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Wichita State University President And 'Innovator' John Bardo Dies At 70

Wichita State University President John Bardo, who transformed the school with the development of the Innovation Campus, has died.

WSU said in a news release that Bardo died Tuesday at Wesley Medical Center in Wichita.

"Dr. Bardo was an innovator, nationally recognized scholar and deep believer in the value of public research universities," the school said in the statement.

Funeral services will be private, but the university is planning a Celebration of Life for the public later this spring.

Bardo, 70, was hospitalized in November for treatment of a chronic lung condition. He had a second surgery in December but told the WSU community he hoped to return in the spring.

"I’m in good spirits," Bardo said in an email sent to the university dean and others at the time. "I’m looking forward to being back on campus and seeing you in the new year."

WSU Provost Rick Muma has served as acting president since January.

"President Bardo had a profound positive impact on Wichita State and the community," Muma said in a statement. "Future generations of students will benefit from his foresight and leadership. He will be greatly missed."

Tributes poured in for Bardo and his work to transform WSU.

"Dr. John Bardo had an incredible impact not only at WSU, but to our entire commnity," Wichita Mayor Jeff  Longwell said in a statement. "He was a visionary and saw what could be rather than what simply was."

Added U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, "The University, City of Wichita and the generations of Kansans he inspired to innovate will miss his leadership."

His colleague, Sen. Jerry Moran, said, "Working with President Bardo to advance the interests of students in Kansas and across the country has been a distinct pleasure, and his impact on Wichita State will be felt for generations to come."

Bardo became the 13th president of WSU on July 1, 2012, replacing Don Beggs. Bardo had previously spent 16 years as chancellor of Western Carolina University in North Carolina.

His return to WSU was a homecoming of sorts: His first academic position at WSU was as an assistant professor of sociology in the 1970s.

It was during this time that met his wife, Deborah. They were married in 1975. Their son, Christopher, lives in Wichita.

Some of the notable moments during Bardo’s tenure at Wichita State included:

  • Affiliating the Wichita Area Technical College as part of WSU. The school, now known as WSU Tech, became part of WSU last year.
  • Building Shocker Hall, which opened in 2014. It was the first new residence hall on campus since the 1960s.
  • Increasing efforts to recruit students, especially along the I-35 corridor in Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas.
  • Constructing a new $50 million business school on the Innovation Campus. The plan is on pause after students rejected a fee increase earlier this month to help pay for the building.
  • Reviving talks of bringing football back to WSU, tweeting out photos of a football helmet and marching band uniforms. A consultant’s report in 2016 put a large price tag on football’s return.
  • Building a new YMCA facility on campus, which will include student health and counseling services and a drop-in daycare center. Student fees will help fund operating costs for the building.

But Bardo will be best known for the Innovation Campus. Carved out of the former Braeburn Golf Course on the east edge of WSU, the research park was modeled after other universities and emphasized public-private partnerships, which bothered critics of the project.

Launched in August 2014, the campus landed Airbus less than a year later. The aerospace company moved its 400 employees from Old Town.

WSU, in turn, took over the former Airbus space and created its Old Town Campus.

Bardo maintained that economic development was a core function of research universities, and that WSU could be a driver and beneficiary of the Wichita area economy.

He said the Innovation Campus would lead to collaborative opportunities for students, faculty and staff. Wichita real estate developer Steve Clark was head of the search committee that selected Bardo to become president in 2012.

“It was evident to me in conversations I had with John early on about how the University could play a much more dominate and valuable role in the local, state and regional community, that he too saw it as an underutilized asset, and seemed to take it as a challenge,” Clark said in a written statement. “He immediately began to move the University forward when he took the reins.”

Tom Shine is the director of news and public affairs. Follow him on Twitter @thomaspshine. To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at news@kmuw.org.

Copyright 2020 KMUW | NPR for Wichita. To see more, visit KMUW | NPR for Wichita.

Tom is the Director of News and Public Affairs. He joins KMUW after spending 37 years with The Wichita Eagle in a variety of reporting and editing roles.
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