Washburn University President Jerry Farley started his tenure in July of 1997, and has, with his staff and faculty members, been transforming Washburn for the better. He has brought about many notable changes in the university—new buildings, better facilities, and higher enrollment rates among others. If one thing can be attributed to these developments, it is Farley’s attitude toward change.
“Twenty years ago, the world was different. Whatever would have worked then may not work now. The world is constantly changing. At the university, our job is to adapt to that change,” Farley said.
For Farley, his presidency has been characterized by lofty abbitions and innovative thinking. It was his idea to build a dormitory, the Living Learning Center (LLC), to increase the then-low number of freshmen living on campus. He also oversaw the construction of the art building, the renovation of Stoffer Hall and the recreational center, and the procuring of better athletic facilities. He also tackled the task of increasing the enrollment of students of a younger demographic as the student body 20 years ago was primarily composed of part-time and older students.
Of course, as Farley will admit, this would not have been possible without his vast staff of vice presidents, assistants, student faculty, and the like.
“Let me tell you a secret. There’s very little a president can do. I have ideas and a vision, but if it weren’t for other people doing the day-to-day work, not much would happen,” he said.
He needed a large staff, too, as his transition from his previous job as the Vice President of Finance at the University of Oklahoma to the President of Washburn University meant his responsibilities and what he had to oversee increased monumentally. He had to adjust to the increased scope of his tasks.
It did cause a few personal changes, as his home life waned and he and his wife, Susan Farley, started staying on campus grounds more. Even his eating habits changed. According to Farley, a lot of his nutrition is comprised of banquet food. He loves his job, though, since he gets to spend a substantial amount of time interacting with students.
His travel log got an expansion from a mere five to six countries to 60 countries, which meant that he had the opportunity to meet students from diverse backgrounds.
He loved student interaction so much that he and his wife started hosting discussions in their home with a randomly selected group of around 24 students as soon as he took office. Mediated by a professor, the discussions ranged from subjects like gun laws to religion and government to civil discourse, and other socially relevant issues.The discussions took place in a jovial environment over a sumptuous dinner of lasagna, Farley’s dinner of choice.
“Dr. Farley has a very busy schedule, but when he was in the office he always took time out of his day to check in on me and ask me about school and personal life. He took time to get to know me on a personal level. He genuinely cares for Washburn and all of the students,” said Allison Zerbe, a former student employee who worked for Farley.
Warm interactions like these, not only with students but also with faculty members and staff, are why Farley was pulled toward Washburn.
“On my final day in Oklahoma, I was walking to meet someone to say goodbye. On the way, I realized I didn’t know anyone that passed by. Here, at Washburn, I recognized many faces on the second day,” he said.
The small size of Washburn that allowed for the fostering of tight-knit communities is what attracted Farley and what, he hopes, attracts prospective students in the coming years of his presidency.