Interim no more, Raymond Burse named president of Kentucky State University — again

Kentucky State University President Raymond Burse.
Kentucky State University President Raymond Burse. Photo provided

FRANKFORT — Raymond M. Burse, who resigned as president of Kentucky State University 25 years ago, was named by the board of regents Friday as president of the historically black college.

Burse, 63, had been interim president since July 1, when he succeeded Mary Evans Sias, who retired in June. At the time, his contract was to run through June 30, 2015, or until a permanent president was selected.

Burse said he accepted the permanent position again because the institution "is too vital to this state" for him to walk away.

"There are lots of students across this state who need to attend an institution like Kentucky State," he said. "Now all those students don't all look like me. So we've got a mission to serve the citizens of this state, and that's what we're going to be about."

The board unanimously extended his contract three years to June 30, 2018.

"The job to be done is not a 12-month job," Burse said immediately after the board's unanimous vote. "It requires a longer period of service, and I have committed to the board to do that longer period of service because I think this institution is worth it."

The audience at the board meeting gave Burse a standing ovation, and there were even exclamations of "Praise Jesus!" and "Hallelujah!" At a reception after the meeting, a singer serenaded Burse with a rendition of the theme from the 1970's TV show Welcome Back, Kotter.

A native of Hopkinsville, Burse was president of KSU from 1982 to 1989. He was known then for a hard-nosed management style that sometimes resulted in tense relations with employees, but he raised academic standards, improved finances and oversaw $60 million in capital improvements.

He resigned in 1989 after a string of problems with the faculty, which saw annual turnover rates as high as 20 percent during his tenure.

When he returned to KSU this year, Burse made national headlines after giving $90,000 of his then-nearly $350,000 annual salary to increase the pay of the university's lowest-paid workers.

Twenty-four employees who were making $7.25 an hour saw their pay increase to $10.25 an hour. Burse was most recently featured on NBC Nightly News.

Burse's gesture led to other "pay it forward" efforts in Frankfort and on campus.

Then, in September, KSU dropped a quarter of its students from enrollment for unpaid bills. The university continues to face a $7 million shortfall because many students were delinquent on payments.

Enrollment now stands at 1,889, according to information presented at the board of regents meeting.

Burse's actions were important factors in the board's desire to keep him longer, said Karen W. Bearden, chairwoman of the board of regents. But more important were his "executive management skills."

"Raymond is a proven manager. He is a proven executive," Bearden said. "So he brings a wealth of experience and a skill set that is not commonly found. And we knew it would be difficult to find someone else."

"I knew that this was somebody we could trust and have confidence in, who was capable of doing the job," said regent Charles Whitehead.

Burse said he is "more patient" than he was in the 1980s.

"I'm probably smarter, better equipped to be able to fulfill the role," he said. "I've learned a lot. I've learned a lot from corporate America.

"But nothing is going to substitute for good, old-fashioned work in terms of getting things done," Burse said.

Burse said his top priority is to balance the budget and increase enrollment. "Getting more students and better prepare students on this campus is absolutely essential to turn this place around," he said.

"We're not going to be fully able to erase the $7 million (shortfall) in one year," Burse added. "It's going to take some time to do that. But I hope at the end of at least two years that we're back to break-even. But we've got a plan and we've got to put it in place."

Breana Smith, 21, of Indianapolis, the student representative on the board of regents, said Burse's "love and drive for the students is amazing. And it's encouraging. Every decision that has been made so far has been in the best interest of the student body, and he has done all that he can to ensure that the student body is pleased."

Burse received a bachelor's degree in chemistry and mathematics from Centre College in 1973. While at Centre, he earned a Rhodes Scholarship and attended Oxford University, where he majored in organic chemistry. He graduated from Harvard Law School in 1978.

After his first tenure as president of KSU, Burse became an executive at General Electric Co., retiring in 2012 after 17 years. He initially was GE's senior counsel and then became a vice president and general counsel. Before joining GE, he was a partner in the law firm of Wyatt, Tarrant & Combs in Louisville.