Kansas State picks alum and retired four-star general as new president

Richard Myers, right, speaks to a crowd gathered for a Kansas Board of Regents meeting with his wife Mary Jo, left, after being named president of Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kan., Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016. Myers has been serving as interim president at the university.
Richard Myers, right, speaks to a crowd gathered for a Kansas Board of Regents meeting with his wife Mary Jo, left, after being named president of Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kan., Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016. Myers has been serving as interim president at the university. AP

The Kansas Board of Regents on Tuesday chose a familiar face with deep ties in the state to lead Kansas State University.

Gen. Richard B. Myers becomes the university’s 14th president, after serving in that role on an interim basis since March. He replaces Kirk Schulz, who announced this past spring that he was leaving the university after seven years to become Washington State University’s president.

Myers, 74, a retired four-star U.S. Air Force general and the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is a Merriam native and a 1965 K-State graduate.

At the announcement in Manhattan, Myers said a chance to return to a state and university that he loves played a major role in his decision to apply for the position.

After the regents’ unanimous vote in favor of Myers, he joked, “Well, I guess the honeymoon is over.” Later during his speech to the university community, Myers said, “I am very humbled and honored to have gained the Board of Regents’ confidence.”

Regent Dennis Mullin, who led the Presidential Search Committee, said that “the decision was a hard choice because of the quality of candidates that applied.” Regents did not say how many final candidates were in the running for the job.

But Mullin said that “General Myers surfaced to the top because of his strong leadership and vision. When the board looked at the needs of K-State today, they believed that his skill set was aligned closely to those goals.”

Having had an extensive career in national defense, Myers may be the perfect person to oversee the campus where the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, or NBAF, is located. NBAF is the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s foremost animal disease research facility where researchers will work to protect the nation’s food sources. The $1.25 billion facility is set to be operational by 2022-2023.

In addition, Myers’ familiarity working with the nation’s lawmakers is likely to be a plus when speaking for the university with legislators in Topeka and donors across the country, said Pat Bosco, K-State vice president for student life.

“He instantaneously becomes a speaker for higher education, access and inclusion,” Bosco said. “His entire career has been an example of what one man can do to make a difference. K-Staters around the world could not be happier for our school. Gen. Meyers is a great leader.”

Myers attended Shawnee Mission schools and served in the Air Force ROTC as a student at K-State.

“I was welcomed here at K-State,” he said, adding that his time on the Manhattan campus had a great impact on his life and “taught me what K-State can do for a student like me.”

Myers said he was eager to continue leading the land-grant university, which has roughly 24,000 students, because he is “passionate about K-State’s mission.” Specifically, Myers said, that mission is to make higher education accessible and affordable to a diverse population of students in the state.

But Myers said he is aware that higher education faces many challenges, especially shrinking financial support for state public colleges and universities.

In the eight months that he has led the university, Myers said, he has grown intimately familiar with K-State and come to appreciate all the people.

“Like an onion it has many layers,” he said. “And as you peel the onion back it gets better and better and it doesn’t taste like an onion because it also starts to get sweeter and sweeter.”

U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican, called Myers his friend and commended the search committee “for selecting the right person at the right time.” Roberts said he is looking forward to working with Myers again.

From 2001 to 2005 Gen. Myers served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and during that time Roberts worked closely with the general as chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and as a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Roberts said the general “brings to K-State unique leadership at a time when all universities are facing tough challenges. As a Kansan, he is invested in offering Kansas students the best possible opportunities to achieve all they can for our state, our nation and the world community.”

He added too, that Myers’ experiences “will bring new vision for students, faculty and staff, while embracing and promoting one of the university’s key goals of furthering research in plant and animal science. “

As the nation’s highest-ranking military officer, he served as the principal military adviser to the president, the secretary of defense and the National Security Council. Before becoming chairman, Myers served as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Myers has commanded at all levels and served in significant staff positions in the Air Force. His largest commands included U.S. Forces Japan and 5th Air Force at Yokota Air Base, Japan; Pacific Air Forces at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii; and the North American Aerospace Defense Command, U.S. Space Command and Air Force Space Command at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado.

Before accepting the interim president post, Myers had a part-time teaching position at K-State as a professor of military history and leadership. The military science building on campus is named for him.

The nine-member Kansas Board of Regents, which governs the state’s six public universities and is the statewide coordinating board for the state’s 32 public higher education institutions, began its search for a new president in April and began accepting applications for the position in June.

Mullin said the board will begin negotiating Myers’ compensation package immediately.

Mará Rose Williams: 816-234-4419, @marawilliamskc