Washburn University has transformed in the last 15 years from what some called sleepy to vibrant and has returned to its roots of serving all students, no matter when or how they arrive.
Many on campus attribute the change to Jerry Farley, who was inaugurated as president July 1, 1997. Washburn's 16th president, Farley is known for his bow ties, outgoing personality and passion for both Washburn and Topeka.
“Washburn University is riding a wave of success that is the result of 15 years of hard work by Dr. Farley and his leadership team and all of the fantastic individuals at this university,” said Cynthia Hornberger, special assistant to the president, who was a faculty member when Farley came to campus. “He has enabled the university to redefine itself and realign itself to its original mission.”
JuliAnn Mazachek, executive director of the Washburn Foundation, wrote a nomination letter on Farley’s behalf for a chief executive leadership award in 2007. “Dr. Farley’s 10 years as President of Washburn have changed the face and future of Washburn University,” she wrote. “Washburn has moved to new levels of excellence across campus.”
Farley won that award from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education District VI, and kept right on going.
Since Farley arrived on campus, nine buildings have been constructed or renovated, one has been moved to campus, Yager Stadium at Moore Bowl has been revitalized, Washburn and its Ichabods have become recognizable far beyond Topeka and the university has enjoyed record student enrollment.
Farley said he didn’t come to campus 15 years ago with a “grand plan” but remembers feeling that Washburn was “just on the edge of being able to do something, to really take the next step. It just needed the right amount of ambition and self-confidence as an institution.”
So he set about listening, learning and getting involved with the community. His first major project on campus was construction of the Living Learning Center, which he said was the pivotal point in an attitude shift from “We’re here, come if you’d like” to “We’re here and we may be the place for you.”
“The idea took root and we were able to build it,” Farley said, recalling the effort of gathering support for the $20 million project that changed the heart of campus.
Today the difference is unmistakable. Washburn has gone from fewer than 200 bed spaces on campus in 1997 to 676 today, with a waiting list for the Living Learning Center. More students are coming directly from high school and from outside of Topeka. More students become alumni who are involved on campus. And more alumni and community partners are giving financially to support Washburn’s growth.
Washburn is a more comfortable place to live, study and play. The grounds are meticulously landscaped for aesthetic enjoyment of the campus community and visitors. And future efforts will add even more energy to campus.
Farley said he expects a study this fall related to residence hall demand and likely more construction. He is excited about the creation of a Welcome Center at Morgan Hall and a significant space improvement for the Law School, which is under discussion. Focus on academics has allowed Washburn, an open admission university, to meet the needs of its students. And continued integration of Washburn University and the Washburn Institute of Technology will mean more options – and more diplomas – for students.
Washburn, Farley said, is well positioned to meet the expectations of employers looking for qualified graduates and of parents and students looking for a quality education that is a value for the tuition dollar. “We are poised again for dramatic change.”
Before coming to Washburn, Farley only occasionally wore his now iconic bow ties. The first one he ever bought – on a whim while vacationing with his wife, Susan, in Branson, Mo. – is now one of about 100 different ties.
His first official Washburn photo shows him in a necktie. And a photo from the Oct. 31, 1997 edition of the Washburn Review shows him at his desk in a dress shirt and dark neck tie. “People wouldn’t believe that now,” Farley said with a laugh.
He’s sported only bows since fall 1997 when an article featuring him said, as Farley recalls it, any one could find him because he’s the one in the bow tie.
“I haven’t taken it off since.”
Farley is an avid runner. He doesn’t train for races but is on pace to log at least 2,400 miles in 2012. His New Year’s Resolution was to run less. Three years ago he topped 3,000 miles.
Farley is a pilot with more than 2,400 flight hours. He aspired to fly for the U.S. Air Force but nearsightedness kept him from it. He is a veteran of the U.S. Army.
Farley’s high school graduating class in Oklahoma had fewer than 30 students.
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Michaela Saunders, university relations, (785) 670-2154
Dena Anson, university relations, (785) 670-1711