It was 1971, just six years after the Schilling Institute (soon to be called the Kansas Technology Institute or KTI) had been established by an act of the Kansas Legislature, that I found myself involved. But first let’s go back to the school’s beginning to set the stage. The Salina location, for WWII and the Korean War, was a very active and critically important air base (Schilling Air Force Base) for our country’s military needs. Following the active need of the base, the military function in the early 60’s was slowly phased out. The economic impact to the community was significant. Local legislators, led by Senator Ernie Strahan, were able to get the state to establish the Institute to fill a real need but also to help the local community.
However, after several years of limited enrollment and numerous legislative threats to reverse direction and close the Institute, we get to my first legislative session and March of 1971. I had left Topeka on a Friday to return to Smolan and my weekend responsibilities on our dairy farm. In fact, it was Saturday morning, milking, that I heard on the radio that after I had left Topeka, the Appropriations Committee had passed out a budget for KTI that called for the school to be closed in two years. This was not exactly good news for Salina or this freshman legislator.
Come Monday of the following week, in meeting with the Salina Legislative Delegation, it was decided (maybe because of my 4-H and public speaking background) that I should lead the fight on the floor of the House when the Committee recommendation came up for a vote. When that day came, my strategy was to tell a story about football recruiting at K-State with Coach Vince Gibson and at KU with Don Fambrough. Given that the main and only real argument against the school was declining enrollment, I drew the parallel between KTI’s challenges in recruiting students with the football coaches recruiting players. If either President McCain or Chancellor Chalmers would float a rumor about dropping football, wouldn’t that have impacted recruiting? How did they expect KTI to recruit given the regular talk from the Legislature about closing the school?
The story helped many people connect to the challenges at hand, and the appropriations language closing the school was amended out. Thanks to strong and innovative leadership at the school and the work of faculty and staff at KTI (and eventually Kansas State University), along with solid community support, we today have the opportunity to celebrate 50 years of significant success for K-State Salina and the state of Kansas.
For a video of this story and my commentary on the value of telling stories in any effort to make change, Click Here or check out all the Leading and Learning Moments on YouTube.