Gary Sherrer’s shocking resignation from the Kansas Board of Regents was a sad note on which to end a long and distinguished career of public service to the state of Kansas.
At the beginning of the regents’ Wednesday meeting, Sherrer delivered a brief statement announcing his resignation. In the statement, Sherrer cited what he saw as an “atmosphere of mutual disrespect and distrust between many board members and myself.” At the conclusion of the statement, he wished Kansas higher education leaders well and walked out the door.
Later, Sherrer told reporters he was upset that fellow board members refused to appoint him to lead a search committee to find a new president for Emporia State University, his alma mater. He said he had fond memories of the school and, “It meant a lot to me to chair it.” However, he added, “a few people (on the board) were adamantly opposed and rejected my seeking that role.”
Although his four-year term expired at the end of June, Sherrer didn’t want to wait. “I am getting too old to be in places I don’t want to be, with people I don’t want to be with,” said the 70-year-old Sherrer.
There may have been some good reasons not to put Sherrer in charge of the ESU search, and, despite his disappointment, it’s unlikely Sherrer would have made such a dramatic exit based solely on the search committee issue. In fact, Sherrer alluded to “a rather negative situation” on the board, adding, “It escalated, and I’m just tired of it.”
Other board members expressed shock at Sherrer’s departure, saying they thought the board was getting along just fine. It’s hard to believe that was — or is — the case.
It hasn’t been an easy year for the regents, dealing with tight budgets and politics. For instance, in another trust-related issue, Gov. Sam Brownback made a major point of not allowing the regents to administer the $5 million approved for cancer, animal health and aviation research at Kansas University, Kansas State and Wichita State. Instead, he insisted the money go through the Kansas Department of Commerce. It’s easy to see how such a contentious atmosphere could wear down the regents chairman.
Sherrer has been a dedicated public servant who served the state well as lieutenant governor and commerce secretary under Gov. Bill Graves. He was a committed and engaged member of the Board of Regents and was able to list a solid record of accomplishments as part of his resignation message.
Sherrer was one of three regents whose terms end on June 30; all three were eligible for reappointment. The governor now will have to appoint at least one new regent and perhaps three. As we’ve noted before, these appointments are extremely important to higher education and the state. Sherrer’s departure only highlights the need for Brownback to choose carefully as he chooses the regents who will guide higher education in the state.