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Office of the President

Letters to Campus

February 2009

Dear Faculty and Staff--

Greetings! I feel very honored to have been selected as your next President. I only have a few purple ties (Mississippi State's colors are Maroon and White), so one of my primary objectives over the next couple of months is to find more purple for my wardrobe!

One of the initiatives I started at Mississippi State is to send a monthly "Dear Colleague" letter to our faculty and staff to let them know what was happening in research and economic development on campus.

These letters are archived on the Office of Research and Economic Development web site, and I plan on doing the same thing as President at K-State. For my first note to the KSU campus community, I wanted to spend a few minutes introducing myself and to describe some key issues that will be near the top of my list in the coming months.

I grew up in Norfolk, Virginia, on the east coast. My father has taught Mathematics at Old Dominion University (ODU) in Norfolk since 1962 — so I grew up around a university campus. My mother also worked at ODU in a variety of different positions including an Instructor in Geography, Associate Registrar, and Director of Student Compliance. Needless to say, I heard a lot about university politics and the relative usefulness of university administrators around the dinner table. I think my parents often wonder why I chose to go into university administration!

I started out majoring in Chemistry as a Pre-Medical student (mostly because doctors drove nice cars), and after volunteering in the emergency room at Norfolk General Hospital once per week for a semester, I decided that Chemical Engineering had a much larger appeal.

ODU didn't offer a Chemical Engineering program, so I transferred to Virginia Tech as a junior. I finished up two years later, and decided to continue at Virginia Tech to pursue my doctorate under the direction of Dr. David F. Cox doing a project in surface chemistry on single crystal metal oxide model catalysts. During my discussions with my advisor, I expressed a strong desire to go into university administration once I finished my doctorate. As such, I was almost always volunteering to serve on different committees as a graduate student at Virginia Tech — which drove Dave crazy as I wasn't spending enough time working on my dissertation project.

While I was an undergraduate at Virginia Tech, I met a young freshman majoring in Electrical Engineering named Noel Nunnally at a volleyball game at the Baptist Student Union. We started dating in the middle of her freshman year, and got married in 1987 while she was a senior and I was a graduate student. Our living room consisted of furniture I had made with my father — while it wasn't very plush we made the best of it.

Upon graduation from Virginia Tech, I took my first faculty position at the University of North Dakota (UND) in Grand Forks, North Dakota. While at UND, Noel attended the University of Minnesota to pursue her doctorate, and following graduation we moved to Michigan Technological University (in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan). I got my first real taste of administration while at Michigan Tech when I received the opportunity to serve as Department Chair of Chemical Engineering. Following six years at Michigan Tech, we moved to Mississippi State University in 2001, and are looking forward to our transition to Kansas State this summer.

We have two sons — Tim (18) who will be a freshman majoring in Computer Science at MSU this fall, and Andrew (14) who will be a freshman at Manhattan High School this fall. Both boys enjoy computer games and playing tennis — although both of them are far better tennis players than their father! In my spare time, I enjoy reading science fiction, watching college sports, and watching movies with my family.

I have several key objectives that will occupy most of my time over the next several months as I transition from Mississippi State to Kansas State, and I would like to share these with you in the following paragraphs.

First, I need to learn as much as possible about Kansas State. I will be on campus once per month between now and June, and I will be attending as many university events as possible. I want to use these opportunities on campus to visit with faculty, staff, and students and to get a feeling for the "pulse" of K-State. I do have a K-State e-mail address (kirks@k-state.edu), and I would welcome e-mail notes from you on any thoughts you may want to share with me on the future of Kansas State. If you have a notable success, published a new article or book, or have done something new in the classroom that worked well — please drop me a note. I will respond to all e-mail notes — although it may take me a few days — but I do want to hear from you.

Second, I want to start the search for a new Athletic Director immediately. It is my hope that we can have a permanent AD in place prior to the beginning of football season. As you know, the media has a great deal of interest in K-State athletics, so this search will receive a great deal of attention from the press. I am working with the senior leadership team on an appropriate search process, and will provide more details about this as the process takes shape. I can tell you that there will be significant faculty involvement in the selection of the Athletic Director — so there will be more details on this in my next letter to the faculty.

Third, we are going to continue to aggressively pursue outstanding individuals for several key administrative searches — including the Associate Provost for International Programs, the Dean of Architecture, Planning, and Design and the Dean of Arts and Sciences. I had the opportunity to visit with Provost Nellis and we mutually agreed that even with the significant budgetary challenges we face, these positions are of critical importance to K-State and we need to follow through on these searches. Regarding the budget, I realize this is a challenging and uncertain time for K-State and many other higher education institutions nationally. I want to build on the dialogue and processes started through the university budget forums as we work collectively to move K-State forward while addressing the budget reductions.

Finally, I want there to be a seamless transition in the President's office this summer. I am working closely with President Wefald to ensure that I will be ready to assume Presidential responsibilities in July.

During the next several months, I will send a short letter similar to this one each month so that you are aware of what I am doing and how the transition is going. If you have any questions or concerns, please don't hesitate to contact me via e-mail.

Go Cats!