Au revoir. This is my last commentary, at least for a while. I am leaving Kansas.
I was born and spent my formative years in Winfield. I also met and married my wife Shelley there. Both of us graduated from Fort Hays State University in the early 1980s. After finishing graduate school and getting my first job at Virginia Tech, we intentionally chose to return to Hays to raise our two children in 1993. I taught at FHSU and Shelley taught at OíLoughlin Elementary in the Hays school district. After nine years in Hays, we moved to Manhattan to advance our careers.
From 1993 to this day, Kansas has given us everything that we have wanted. Everything.
Both of our children received an outstanding elementary, middle school, high school and college education. While they were growing up, they had an abundance of activities to keep them physically active and mentally challenged. I know that most children across Kansas, not just those in Hays and Manhattan, have similar kinds of opportunities. Kansans care about their kids first and foremost. We couldnít have asked for a better environment to raise our children.
In both Hays and Manhattan, we made friends for a lifetime. While in Hays, I traveled across the state, but especially the western two-thirds, working for communities and not-for-profit organizations through the Docking Institute of Public Affairs at FHSU. Everywhere I went, the people were friendly, engaging and most importantly, cared about their communities.
In Manhattan, we both hit our strides professionally. Shelley went back to graduate school in 2002 to earn her doctorate in education from Kansas State University. For the past eight years, she has been an elementary and preschool principal.
I have also done well in Manhattan and at K-State. With my close friend Ed Flentje, a professor at Wichita State University, we have published a book on Kansas politics and government. I moved from being a department head to an associate dean in the College of Arts and Sciences. I love the students, faculty members and staff at K-State.
So, what gives? Why are we leaving Kansas?
Some might be tempted to link our decision to Sam Brownback, Kris Kobach, a better tax environment, the twisted logic of refusing to expand medical insurance to 200,000 of our neediest residents through Obamacare (WWJD?), the cutbacks in higher education spending, or the new law allowing college students to strap on a 9 mm Glock in addition to their backpacks before entering my classroom (gasp!). These issues bother us, but we know that the ideological pendulum will swing back toward the center.† †
So, itís really none of these things, rather itís about job opportunities and location.
Iím leaving for a better job opportunity. I will become the dean of Auburn Universityís College of Liberal Arts. This is a step up and a challenge that I will thoroughly enjoy. Although Shelley has not nailed down a position in Auburn, there are enough promising options that she agrees that this is a good move for her too.
The location also is important. Auburn, Ala., is 80 miles from the Atlanta airport, four hours from a beach, and one hour to the Appalachian Mountains. Even though we will be leaving behind our favorite team, the Kansas City Royals, the Atlanta Braves are nearby. Yes, Auburn has hot and humid summers ó longer than in Kansas. On the other hand, Auburn has short winters, which is something we prefer. We have decided that we wonít have a problem cheering for Auburn, because we despise the rest of the SEC.
We will leave Kansas with only positive feelings. Thank you, Kansas, for all you have done for us. We will miss you. We will be back to see our parents and friends, to go to the Walnut Valley Festival, and to attend the football game between Auburn and K-State in September 2014. Shelley will be wearing purple, but I will be sporting orange and navy blue.
Joseph A. Aistrup is a political science professor at Kansas State University and a member of the Insight Kansas writing group.