One of Fred Pawlicki’s friends called him a “polymath,” which is just a fancy way of saying he’s a pretty smart guy who’s done a lot of different things.
These days, the longtime KU administrative pinch hitter is in charge of KU’s Continuing Education program. Pawlicki is fond of saying that the work-force development and adult education program is KU’s best-kept secret.
He may be right. When then-Provost David Shulenburger approached him about taking on the role of Continuing Education executive director, Pawlicki didn’t even realize the job was open.
As he had done twice before with open KU vacancies, he volunteered to take on the job on an interim basis. The next KU provost, Richard Lariviere, named Pawlicki the permanent executive director in 2007. He’s also served as the interim leader of the Lied Center from 2000 to 2001 and as interim director of the Spencer Museum of Art from 2004 to 2005.
His KU career began when he was hired as the first director of operations for the Lied Center in 1992. Dave Hiebert, a retired Lawrence physician, served on advisory boards for both the Lied Center and the Spencer Museum during Pawlicki’s time there.
He said Pawlicki’s skills as a manager and a leader provided a steady hand through leadership transitions that weren’t always easy. His wide experience in a range of areas helped endear him to the staff there.
“He has a ready smile and he has a talent to make people feel good about themselves,” Hiebert said. “That’s rare. I wish I had it.”
Pawlicki’s office is in a building that used to house a travel agency, at 1515 St. Andrews Drive.
On a brief tour of the facility, he proudly shows off the various departments of his agency, calling many of the 60 employees in the building by their first names.
There’s David, who oversees the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute — a “fabulous program,” Pawlicki said, that lets senior citizens take courses on a wide variety of topics. On this day, there’s a small group learning about Judy Garland. Another group is joining them from a community college in Hutchinson, participating via video feed.
There’s Jean, who deals with distance education. Gina’s in a meeting but waves through the glass anyway. There’s Soma, who works on an aerospace engineering training program for working engineers that takes her and her team across the globe. And so on, down to the building’s lowest floor, where Glenn oversees the fire and rescue training for firefighters statewide, and where Joanna watches over the 1.5 million pieces of mail the operation sends out annually.
Overseeing all of them — and a police officer training academy in Hutchinson to boot — is Fred, a man who, it’s safe to say, hasn’t followed a traditional academic path.
The 64-year-old Pawlicki is a veteran of Vietnam, where he served as a Navy Seabee. The name comes from the shortened version of the Navy’s Construction Battalions (CBs) that build roads, bridges and various other construction projects.
From there, he became a union carpenter and eventually took a job as Topeka’s Kansas Expocentre’s director of operations.
Pawlicki still retains a love of the arts from his previous work. He’s a wildlife and outdoor photographer and a quilter, and the walls of his office are decorated with framed landscape photos.
When a waterfall display quit functioning in the Continuing Education building, Pawlicki decided to coordinate with KU’s School of the Arts to have an annual contest that will open up the space to an art student every year.
Pawlicki and his wife, Cathie, have no children, but, he’s quick to point out, they own one very loved Chihuahua.
“That’s Bertie over there,” he said, pointing to a framed picture of a small black dog on the wall, before turning to another picture. “And that’s Bertie over there.”
There is a third picture, too.
Pawlicki said that the sum of his life experiences — the business sense, the entrepreneurial spirit, his love for the arts — have combined to be a “really good fit” for his position.
“He’s showed me,” Hiebert said, “that he was really a good man for all seasons.”