Kirk Schulz, president of Kansas State University, will be the new president of Washington State University.
Washington State University’s secretive presidential search process allowed Kansas State University President Kirk Schulz to apply for the job without tipping off his institution. But it also drew criticism from WSU faculty and students.
Now, Schulz, 52, says his work is cut out for him: He must show the faculty he’s the right man for the job.
At Kansas State, where Schulz has been president since 2009, he is known for his fundraising prowess, said Shane Bangerter, chairman of the Kansas Board of Regents.
“He’s just a dynamic personality,” Bangerter said. “He’s hardworking, extremely energetic, extremely smart yet approachable.”
One of his accomplishments was to make the college’s athletics department self-sustaining. Many don’t make enough in ticket sales and other revenue to pay for their programs; this year, WSU’s athletic program is running a $13 million deficit.
Among the search committee’s top considerations was finding a president who understood collegiate athletics, said Mike Worthy, the WSU Board of Regents member who led the search committee.
Schulz is the chairman of the NCAA Board of Governors, and NCAA President Mark Emmert — a former president of the University of Washington — talked up Schulz’s strengths early in the process, Worthy said.
In an email Friday, Emmert called Schulz a “terrific fit” for WSU and said he would bring “a deep commitment to academic values, excellent leadership skills, and a keen understanding of the role public universities play in society.”
Schulz was chosen unanimously during a Friday-morning meeting on WSU’s Tri-Cities campus in Richland. But it was an unusual procedure: The regents voted in public to offer the job to “Candidate C,” one of three finalists whose qualities — but not their names — were discussed in the meeting.
After the regents voted, they left the board room to negotiate with Candidate C by phone, then returned to reveal that he had accepted the position — and that his name was Kirk Schulz.
Worthy said the vote followed the state’s open-meetings law, and that it was approved by WSU’s attorney. But Brian Sonntag, a former state auditor and expert in the state’s Open Public Meetings Act, said he believed voting on Schulz without naming him was “a slap to the spirit of the act,” he said.
Schulz said he did not visit the Pullman campus as part of the selection process, although he has been there before on professional trips.
“The downside is that I’m going to have to work hard to get to know the faculty, to listen to their concerns and the things you might typically hear as part of a campus interview,” he said in a phone interview Friday afternoon.
WSU has been searching for a new president since Elson Floyd died in June 2015 of complications from colon cancer. Floyd, who was 59, had shared few details of the seriousness of his illness, and his death came as a shock to the university community.
Schulz, a chemical engineer by training, grew up in Virginia and graduated from Virginia Tech. He started as an assistant professor of chemical engineering at the University of North Dakota.
A salary has not been negotiated. Schulz made $460,000 at Kansas State in 2014, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. Worthy said Schulz has agreed to a salary range, but would not say what it was. Floyd had a base salary of $725,000, but Worthy said that was an “anomaly” and Schulz’s pay will not be that high.
Schulz said three things drew him to WSU: its status as a land-grant university (Kansas State also is one), its work to create a new medical school, and the Washington Legislature’s decision last year to roll back tuition at all state colleges and universities. That sent a strong signal that the state was committed to its public institutions and to keeping college affordable, he said.
He said he plans to do a listening tour throughout Washington when he arrives this summer, asking what WSU can do to help the state economically.
Regents also offered a faculty position to Schulz’s wife, Noel Nunnally Schulz, teaching engineering in the Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture. She is currently associate dean for research and graduate programs at Kansas State’s College of Engineering.
Hiring Noel Schulz was not a condition of Kirk Schulz’s employment, but WSU academics said “absolutely we would take her if we could get her” because of the strength of her credentials, Worthy said.
WSU is not the only state school searching for a new president.
Western Washington University in Bellingham is looking for a president to replace Bruce Shepard, who will retire this summer. Western says it expects to pick finalists next week in an open session, and will bring the preferred candidates to campus to meet with students, faculty and staff the week of April 4.
Last year, the University of Washington regents chose interim president Ana Mari Cauce to be the school’s permanent president after a secret search, and without naming other finalists.