PITTSBURG, Kans. — Pittsburg State University President Steve Scott has announced he will step down from his position in June 2022, at the end of the current fiscal year.
But he’s stopping short of calling it a retirement, choosing instead to keep his future options open, he told the Kansas Board of Regents.
“I’ve strived to lead a life of purpose serving others, and even in the years ahead, I’m not finished,” he said. “It will be clearer as the year closes what that might entail; I’m still tenured as a faculty member here, so perhaps that might entail teaching — I just don’t yet know.”
He will be staying in Pittsburg, where he and his wife have already purchased a home and recently completed renovating it; they love the community and plan to remain active participants at university events and within the community.
“My mentor, former Commissioner of Education Andy Tompkins, once told me ‘You’ll know when the time is right’,” Scott said. “A few months ago, I realized that time is here.”
An alumnus of Pittsburg State, Scott has for the past three decades served the university in every leadership capacity possible: as a faculty member in the College of Education, chair of the Department of Special Services and Leadership Studies, dean of the College of Education, vice president for Academic Affairs, and most recently, provost in 2008.
His presidency, which began in 2009, has been nothing short of challenging: it was bookended by the Great Recession and will come to a close as the world continues to fight a global pandemic. It also marked a time during which Kansas universities saw a decline in state financial support.
Tompkins praised Scott’s steady guidance and described him as a “dedicated and visionary servant leader” with a passion for higher education.
“One quality that has been at the heart of his success is an unrelenting commitment to continually improve his leadership so that he can be worthy of the opportunities and responsibilities that his position has afforded him,” Tompkins said. “The care he takes in working through difficult decisions, the focus that he places on growing leaders at the university, and the risks that he has taken to help Pittsburg State evolve in its service to students, faculty, alumni, donors, colleagues, and the state are prime examples of this commitment.”
A Baxter Springs native and the son of two teachers, Scott’s relationship with Pittsburg State began in childhood: his mother and father were both graduates, as is his brother, longtime CEO of Walmart.
Scott earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Pittsburg State in 1973, then went on to complete a master’s degree in mathematics from Oklahoma State University in 1977, an educational specialist’s degree from Pittsburg State in 1984, and a doctorate degree in education from Oklahoma State University in 1990.
He married his high school sweetheart, Cathy Johnson, who also became a teacher, and their children, Kylie and Phil, and grandchildren, Josie, Hank, and Beau, have become ardent and active Gorilla fans.
During Scott’s tenure, the campus has seen some of the most ambitious building projects in its history, including the funding and completion of the Bicknell Family Center for the Arts, Block22, the Plaster Center, and the expansion of the Overman Student Center.
One of the highlights of his time in office was leading a conversation on stage at the Bicknell Center with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, as well as welcoming former President Bill Clinton and former first lady Laura Bush to campus.
Under his leadership, the university also completed many academic milestones, including the addition of a Doctor of Nursing Practice — the first doctoral program in university history — and the addition of the region’s first undergraduate polymer chemistry degree, as well as the expansion of the Gorilla Advantage program to 31 states.
As chief executive officer of Pittsburg State, Scott has overseen all aspects of the university. Under his guidance, the university developed a comprehensive strategic plan which defines academic excellence, student success, partnerships, and innovation as the top priorities of the institution.
Beyond serving as CEO of the university, Scott has held seats on numerous regional and national councils and boards, including serving as chair of the NCAA Division II Presidents Council, the highest governing body in Division II; as the chair of the MIAA CEO Council; and as a member of the University of Kansas Cancer Center Community Advisory Board.
He has a been a leader in fostering a deeper and more productive relationship between the university and the region, including a strengthened bond with the community of Pittsburg and the city’s leaders.
But for Scott, he said, some of the most rewarding moments have come when reconnecting with graduates about the ways in which Pittsburg State changed their lives; sometimes it’s by email, but often it occurs by chance in their place of employment when they recognize him or he’s wearing Gorilla gear.
“It’s a reminder that our graduates are everywhere, that they’re making a difference in the workforce and in their communities, and it’s always a goosebump moment to see them and know we played a role in getting them there,” Scott said.
Equally rewarding, he said, have been the relationships he has developed with donors — something deeply meaningful to him, he said, because of the lasting friendships forged, and to the university, which counts on their support.
“One of the best and most fulfilling parts of my time in this role has been those relationships, which have become so personal I’ve attended birthday celebrations, open houses, funerals, visitations, and just all kinds of events that are meaningful to our donors and their families,” he said. “Our donors believe so much in this place. What you see around campus is the result of private money, so without them what we do here just wouldn’t be possible. They will continue to be friends of mine for life, and I’m confident their support of Pittsburg State will endure as well.”
Three significant capital projects remain on Scott’s mind and on the university’s horizon, and this year he’ll focus on getting those projects underway: Kelce College of Business renovation; a simulation hospital at McPherson Hall, home to the Irene Ransom Bradley School of Nursing; and John Lance Arena updates.
Scott notified the Kansas Board of Regents of his decision last week and the board will discuss the search in coming months.