Fall 2010

The Reshapers

WSU Top Administrators
WSU's top administrative leadership, headed by President Don Beggs,
right, are, from left, Wade Robinson, vice president of Campus Life and 
University Relations; Provost Gary Miller; Mary Herrin '72/76, vice
president of administration and finance; and Ted Ayres, vice president
and general counsel.

Driven by new realities in the global economy and pushed by demands for educational accountability, the shape of American higher education is shifting.

At Wichita State University, like elsewhere across the nation, every student, faculty and staff member, every alum and university friend plays a part in this ongoing process of shapeshifting.

But only at WSU are these five reshapers administering the change.

From its start in 1895 as Fairmount College with 12 students and a faculty of three, Wichita State has evolved through periods of steady, stately growth and times of fitful transition (as if through the process of biological evolution itself) into an urban-serving research university with a diverse offering of programs and, this fall semester, some 14,800 students. “Our bottom line,” says Donald L. Beggs, who was inaugurated as WSU’s 12th president in 1999, “is learning.” Prior to accepting the top post at WSU, President Beggs was a professor who served in numerous administrative positions during a 32-year tenure at Southern Illinois University.

He retired from SIU as chancellor in 1998. Beggs, who earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from SIU and his doctorate in educational measurement and statistics in 1966 from the University of Iowa, is the senior author of a nationally standardized test and has written several books and many academic articles. He has spent his career studying the process of learning. And he’s adamant about getting it right.

“Wichita State’s greatest asset is its faculty and staff that as a group has assumed the responsibility of building an academic curriculum built on knowledge, research and professional standards,” he says. “This same group provides learning experiences in the classroom and out of the classroom using various technological and teaching strategies. Our goal is for learning to occur. Everyone is working to create a positive learning and working environment.”

While Beggs counts on every individual faculty and staff member to contribute to the workings of the university as a “living, functioning” organism, as he describes it, he looks to his top administrative team of four vice presidents as leaders and guides in setting parameters for how best to pursue excellence in education, research and service at Wichita State.

His vice presidents are Mary L. Herrin ’72/76, vice president for administration and finance; Gary L. Miller, provost and vice president for academic affairs and research; Ted D. Ayres, vice president and general counsel; and Wade A. Robinson, vice president for Campus Life and University Relations.

All of the top administrators agree in general outline on two key things: WSU’s greatest asset is what it has always been, its people – its Shocker students, faculty, staff, alumni and supporters. And the single greatest challenge they collectively face is grappling with funding issues, issues that in part can be traced to, as Provost Miller says, “the increasing negative perception of higher education in the public, which is reflected in declining state funding.”

Beggs calls the most recent declines in funding “abrupt” and “severe.” Necessitated by the global economic recession that began in 2007, a first wave of budget cuts crashed in on the six Kansas Board of Regents universities in the form of a 7 percent reduction in state general funding in fiscal year 2009. More cuts followed, eventually totaling a state-funding reduction of approximately 12 percent.

“We’ve done the budget cuts,” Beggs reports from his Morrison Hall office. “Now, we’re starting an orderly process, including faculty and staff, of determining, given what we’re trying to accomplish and given the resources we have – how do we best use them. The term for this process has become ‘reshaping.’ Because in the end, we’re posturing for what’s the next springboard as we move ahead.”

Herrin, who earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in accounting from Wichita State, replaced Roger Lowe, longtime WSU vice president for administration and finance, in 2008. Awarded a Kansas Certificate of Certified Public Accountant in 1979, Herrin served as associate vice president for administration and finance and the director of budgets before taking up her current position.

WSU Administrators 2010

From her vantage point, she sees WSU’s most compelling challenge as “securing and allocating the level of resources needed to fulfill our mission in the changing environment for
higher education and the current state of the economy. And,
when I refer to resources, I do not just mean financial. My
definition of resources includes those related to faculty and
staff, financial and physical.”

Miller, who became provost and vice president of academic
affairs and research at WSU in 2006, adds, “Two years ago,
we understood we were facing enormous economic challenges.
In response, we initiated a program to ‘reduce, reshape and rebuild’ the university for the new realities of our time. The idea
is to re-imagine the university for the future – to think about it in
a different shape.”

Miller graduated from the College of William and Mary with undergraduate and graduate degrees in biology in 1976 and 1979, respectively. He holds a doctorate in biological sciences from Mississippi State and has taught there, as well as at Weber State University and the University of Mississippi in Oxford, where he worked for 14 years, seven as chair of the biology department. An expert on the reproductive biology of wolf spiders, he has been published in the areas of population, community and behavioral ecology. While dean of the college of arts and sciences and professor of biology at the University of the Pacific, he worked to expand programs in the sciences, theater and the social sciences, among other educational and administrative pursuits. At Wichita State, he has led campus-wide initiatives in globalization, student success and retention, honors education, online learning, diversity and multiculturalism.

“My life in higher education has been a fantastic journey,” Miller says. “That journey started with my undergraduate experience. For a person like me who came to college from rural western Virginia, the experience was transformational. It was in college that I first understood the world and my obligations and opportunities in it. What fascinates me about my work is the chance to give many other young people this same wonderful experience.”

Ayres, a business administration graduate of Central Missouri State University who went on to earn a juris doctorate from the Missouri University School of Law, describes his college days as enriching. At WSU, Ayres has put in two stints as interim director of the Ulrich Museum of Art in addition to his other administrative duties. Higher education helped him become a more complete person, he says, adding that not only was he exposed to and gained a lasting appreciation for literature and art, but he also felt a new sense of maturity and confidence. “I came to realize I could compete,” he says. “I came to realize I had no limitations, no reservations about my future – I could go for it.”

Yet, in the face of declining state funding support, Ayres, who served as general counsel and director of governmental relations for the Kansas Board of Regents before coming to Wichita State in 1996, voices concern about the possibility that  fewer and fewer of tomorrow’s potential students will be able to afford a quality college education. “The cost of getting a higher education is becoming unmanageable,” he says. “Many students have no alternatives to taking on the burden of heavy student loans. If this continues, it leaves us back in the days of 1910, 1920, when a college education was the perogative of the rich. It’s important for us to keep trying to maintain access. From my perspective, public higher education is at a crossroads and many of the paths leading from those crossroads cross dangerous waters. I have to say that I believe the single greatest challenge we face is having the necessary budget to provide a relevant, significant and meaningful educational experience to students – at an affordable price.”

This past June, the Kansas Board of Regents approved tuition and fee increases for state schools, despite fears that the cost of higher education was going up faster than Kansans’ earning potential. An in-state student taking 15 credit hours at Wichita State now pays $2,945 per semester for all tuition and required student fees. This is a 7.7 percent increase, or $212, when compared to the previous tuition.

“This is a time of great change in American higher education,” Miller notes. “In Kansas, we face unprecedented challenges that reflect the tensions in the entire enterprise. Higher education in general faces two significant challenges. The current economic crisis is one of those. This is a proximate crisis, one that we must address with immediate action. The other challenge is more significant. It is the change in public perception about higher education. One of the reasons that state support for higher education has decreased dramatically in the past decade is that the college education is now considered an individual rather than a social good. The public is generally skeptical of the ability of universities to deliver on learning and workforce preparation within reasonable cost. The idea of reshaping is to acknowledge and respond directly to this. The optimal shape is one that accommodates public concern about higher education and delivers higher education for 21st century living.”

Robinson, who is the newest and youngest of Wichita State’s vice presidents, arrived on campus in July 2009, coming from the University of Nebraska at Omaha, where he was associate vice chancellor for academic and student affairs. He earned his undergraduate degree in fitness and leisure management from the College of Education at Kearney State College in 1989, his graduate degree in educational administration at the University of Nebraska at Kearney in 1992 and his doctorate in curriculum and instruction from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln in 1995.

In agreement with his administrative colleagues, Robinson also considers “the people” at WSU to be the university’s best asset. “While technology plays an integral role,” he says, “higher education is a people business. Students choose wsu because of the quality academic programs and the great faculty. We also have a very dedicated group of staff members committed to providing the best service possible to students.”

Robinson adds that it is increasingly important to find and employ “the most efficient methods to recruit and retain students and deliver the services they expect. We continue to look at what we do and how we can do it in the most cost-effective manner possible.” He mentions a number of particularly successful student-service initiatives taking place in the division he heads, Campus Life and University Relations: the Rhatigan Student Center and its Rhatigan Renewal renovation project, for one; the Educational Opportunity Center and trio and gear up programs that help students in need are others.

“Our federal grant programs that serve pre-college and college students are making a difference in the lives of students who have great potential but need extra support in different ways,” he says. “We are fortunate at wsu to host the large number of programs that we do. The difference these programs make in peoples’ lives can be dramatic.”

Helping students discover and meet their educational goals is what Robinson says gives him a sense of professional accomplishment. So what is it that he just flat out enjoys about his work? It all comes back, he says, to “the people.” And that is precisely the answer Miller gives: “Universities are full of the most fascinating and innovative people. If you are open to their ideas, there is something wonderful to learn every day.”

President Beggs underscores that thought and emphasizes the fact that learning occurs in many settings, both in and out of the typical classroom or lecture hall. He ticks off a half dozen examples, or more, of university entities that are providing what he considers “positive learning environments” outside the classroom. Cooperative Education and Work-Based Learning; WSU’s Cisco laboratory, a technology research center on campus run in partnership with the multinational network equipment giant; and the university’s student teaching program in the College of Education are three that he mentions. As he talks, it’s clear he is committed to learning in all its various shapes and excited about learners of all ages and interests, whether they’re students, teaching faculty, faculty researchers or staff. “We learn on the job, in the lab, as well as in the classroom,” he says.

“The level of commitment of the faculty and staff to the students and programs of the university is extraordinary,” Miller says. “Their creativity in the face of great challenge has been most reassuring. What really excites me is working with them through our reshaping process. Wichita State is the only urban serving university in Kansas and one of only a handful of urban research universities in the country. What we are doing now could be models for how all of higher education moves through this time and into the future.

“The best example of what I mean here is the way in which we have integrated some of our most important research programs into the local economy. The relationship of the National Institute for Aviation Research and the College of Engineering with the aviation industry is one of the most unique in the country.  Another example is our relationship with Sedgwick County to develop a research-based workforce training model at the National Center for Aviation Training.”

The reshaping of Wichita State, in contrast, will never be complete. “It’s an ongoing process,” Beggs says. “One way to look at it is we’ve had to make an abrupt reduction in our base circle. Now, we are looking at how best to reform that circle by redistributing, reallocating the resources we have. Will it still be a circle? An oblong? What will it be? But we’ve reshaped before. We’ve redefined ourselves many times. As president, I’ve had the benefit of my predecessors’ work, and I’d like to compliment my immediate predecessor, Gene Hughes, for getting the environment right, for working to make this university better – that doesn’t stop. We’re all working to make the university work.”

There have been five presidents of Wichita State, proper. Eugene Hughes, who served as president from 1993 to 1998, was the fourth. Not long after he took office, he led a campaign for “The Metropolitan Advantage,” aimed at redefining the university’s connection to the community and emphasizing its uniqueness within the state system of higher education. He also opened off-campus centers, one of which, the Hughes Metropolitan Complex, bears his name.

It was Harry Corbin ’40, president from 1949 to 1963, who led the decade-long fight to get the University of Wichita accepted into the state system. Only 32 years old when he became president, Corbin oversaw the growth of WU from 3,390 students to 6,000; research became a major aspect of the university’s mission; and two key campus facilities were built, the Campus Activities Center and the Roundhouse. But he stepped down as president before WU became Wichita State University July 1, 1964. The move cut tuition in half, from $12.50 a credit hour to $6. Enrollment increased almost 50 percent in one year, with the number of students going from 6,700 in fall 1963 to 9,300 in fall 1964.

Emory Lindquist, a Rhodes scholar with two degrees from Oxford, was the first president of Wichita State. His immediate challenge was the 2,500 additional students enrolling that fall. Since budgeting is done in advance within the state system, the allocations to handle the overload in students hadn’t taken effect. “There had to be an immense contribution of faculty, administration and staff to make possible the academic and other services needed for the immense increase in enrollment before it was possible to receive adequate state funds,” he once explained. “There was heroic service rendered during those years. There were long hours and hard work.”

Clark Ahlberg ’39, a former budget director for the state of New York, served his alma mater as president from 1968 to 1983. Entering the state system, he reported, “has had a colossal impact all around.” One of his first goals was to increase the endowment to provide for distinguished professorships and a larger scholarship program. “Another goal,” he explained in 1984, “was to get the university to think about itself in a positive sense. We set out to recruit faculty on a national basis. A third goal was to make the university attractive. People are proud of something that’s beautiful.”

From 1983 to 1993, Warren Armstrong was Wichita State’s president. Early on, he identified the expansion of doctoral programs as his primary objective. He also wanted to see WSU’s capacity for research expanded.  In May 1984, when enrollment at Wichita State stood at some 17,000 students, the Kansas Board of Regents, by a 5-4 vote, approved doctoral degrees in industrial, electrical and mechanical engineering. Wichita State already had a doctoral program in aeronautical engineering, a program that had once been offered in cooperation with the University of Kansas.

In his first address to WSU faculty, Armstrong said: “Let us explore together, over the weeks, the months, the years ahead, the range of possibilities open to us in our role as an urban university, comprehensive in scope. Let us expand and develop our capacity for significant research, both basic and applied, as we seek an expansion of our role as a doctoral level institution. And now, let us begin.”

And now – say Beggs, Miller, Ayres, Herrin and Robinson – let us begin anew.

What shape next, Wichita State?

Elizabeth KingELIZABETH KING has served as the president and CEO of the Wichita State University Foundation since July 1, 2006. From July 1991 until July 2006, Dr. King was WSU's vice president for university advancement and executive director of the WSU Foundation.

"Wichita State's greatest asset is its people. It sounds trite, but there truly is no other answer," King says. "Our challenge is maintaining excellence in the face of temendous economic pressure. We have an extraordinary faculty, and they need and deserve the resources to exercise their skills. This, plus the additional cost of higher education for our students, is causing our WSU Foundation staff to substantially increase its efforts to raise private funds."




Eric SextonERIC SEXTON '87/92 has been WSU's director of athletics since 2008. A former standout Shocker golfer, Dr. Sexton previously served the university as executive director for government relations and board of trustees. “Wichita State's greatest asset," he says, "is its faculty, staff and students.

In Shocker athletics, our challenge is to continue in our great tradition of creating an envirnoment -- with financial resources, facilities and support services -- that makes our student-athletes successful both in the classroom and on the court. We will continue to communicate the assets we have to the best supporters any university and athletic department could have, and their support will allow us to navigate these challenging times."


Broadway Julius

Some five years out of college, this Shocker is set to make his Broadway debut in October 2010.

Pure Kansas Rhapsody

Shocker students score hands-on experience as media pros covering this year’s Symphony in the Flint Hills.

The Reshapers

Wichita State President Don Beggs and his four vice presidents talk about reshaping the university.