The Kansas Board of Regents on Thursday appointed Rick Muma as the next president of Wichita State University.
Muma had served as interim president since last October after Jay Golden's resignation. He served in a similar role in 2019 following the illness and then death of president John Bardo.
Thursday's announcement was met with applause from Regents, students and faculty members gathered in a ballroom of the Rhatigan Student Center.
He assumes the presidency as WSU is still reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic and dealing with declining enrollment.
Muma said his top goals include making college more accessible and affordable.
"We're not going to grow significantly as an institution until we tackle that," he said. "One of my priorities is . . . to make sure that I do everything I can to raise as much need-based aid as possible to help those students . . . become educated so they can live productive lives."
A Wichita native who grew up in Texas, Muma has been at WSU for 25 years, serving as a professor and department chair before becoming provost in 2018. He said his experience and familiarity with Wichita State is a bonus and should ease his transition into the presidency.
"But it's also a double-edged sword because everybody knows me and everything that I've been involved in," he said. "It gets extra scrutiny."
The Board of Regents voted to hire Muma during a public meeting Thursday at WSU. Most actions leading up to the vote, however, were done in secret. As they did with former president Golden, the Regents opted for a closed search, declining to disclose the names of any candidates or finalists.
Jon Rolph, a Wichita restaurateur and member of the Board of Regents, was absent from Thursday's meeting and did not vote.
Muma is the first openly gay president of WSU. He and his husband, Rick Case, established an equality scholarship in 2011 to support LGBTQ students. After Thursday's announcement, officials introduced Case as the university's "first gentleman," and Case stood alongside Muma as he fielded questions from reporters.
"I think it's historic. I think it's important for Kansas," Muma said.
"It'll say a lot of things to a lot of different people in different ways about inclusion and diversity and just the way that our society is today," he said. "Anybody can be in any position. And I think the more that we send that message around and the more that we model that, I think the better that we'll be as a society."
Muma said WSU's Innovation Campus is "central to our mission and vision as an institution," and that public-private partnerships and initiatives would continue.
He said academic freedom continues to be a concern at WSU and universities across the country.
"I've spent a lot of time talking to folks . . . making sure that our student body and our faculty and staff are knowledgeable about what it means to live in a free society and making sure that we preserve that," Muma said.