Kansas State University President Jon Wefald has done a terrific job of leading the university for the past 22 years. Monday, he announced he plans to retire at the end of the 2008-09 academic year.
Wefald came to Kansas State at a time when the school was in serious trouble. Enrollment numbers were declining, private giving was not keeping pace with other schools, and morale among faculty, alumni and friends was not good. The school's intercollegiate athletic programs were in a bad state, with the very strong possibility that KSU might have to end its varsity football program, and there were many other indications that Kansas State needed immediate professional help.
Wefald arrived from Minnesota where he had served as chancellor of the state university system that includes seven universities. When he was to be publicly introduced and welcomed at a large KSU luncheon, a sizable contingent of Minnesota residents chartered a plane so they could be present to demonstrate their appreciation for what he had accomplished while chancellor of the Minnesota system.
This record of success and respect has continued during Wefald's tenure at Kansas State. New enthusiasm and pride was injected into the Wildcat Nation. The enrollment slide was replaced by sustained major gains in both enrollment and private giving. New impressive buildings now dot the campus, new academic programs have been added, and the faculty has been improved. The school's football program made the biggest turnaround in NCAA history, and KSU students have received national recognition for their academic achievements. These are just some of the markers that can be cited to illustrate the tremendous job Wefald has done for the university, its faculty and students, the city of Manhattan and the entire state of Kansas.
He has been a tireless worker for KSU, and he and his associates have done a super job of telling and selling the KSU story to state legislators.
Being a college president or chancellor is a tough, demanding job, and Wefald has met the challenges of the KSU presidency for 22 years. This is a long term, and he is sure to have stepped on some toes during that time.
However, Wefald has the wisdom, the deep love for Kansas State and the awareness of the importance of proper timing to know it is far better to leave such a job a year or so too early than to make the mistake of staying in such an office a day too long.
His resignation will trigger all kinds of tributes and accolades, and he deserves them all. Along with the compliments directed at Wefald, there also is reason to thank and congratulate his wife, Ruth Ann. It's not easy being the wife of a university president, especially for 22 years.
Now that Wefald has made this announcement, it is up to members of the Kansas Board of Regents to realize the importance of the search and recruitment process they will put in motion to find a new KSU president. It should be a thorough, rigorous, exhaustive process, not merely a screening exercise, as is the case for too many senior positions at our state universities. Regents should make sure those on the search committee are outstanding, properly motivated individuals, not just a nice group of friendly people selected by university officials.
To do less would be a slap in the face, an affront, to Wefald, who has made such a positive contribution to the university and the state.
Wefald's timing, while disappointing to many, could not have been better and is sure to help KSU find a truly outstanding individual for this extremely important position.
Once again, congratulations and thanks to Jon Wefald for his leadership of our sister university.