President John Bardo: 'It's great to be back'
Aug 14, 2012 11:59 PM | Print
On July 1, former WSU faculty member John Bardo started his new role as the 13th president of Wichita State. Joe Kleinsasser, director of news and media relations, recently interviewed Bardo on topics ranging from academics to a strategic plan to pets to detective mysteries. Following are highlights from that interview.
Q: How was the transition into the WSU presidency?
Q: What are some similarities and differences between Western Carolina and Wichita State?
For example, I was my own electric company (at Western Carolina). I actually was not only chancellor of Western Carolina University, I was president of the Western Carolina University Electric Co. And fortunately, before I got there, they had managed to offload the sewer system, or I would have been president of the sewer system as well.
One of the other really big differences is while the budget overall here is somewhat larger, some of the budgets there were much bigger. For example, our auxiliary budgets there were substantial, because we slept 4,000 students on the campus, as opposed to 1,200 students (here). And so it really does change a lot of what you do. On the other hand, core questions around quality, core questions of the changing nature of universities, those sorts of things aren't any different.
Q: From your perspective, what's similar or different today on WSU's campus from when you were a faculty member in the '70s and early '80s?
The other is the emphasis on doctoral education wasn't here at the time. That occurred just as I was leaving. That was starting to mature. And so I think that was a big shift.
Obviously there are some new buildings, but the environment around the campus, interestingly, hasn't changed much. So I think there are a lot more similarities than differences.
We still had football when I left, so that's a big change in the fall.
Overall, the quality of faculty seems to be good. It was a really strong faculty when I was here and it is a really strong faculty now.
The commitment of staff to the university was really strong then, and it seems to be really strong now, so the similarities are there and the differences are really more a matter of emphasis in the education program than other things.
Q. What will be your process of evaluating the direction of Wichita State University?
I do have a set of issues that have really been consistent and don't seem to be changing. At the same time, to get really broad input, we're going to start a planning process this fall, a very open process involving both the Wichita community and the university.
I anticipate that the planning process will go on through the whole academic year, but I want it completed so that we can take the plan to the Board (of Regents) in June, and that the community has a really solid understanding of where we're going as a university. That's going to be a very formal process, one that I hope will engage all of our major internal and external constituencies.
Q: You've already talked about the importance of having a strategic plan. What does that mean to you?
Once we understand our mission and values in a very open and hopefully articulate way, we can start looking at our assets and liabilities. What are the things that will help us achieve that mission? What are the things that hurt us? What's outside the university that will impinge on us, maybe in a positive way, maybe in a negative way? Then out of all of that, how do we set goals that allow us to really implement that mission and values?
Probably around winter break we're going to institute a series of very specialized committees around things like technology transfer and research, enrollment growth, quality of student life, those kinds of issues.
What does it mean to have students living on campus, and what does it mean to have commuter students? What about distance education? What about blended operations? What about transfers from community colleges? How are we going to deal with all of those in a very open and consistent way? That's where we're going to be moving.
Q: How important is it to have more enrollment growth, and what can be done to keep it growing?
The other side of it is to serve our mission. We need to be substantially larger than we are. I don't think that we are really fully yet addressing the education and research needs of the people of this metropolitan region that we primarily serve. So I'm looking at that as a really serious issue, and how do you do it? Well, you modify the way you recruit. You modify the way you retain. You take a different look at the sub-groups, what they call segmenting the market. It means really focusing some attention on distance and blended education in ways that we haven't really looked at yet. There's a lot of upside to this university.
It also means working on the environment around campus to provide a supportive environment where people who choose to come have the services and resources they want. It's a big job, but I think it's a real job that can be done, and we'll move into that this year pretty quickly.
Q: How would you like to see the student experience change?
We certainly don't have the residence halls either, in terms of volume or quality, so with the Rhatigan Center being redeveloped, it gives us more opportunities for traditional student programming.
In metropolitan universities, somewhere between 15 and 30 percent of your undergraduate students generally live on campus. We're at 8 percent, so there's a lot of upside for us even to get to be a typical metropolitan-type university in terms of residential students. That has real implications for the quality of experience that others have on the campus as well, because it helps provide services. So if I'm a commuter student, there are more restaurants. There are more places for me to do things.
When you start talking about the older adult learner, the person over 25, they have a different set of needs. In many cases, it's the need to access offices at weird times of the day. It's the need to maybe come every other week and have some classes where some material is online and do the blended kind of courses. I'm looking for us to get into all of that over the next year or two.
Q: How would you like WSU's contribution to the region's economy to develop in the coming years?
We have a large upside in research. We've got one or two entities that are doing most of the funded work on the campus. There are other entities that can do funded work at a larger level than they are, so we need to understand what are their resource needs and their support needs, so we can help move that forward.
We have a tech transfer office, but I'm not clear that we've made that a priority. For the health of Wichita, I see us playing an increasingly large role.
At the same time, we have a long history on this campus of working with the city government, of working with nongovernmental organizations, volunteer organizations and working with community businesses, so this isn't a cultural anathema to this campus, and I think that gives us a leg up in moving forward.
Q: Obviously you feel strongly that research needs to continue to expand here.
I know we have good faculty, so the question then is, what are the support systems we need? Are there facility questions? What is it that we have to get our hands on to help this faculty do what they need to do?
Honestly, the health of this metropolitan area depends a lot on the kind of work that we do here, both in applied research and in development and tech transfers. So I'm looking at where we differentiate ourselves from all other universities that serve this metropolitan area.
When I look at data nationally, states that are being successful have universities that are good at this. Kansas universities, even given our relatively small population size, aren't all that good at generating research dollars. We can be the leader in our key emphasis areas in research and development in these fields.
Q: This may not be an entirely fair question, but would you speculate what the biggest challenges will be for WSU in the next three to five years?
I'm very concerned that we not duplicate activities across programs and departments. That doesn't make sense to me. There are way too many things that we can do and that we should be doing.
I think we have a land issue here. Understanding where we're going to expand and how we're going to expand is going to be a really big question for us. And helping the community understand the support systems and services we need to help them.
Q: Just for fun, what are some of your favorite books?
When I'm reading just because I want to read, not just to be light and airy, I generally read Civil War histories and World War II histories.
What really intrigues me more than anything else, when you didn't have automobiles and airplanes, the idea of moving 100,000 people anywhere and the idea of supplying them with food and material just fascinates me. And the implication of all of this for the nation and its culture also intrigues me, so I tend to read in those areas.
Q: When you get to watch TV, what do you like to watch?
I like "Big Bang Theory." It's goofy, but there's some smarts to it.
I actually own a lot of mystery series DVDs. I particularly like those. Again, those tend to be quite smart.
If I just want to not think a whole lot, I enjoy something like "NCIS." I don't watch shows like "Dancing with the Stars." I just don't find those things interesting at all.
In the fall, if I don't have to be somewhere, I am a football guy. I can watch any two teams play. My tradition has been that if I don't care about either team, I root for whichever one is wearing red. Since I'm here (at WSU) I'll probably root for whichever one is wearing black and gold. I just really like football a lot and will watch that if I have an opportunity.
Q: Do you have any pets?
Our son, from the time he was a little kid, loved critters. He's now a biology and chemistry major, which fits. We've shared our house with all kinds of weird and wonderful things from ferrets to crabs to guinea pigs to white mice, and sometimes bugs that were brought in from outside.
If I thought I could get a dog that would live 40 years so I wouldn't have to watch it go, I might well have another dog. The last couple of dogs that we lost were members of the family, and that's something I'm not sure I want to go through again.
Q: I've read that one of your hobbies is working with stained glass. How did you get interested in that?
After Deborah and I got married and we were living here, she was trying to figure out what to give me for Christmas one year. She had read something about stained glass classes, and I took some.
I've made about 20 panels. I still have about half of them. I've given some away and gave some to auctions. One donor (at Western Carolina) actually came into the house for dinner and was commenting on one of the pieces I did and how much he liked it. So I took it down and gave it to him, and he gave us a check for $10,000. I said I'll make as many of these as you want for $10,000 a pop. But I do love that (working with stained glass) and really enjoy it.
I also like woodworking and we really enjoy traveling a lot. We have very close friends in England and hope they can come over in the fall term. We like to go see them. We tend to travel together and go off together.
In fact, had I not gotten this job, we would have gone and spent a couple of weeks in France together, renting a farmhouse. I've known them since I did my dissertation back when I was a babe, and we've watched their kids grow and are now watching their grandkids grow, so it's been fun.
Q: Is there anything you want to share with faculty and staff?
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