Topeka Kirk Schulz was introduced Wednesday as the next president of Kansas State University and said his biggest tasks will be coping with the economy and promoting the planned federal research laboratory to study dangerous livestock diseases.
Schulz, 45, has been vice president for research and economic development at Mississippi State University for the past two years. He also was the school's dean of engineering and director of its chemical engineering department.
He was the unanimous choice of the Kansas Board of Regents to succeed Jon Wefald, who will retire in June after 23 years leading the university.
"I think he's going to be great," Wefald said of his successor.
Schulz in turn praised Wefald as a "transformational leader" who oversaw Kansas State's enrollment grow from 16,000 to more than 23,000.
Schulz was the sole finalist for the job after two other finalists dropped out. University of Maine president Robert Kennedy said Tuesday he wanted to remain there, and Steve Ballard, East Carolina University chancellor, withdrew his name last month.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security picked Kansas State last month as the future home of a $450 million National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, or NBAF, to replace an aging lab on Plum Island, N.Y. It's expected to be completed in 2015 and will study deadly livestock diseases and some of the world's most dangerous biological threats.
Schulz is familiar with the NBAF project, having been part of a multi-university effort that sought to bring the project to Mississippi. But he said NBAF wasn't the reason he decided to accept the Kansas State offer.
"I think it was a plus. It wasn't the reason I was interested in K-State, but it certainly is a big positive for being the next president," he told reporters.
He said Kansas State must deal with the reality of the economy.
"Universities are going to be leaner. We're going to have to really look carefully at everything we are doing and how we are spending our money," he said. "We need to keep education affordable for Kansas students who want the benefit of a K-State education, so we are going to have to balance all those things out."
The other big challenge, he said, will be establishing NBAF as the definitive place for animal health research. However, he added, "A lot of that is going to depend on how we work with the federal government on the NBAF facility."
Although he is a chemical engineer and researcher, Schulz said he would leave the work of overseeing of NBAF to the Kansas State officials now handling it. But he sees a role for himself.
"I think the president certainly needs to be out front in the community talking about why NBAF is important, but we need to develop a four- or five-year plan on how K-State is going to capitalize on having NBAF right next door," he said.
Kansas State has had three presidents since 1950, and Schulz said he wants to continue the custom of longevity in that office.
"I don't have any real desire to go skipping from place to place," he said. "I want to do a large capital campaign. I really want to do a long-term strategic plan and that takes awhile to put into place, and I don't want to put something in place and bolt."
Schulz said much of his time will be spent on fundraising because the university needs the money.
"I need to be the purple-jacketed face out there for K-State," he said in a reference to the school colors.
Wefald, who recently completed a major fundraising campaign, cautioned, "Fundraising is becoming very difficult because people are worried about their jobs."
Schulz said he will appoint the school's next athletic director and wants Wildcat teams to be competing for Big 12 championships.
"My intention is to hire a well-qualified athletic director and let him run the program," he said.
According to news accounts, last year's departure of athletic director Tim Weiser was precipitated by differences with Wefald on personnel matters.
Schulz visited Kansas State last month and met with students and faculty members. He said he plans to spend a week on campus each month until he takes over as president July 1.