Richard Myers, president of Kansas State University, sat down with Collegian staff members Friday to give insight into his job, his views on students’ problems and the future of the university.
Kaylie McLaughlin, assistant news editor: “What does your average day at work look like?”
Myers: “There is no average day. I haven’t found one yet. … There’s not a shortage of things to do, and there’s a lot of travel. I was surprised about the travel with the office, and that’s been true of [former president] Kirk Schultz and everybody else. I mean, you spend a lot of time outside of the office doing things, which is probably appropriate. … A lot of donor visits, that’s a piece of it for sure.”
McLaughlin: “You were originally just the acting president. What made you decide to stay?”
“I was always doing things out here. I was out here teaching for 10 years. I was out here doing a lot of stuff at the [KSU] Foundation. I just liked it. I thought that your higher education is so important that maybe I want to help, and people were encouraging — faculty, staff, students, coaches. A lot of people just said, ‘Why don’t you think about staying?’ I asked my wife if I could do that, and she said, ‘Let me think about it.’ And then the next morning she said, ‘The family will support whatever you decide to do.'”
Rafael Garcia, editor-in-chief: “You were a student back in the 1960s. What’s changed since then?”
Myers: “First, the quality of our facilities. I was in engineering, [and] most of mine was done in the old Seaton Hall. There was no Engineering Complex. That was a dream that was going to be executed after we left. But the main thing is all of the tools for student success — they’ve really grown over time. So, for a student to come here and not be successful in academics, my guess is they’re not taking advantage of all those tools that are there, and it’s free.
“Oh, and we have a winning football team. It makes a difference because it gets people interested. Coach [Bill] Snyder has really changed the whole complexion up here.”
McLaughlin: “What do you think is the biggest problem facing K-State students in 2018?”
Myers: “The biggest problem that hurts student success the most is the cost of education, and particularly first generation students, [who] are more likely to be those who don’t have the financial background to plunk down the tuition. I think that’s what we are trying to work on, those scholarships and so forth that help that.
“Tuition when I started was $137 a semester because the state was doing a lot of the support. Today, if the state was still providing that same support, that number, through inflation, would be over $1,000 today. Still very reasonable, but because the state has cut their support to all higher ed institutions in the state of Kansas, the burden shifted from the state now to families and students.”
McLaughlin: “When you were our age, did you ever imagine that you’d be the president of a Big 12 university?”
Myers: “I didn’t, and nobody I knew would imagine that for me. Of course not. I did not plan on making the military career, but things evolve, and you will all figure that out if you haven’t already. You can set down a path, but that may not be the path. Hopefully, you’ll explore different things and find your true calling at some point. I thought I was going to be in the military for five years, and I was going to work in Kansas City for my dad. He had a small business. He bought it when he was pretty old, and he wanted to leave it to his sons. I was looking forward to doing that with my brother, and I never came near it.”
Garcia: “Going back to Kaylie’s question from earlier, what do you think is the biggest problem facing K-State as a whole?”
Myers: “For the next couple of years, it’s enrollment. We’ve had a pretty big enrollment decline, and that’s revenue. We’ve had to cut our budget, and we’re at the point, given 10 years of state cuts and now this enrollment piece on top of it, [where] some of our colleges, some of our departments are really hurting. We’ve got to weather this storm. … In the meantime, it’s a lot of ‘belt tightening,’ and that’s kind of our focus right now.”
McLaughlin: “Now that a lot of the original motivators of the 2025 initiative have moved on or are preparing to leave, where do you think the future lies?”
Myers: “It’s going to go right on to 2025. Probably before we get there, we’ll be thinking about a new strategic plan, but you always have to have a plan that you’re marching toward. I don’t know who will develop the next one. It’s not personality-dependent. It isn’t dependent on one personality, me or anybody else. … It doesn’t matter who leaves, who comes.”
McLaughlin: “Can you define cultural competency? It seems to be a commonly used buzzword without a direct definition.”
Myers: “I mean, I guess in the simplest way, it is not only understanding different cultures and ethnicities at some level, but also accepting people that come from a different culture or ethnic background than you do.”
Garcia: “With instances such as the white nationalist posters on campus from last semester, how [will] K-State build on some of the discussions that have been happening?”
Myers: “Trying to build resilience. You know the Westboro Baptist Church, that has an anti-gay message. They have to petition to demonstrate, and they often do it by McCain, right? Maybe at graduation. I’m usually inside and never see them. People just walk by them these days; they don’t even pay attention. When they first started, everybody got upset, but now we’ve learned. ‘That’s an interesting view, thank you very much.’ We don’t even discuss that with them anymore. We have resilience against that sort of hate speech.
“Same with white supremacist posters. They can put them up on campus. They can only legally put them up where we put all posters up, and you have to apply and get permission and so forth. They shouldn’t turn us upside down just because somebody put something up like that. We should treat them just like the Westboro Baptist Church. Bad idea, bad philosophy, not very appropriate to us, thank you very much and move on with life and not all duck for cover because that’s just part of life. We’ve got to make ourselves resilient to that and then promote the kind of culture we want here at K-State. That does not define us.”
McLaughlin: “What has been your favorite part about working at K-State?”
Myers: “All parts, I think. I actually have fun doing this. [There’s] a lot of challenges, and we’ve talked about some of them, but it’s fun because if you’re helping students, you’re trying to move higher education forward in the state of Kansas. That’s really important for our state, our region, our students. I like doing it and working with students is a lot of fun. I mean, they keep you young. You’ve got to stay up; you can get behind really fast.”
Garcia: What do you wish students knew about you?
Myers: “I hope they think I care, because I do care — that’s all. I’m not trying to build a resume, because where am I going after this, right? My resume was built long before I got here, and it is what it is. This is an opportunity and a privilege to be part of something that is really important to me and to our state and to the regions of the world, because we’ve got K-Staters all over the world doing really amazing things.”