real university can serve [Wichita] in multiple ways beyond simply serving business.”

Dreifort was among a crowd of faculty who attended the first of four public forums Thursday in the RSC to share their thoughts on the search process for WSU’s next president.

Emceeing the forums was Michael Ballew, a senior partner with Wheless Partners — the search firm WSU is paying to help find candidates for the presidency.

He said feedback provided at the forums and by members of the presidential search committee will be used to shape a job description sent out to potential applicants.

“We build a profile from [feedback] that is a marketing document … that will cast a wide net and bring in as many people as we possibly can,” Ballew said. “And then we begin to narrow down from there based on the parameters we identify in working with the client.”

The firm will release the document to the public at some point during the search process, he said.

In May, the Kansas Board of Regents appointed 20 members to the search committee. Since the regents opted for a closed presidential search, candidates will not visit campus or be announced publicly.

One faculty member said he was concerned with the closed search because it could make it difficult to get a “good idea of the people [the firm is] bringing in.”

Ballew said closed searches are beneficial because they allow people with jobs to apply for the position without fear of retaliation from their current institution, emphasizing the firm’s plan to focus on candidates who are “happily employed.”

Faculty at the forum frequently spoke in favor of a president who is transparent and communicates openly within university ranks.

“I think sometimes we’ve gotten confused about the quantity versus the quality of information that is sent out,” Dreifort said. “And this results in, I’m afraid, … a great deal of effort to try and spin the decisions that are being made.”

Eduardo Castillo
John Dreifort, longtime history professor, speaks at the faculty forum. Four forums were held Thursday in the RSC to gather feedback on the university’s search for a new president.

Betty Smith-Campbell, professor at the WSU School of Nursing, said innovation on campus is important but said some developments were “sold” to faculty rather than presented for feedback.  

“When you do the innovation, such as businesses, … clearly state how is that going to impact the university,” she said. “Is it just for students? Is it for research? Is it that we spend money now so we get money later? All of those are good, but they have not been very clear.”

“The more voices in the room, I think the better,” said Smith-Campbell, outgoing president of Faculty Senate.

Other faculty stressed finding a president who values all areas of the university, including research and graduate programs, liberal arts and sciences, and Ablah Library.

Kerry Wilks, interim graduate school director, said the university can not be a credible research institution without a strong graduate program.

“We want to continue the growth of our research, we want to continue the growth of our grants where appropriate … and that is not possible if we are a vocational school,” she said.

‘A collaborative effort’

Several members of the search committee were present at some or all of the forums, including Student Body President Kitrina Miller and Steve Clark — namesake of the Steve Clark YMCA and WSU Student Wellness Center.

Eduardo Castillo
Steve Clark, chair of WSU’s presidential search committee, speaks in a public forum. Four forums were held Thursday in the RSC to gather feedback on the presidential search.

During the staff forum, a staffer asked if any search committee members would have more weight in selecting candidates than others.

Clark, chair of the committee, said each member has an equal say and will get one vote.

“It’s a collaborative effort on the committee,” he said. “Nobody’s going to be forced to do anything.”

Clark also chaired the university’s 2012 presidential search that identified John Bardo as one of five finalists for the position.

Thursday’s forums represent the only public opportunity for members of the university to share feedback on the presidential search. Faculty and staff forums were nearly full. Student and community forums each had around five people in attendance.  

After sending out a document to solicit applications, Wheless Partners will meet with the search committee in September to select a group of about 10 to 12 candidates. Those candidates will then do video interviews with the committee in October.

After face-to-face interviews, the search committee will present about 3 to 5 candidates to KBOR, who will select the next president in the fall.

An anonymous survey about the presidential search opened in May on the university’s website and closed Friday. On Thursday, Ballew said the survey had garnered an unusually large amount of responses, with just over 400.  

WSU is searching for a new president after Bardo, the university’s 13th, died in March of a chronic lung condition. Andy Tompkins, KBOR president from 2010 to 2015, is currently serving as interim president at the university.