Conversation with President Papp

Daniel Papp became president of Kennesaw State University in July 2006 after taking over for Betty Siegel, who served as president for 25 years. Fall semester marks the beginning of Papp’s eighth year in charge. Prior to becoming KSU president, Papp served as the Senior Vice Chancellor for Academics and Fiscal Affairs for the University System of Georgia.

 

Where are you from?

I was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. I graduated from North Olmsted High School. I did my undergraduate work at Dartmouth College up in New Hampshire and I got my Ph.D. at the University of Miami.

 

How do you like your position as president?

It’s absolutely fascinating. In any given day, you’ll have a full schedule but that doesn’t mean that what’s on the schedule at the beginning of the day is what you’re actually going to do. It’s totally subject to change at any given time. It’s an absolutely fascinating job.

 

Does the job carry over into your home life?

You best ask my wife that. I try not to bring any of the problems home, but I’ll spend a couple of hours each night on the computer or writing letters or on the phone. On the weekends, I’ll spend four or five hours a day, but I try not bring many of the issues home.

 

What’s your favorite part of the job?

I don’t think I have a single favorite part. One of the things I really like is to see the overall quality of the institution improve because of better students, better faculty, etc. That’s really enjoyable. I enjoy trying to keep all the pieces moving forward at the same speed.

 

How do you feel about the quality of the university now as opposed to when you started in ’06?

Let me go back to our entire 50-year history. Otherwise it sounds like I’m bragging about myself. The entire history of this university is that it keeps getting better and better and better and better. We started as a two-year university that nobody outside of Cobb County had ever heard of, and in the 50 years since then, every year the university has improved in quality and increased in size. This has been a university that has been on a continued upward trajectory.

 

Do you have a least favorite part of the job?

I don’t think it’s any secret that the last five years have been pretty painful budgetary years, and we’ve had to make some pretty difficult decisions about what to do in order to keep the university moving forward. If there’s a least favorite part of the job, it’s been dealing with what has been an incredibly tight and difficult budgetary situation over the last five years.

 

Campus Construction

The Bagwell College of Education is a $20 million project that should be open in another year or so. We’re very excited about this. The Bagwell College of Education is the second biggest education college in the state measured in terms of graduates. Some years we actually graduate more folks than UGA so it’s first or second depending on the year.

Then there’s the $40 million Student Recreation and Activity Center. We’re naming it the Siegel Center in honor of the past president. That’s going to be really nice—it’ll be great for the students. The recreation center is set to include two swimming pools, five basketball courts, eight tennis courts, a weight and fitness center and an indoor track.

There’s the Zuckerman Art Museum, Phase II of the art museum. . . Bernie Zuckerman, who unfortunately just passed away, gave us a matching grant and said if we raised a couple million dollars he would give us a couple million dollars. So we managed to raise it, and you’re seeing the Zuckerman Art Center going up next to the Bailey Performance Center. It’s gonna be really cool.

We also just finished the expansion of the Laboratory Science building—that’s a $23 million building.

We’ve been working very closely with the Cobb County Department of Transportation and the Georgia Department of Transportation and the Governor’s office to get funding to build another overpass of I-75. That will come out the East Deck and go directly across Frey Road. That, in conjunction with the Big Shanty Connector, which was opened last year— that should basically eliminate traffic jams.

 

Where does the funding for most of these projects come from?

There’s no such thing as “most of.”The expansion of the laboratory building was almost totally state funding. The Bagwell College Building was almost totally state funding. The Zuckerman Art Museum was totally private funding. The Skip Span Connector—that is coming from the Georgia DOT and the Cobb County DOT. The funding for the Student Recreation Center is coming from the Student Activity Reserve that has been built-up over the last 15 years as well as an increase in the Student Activity Fee. There will be a $25- $35 increase in that fee which will start this year. The money is coming from a whole host of different sources.

 

Tuition increases

This year tuition is going up 2.5 percent. The Football and Title IX fee will kick-in this fall. That’s $100 per student per semester. Those are the only increases for the fall. Preceding years, tuition has gone up anywhere from two to four percent per year depending on the year. When the State of Georgia cut back funding tremendously for higher education, the Board of Regents put in something called an Institutional Fee. That was basically to make up for the huge hole that occurred when the state reduced the amount of funding for higher education. That fee varies from school to school depending on the type of institution.

 

Football

As it stands, KSU has just under 25,000 students but I think in the coming years we’ll experience what some folks are calling a “football bubble” as we get closer to the beginning of football in two years. I think the next two freshman classes and the next two transfer classes will be larger. What do I base that on? I base that on what happened to Georgia State after they announced football. I also base that on what happened to Georgia Southern back in the early ‘80s after they announced the reintroduction of football.

As good as we are academically—and we are pretty doggone good academically, what do high school students hear? What do transfer students hear? They see that scroll across the bottom of ESPN or they listen to SportsCenter or see the highlights and that sticks out in their minds. Ever heard of Gonzaga University? Why have you heard of Gonzaga? They’re always in March Madness. That’s the only reason people outside the Pacific Northwest have ever heard of Gonzaga. Because they are ALWAYS in the tournament!

The process of getting approved for football was a very long one. President Siegel initiated a study that said Kennesaw State ought to think about football. When I came in as president, I was not ready to move forward with that project. I had to convince myself that it was something the university could afford. I got to the point— I thought ‘well, I’m not convinced that we ought to do football but I’m not opposed’—I describe myself during that time frame as a football agnostic. Give me some proof one way or another.

So we put the Football Exploratory Committee in place.

I asked Vince [Dooley] if he’d be willing to chair the committee and he said yes. I asked Vince to do it, not because he’s a Hall of Fame football coach, which he is, but because when Dooley was the athletic director, the University of Georgia became one of the five or 10 most profitable athletic departments in the country. He was not only a Hall of Fame football coach, but he also ran a big business.

We had a 33-person committee in place consisting of students, faculty, staff, business leaders, community leaders—they did a 10-month study, and they said push forward with it! They even sort of laid out a road map for how to move forward. They had the SGA do a campus-wide poll. Would students be willing to pay an increased Athletic Fee of $100 per student per semester to start football? We did the survey and about one-third of the student body voted and fifty-six percent of those students said they would. After that we had to get some major sponsors and then we got the Board of Regents’ approval in February of this year.

 

What did you study in college?

I started as a chemistry major, and then I switched from chemistry to math. And then I switched from math to economics. And then I wound up majoring in international affairs. Four different majors, but I still graduated in four years. We didn’t have the freedom to choose whatever you wanted to take. I get very little support on this, but I’m a very strong proponent of going into a lock-step or almost lock- step curriculum freshman year because it is so overwhelming. The Board of Regents would be the ones to make that decision.

1 comment

  1. “While it is perhaps hard to believe that only 10 years ago KSU was not a residential campus, it is undeniable that having students living on campus has totally transformed the nature of this university,” Papp said.