Pat Bosco, vice president of the office of student life and dean of students, sat down for a question and answer session with the Collegian to discuss freedom of speech, the culture of Kansas State and what makes the university different from other institutions across America.
This is a printed transcription that includes a portion of a previously live interview. To watch the original interview, check out the K-State Collegian Facebook page.
Kaylie McLaughlin, news editor: “Tell me about your time at K-State and how you came to go to school here.”
Bosco: “I was a political junkie at the local community college in upstate New York. I got involved in student government activities at the local, state and national level, and one of the individuals that I met during the Voter-18 drive, which was a passion of mine, was Senator Mike Mansfield. … He was, at the time, the Democratic majority leader of the United States Senate, and he impressed me in 1969.
“When I was looking for a school, I was watching Walter Kronkite at 7 o’clock at night. … He had as his lead story one night in March the Landon Lecture of Senator Mike Mansfield at Kansas State University — that was the first time I heard about Kansas State.
“I wrote a letter to the admissions office at K-State asking them all kinds of questions, thinking that I was going to get a formal dittoed-off response, but I didn’t. I got a personal letter from an assistant director of admissions answering all my questions about student life, about student government, about the culture of K-State. And the rest is history.
“I came out to visit and fell in love with the school. … My first semester here as a junior, I was elected by the student senate to represent the student senate at a national student government conference in Atlanta, Georgia. In December, I was approached by a group of students asking me to run for student body president, and that following spring, I was fortunate enough to win the presidency by the largest vote total in school history. … It was beaten five years later by Bernard Franklin, who became a Regent and Chair of the Regents and also a member of our student life staff.”
McLaughlin: “Why exactly did you decide to stay?”
Bosco: “That’s a good question. Each time that I had the opportunity to go somewhere else — I had lots of opportunities, corporate, foundations as well as college and universities — I was given an opportunity to grow here, and Manhattan is a very special place. Each time, I was fortunate enough to be given an opportunity to have additional responsibilities and personal growth. … One thing led to another, and before you know it, they can’t get rid of me.”
McLaughlin: “What exactly is your job? The title ‘dean of students’ is kind of larger than life, so can you describe it a little bit?”
Bosco: “Well, as vice president of student life and dean of students, it is a combination of a variety of services [offered] directly to my students. … We are all about student success, whether it’s our K-State childcare center or admissions office or financial aid for the K-State student or recreational services or our tutoring programs or our commitment to student employment and graduation rates — it’s all about student success.
“We’ve got about 800 full-time employees in the Division of Student Life, and my title really encompasses most things outside the classroom that drive student success at our school. There really isn’t a position like it in the Big 12 or, frankly, around the country. … When I retire, they’ll probably do something very different in terms of organizing what we do.”
McLaughlin: “What is your favorite part of K-State?”
Bosco: “Besides purple and the way my students smile when they walk across the campus, it’s the culture here. It was evident the first day I visited campus in June of 1969 and it’s evident today. We’re not perfect, but it feels that way sometimes. It just seems like the culture here is student-centered, and it drives a lot of the decisions that we make — not only in Anderson Hall, but in Haymaker Hall and Calvin Hall and in our new business building. It seems like from the top to the bottom, we are concerned about students and that’s a part of our culture. It might be the land-grant mission of our school, but I think it’s very special and very unique and we ought not take it for granted because it can change.”
McLaughlin: “As is the case on many college campuses across the country, the First Amendment and freedom of speech have been controversial concepts. What role does freedom of speech play at K-State?”
Bosco: “Our Principles of Community are a living document that talks about respect, and we need to continue to understand that we are going to do everything we can to respect all voices… they may be unpopular voices, but that’s part of freedom of speech, and it’s protected by the Constitution.
“I believe words are educational vehicles for us to get to know one another, and I am probably on the side of, ‘Hey, let’s have courageous conversations.’ Words are important as we begin to understand one another, and I believe that we need to protect everyone’s voice, no matter how much of the majority that might be or how much of a minority that voice may be to our institution. That’s how we grow and that’s what a university is all about, particularly a public state university.”
McLaughlin: “How do we reconcile free speech and the K-State values of community when, in some cases, freedom of expression offends groups of students?”
Bosco: “As harsh as this sounds, I think we’ve got to be bigger than just words. … We have to have an educational environment that gives everyone a chance to express a point of view, and words are part of that.
“I am a purist when it comes to the First Amendment. I believe very strongly that as a public state university, that even though words are repugnant, you can move away from those words, you can avoid those words if you choose and that’s part of being free and having freedom of will. … I believe very strongly that we’ve got to be open to all kinds of words, no matter how incredibly repugnant they may be.”
McLaughlin: “You’ve talked about your involvement in the Voters-18 movement. On Thursday, in the student senate, governmental relations committee chair Hayley Spellman spoke about how less than 50 percent of K-State’s student body voted in the primary election in August. How do we change that?”
Bosco: “That statistic makes me sick. That is something that I’ve seen nationwide, and it’s the reason why we have financial aid programs that are not responsive to my students and their families, why the drinking age is 21 and not 18. There’s a correlation, and it’s very important that our [audience] understand that not voting and not registering to vote has a direct impact on your ability to go to school, economic development issues, social issues that are critically important to today’s college student. I am sickened by the fact that we are looking at 40 to 50 percent of today’s college students, or those in the 18 to 21, 22-year-old cohort, that even bother to register to vote.”
McLaughlin: “What do you wish the student body knew about you?”
Bosco: “I have 153 purple ties. I have a closet filled with purple polo shirts and t-shirts. I am very proud of the fact that I am K-State’s dean. I pinch myself every day because I am not the brightest person in the world and I’ve surrounded myself with a wonderful family, all K-Staters by the way, and a great staff of assistant associate vice presidents and directors that put students first every day, and that makes going to the office a real joy every single day.”
McLaughlin: “Is there anything else you want to talk about?”
Bosco: “Well, I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you that I enjoy what the Collegian does. I appreciate the effort and passion the Collegian puts in every single issue. I think you’re a group of unsung heroes that give our university family the chance — not only in print, but online — to get to know our university community better. I greatly appreciate the long hours you put in and the professionalism that the staff exudes every single day. I think you’re a group of individuals that care a great deal about the truth and I admire you.
“My daughter was a member of the Collegian staff a few years ago, she graduated from our school of journalism and mass communications, College of Arts and Sciences. She’s in the public relations field. So I admire what you do every single day.
“I’d say the same thing about our marching band. I think the band is absolutely incredible, the time and effort they put in.
“I would say the same thing about our res-life staff and our RAs and our residence halls. The men and women that champion or fraternities and sororities. Our student organizations. Our multicultural groups. I think that we have a whole bunch of positive stories that can be told over and over again of how great this place is because it’s student-centered, and the Collegian is part of that.”