Tompkins, Mason make passing the reins at Fort Hays State a smooth ride

By Diane Gasper-O'Brien
University Relations and Marketing

HAYS, Kan. – His entire adult life has centered on providing service to others. So it was no surprise when Dr. Andy Tompkins said “Yes” to a job offer a year ago for a position he had never even dreamed of pursuing.
Now after a whirlwind year as interim president of Fort Hays State University, Tompkins is retiring – again.
Tompkins’ last day in his office on the third floor of Sheridan Hall was last Thursday. He admits that when he walked out that door for the last time, he took with him a lot of memories, more than he could have ever imagined.
Tompkins also paved the way for a smooth transition for Fort Hays State’s next president, Dr. Tisa Mason. Mason, who left FHSU three years ago after a seven-year stint as vice president for student affairs, returns to campus after serving as president of Valley City State University in North Dakota for the past three years.
After Tompkins departed Hays last weekend, Mason began occupying the office – and assuming the responsibilities – as Fort Hays State’s 10th president on Monday. She said it’s an easy transition thanks to Tompkins.
“Dr. Tompkins not only kept the university moving forward as interim president, he was also very thoughtful in sharing information to help ensure my success,” Mason said. “I am grateful to be following in his footsteps and building upon a rich history created by many.”
Spending a year in western Kansas wasn’t what Tompkins had in mind when he retired from 46 years of public service in education back in June 2015. After his last day of work as president and CEO of the Kansas Board of Regents, Tompkins took several vacations, then returned home to Topeka looking for his new niche.
“I am not a golfer because I was working all the time during my career,” Tompkins said.
So he chose what he knew best – serving others.
Tompkins rolled up his sleeves and became involved in projects with his local Rotary Club and performed volunteer work at a Topeka hospital and at his church.
“I had adjusted to retirement just fine,” Tompkins said with a smile.
Then came a call from Dr. Blake Flanders, president and CEO of the Kansas Board of Regents, who took over that position when Tompkins retired. Tompkins wasn’t surprised when Flanders confronted him, asking his opinion on a timely subject.
Dr. Mirta Martin had stepped down as president of FHSU for personal reasons in late November, and Flanders had to find an interim to step in for a while. As Flanders’ predecessor, Tompkins had helped the Board of Regents hire for other Regents universities, but even Tompkins felt there was something more on Flanders’ mind.
“He started out with ‘Who’s out there?’ ” Tompkins said. “Then the conversation changed pretty quickly.”
Long story short, Flanders was asking Tompkins to come out of retirement and serve as FHSU’s interim president.
“We normally had asked interims to stay six months,” said Tompkins, whose 46 years in education had covered the gamut, spanning from a high school English teacher, principal and superintendent to Kansas Commissioner of Education and even associate professor at two state universities.
“I was available,” Tompkins said, “so I thought, ‘No problem.’ ”
Six months stretched into a year as the regents conducted a national search for FHSU’s next leader. And Tompkins is glad it took as long as it did.
“No complaints, no regrets; it’s been a great experience,” he said. “As with anyone when they leave someplace, they will always miss the people they got to meet and the excitement and the celebrations. There were a lot of those this year.”
Tompkins had been on campus barely a week when he celebrated his first Christmas at FHSU. He seemed to have an immediate impact on everyone he met.
“His background in education is what made him a good fit for Fort Hays State at that time,” said Mike Barnett, vice president for administration and finance, who filled in as acting president until Tompkins arrived.
“Dr. Tompkins has a very calm but outgoing personality. He really cares about people,” Barnett said. “He made an effort to talk to everybody on campus.”
That alluring characteristic was not lost on students.
Hays senior Shawn Herrman is a VIP Student Ambassador at FHSU this year. The ambassadors are a prestigious group of student leaders chosen to represent FHSU at official campus events, and Herrman knew he would be involved with Tompkins.
“I had heard a lot of good things about Dr. Tompkins before I met him,” Herrman said, “and everything I was told fit the script perfectly. He was easy to talk to, even from the first time I met him. He talked to whoever entered a room. It didn’t matter if you were a faculty member, a student or a fan at a game, he was genuinely excited to talk to people. I feel lucky to have gotten to know him.”
The year for Tompkins in Hays was jam-packed. In addition to the customary responsibilities of a university president, Tompkins also got to dedicate four new facilities, speak at several news conferences celebrating donations to the FHSU Foundation, rename colleges and establish new programs.
“With all the building and repurposing that’s been done in the past few years, this is a great time for President Mason to start,” Tompkins said. “Fort Hays State is in really good shape right now.”
Dr. Brett Bruner, director of transition and student conduct at FHSU, thinks Mason will keep it that way. In fact, Bruner – who worked with Mason for two years before she left for Valley City– has high hopes for continued improvement.
“With President Mason's background and knowledge of Fort Hays State,”  Bruner said, “I think she will continue to propel us forward.”
Tompkins got to shake hands with about 2,000 graduates at the 2017 spring commencement exercises, then joined with the rest of Tiger Nation in celebrating an undefeated regular season for the FHSU football team this past fall.
Tompkins even got to travel to China for the first time with an FHSU delegation visiting its partner institutions there in June.
“He definitely got to see us at our best in a lot of respects,” Barnett said.
Joey Linn, vice president for student affairs, echoed those sentiments.
“I personally learned a lot from you this past year,” Linn told Tompkins at a university-wide holiday party. “We’ve had many great meetings, discussions and events, all of which were positive because of your strong leadership. Your professionalism, integrity, honesty and down-to-earth caring attitude has left a mark on this great university.”
Now, Mason is looking forward to continuing to build on that strong foundation.
“I am fond of the saying, ‘I am warmed by a fire I did not build,’ ” Mason said. “Clearly during this past year, Dr. Tompkins stoked the fire and did so with care and effectiveness. His efforts resulted in many new milestones and successes as a result of the collective efforts of the FHSU faculty, staff and students.”
“Returning to FHSU has been a true homecoming filled with great joy,” she added. “I am excited to have the opportunity to be part of this institution – one that thrives on innovation, excellence and a deep commitment to student success.”
While Mason settles into her new role at FHSU, one can find Tompkins in Topeka back in the role of retiree: dressed in a polo shirt – or possibly even a T-shirt. Chances are, it’s a black and gold shirt.
“I’ve got a lot of black and gold,” he said. “It’s amazing what you can collect in a year – T-shirts and polos and blankets. I’m set for a while.”
However, Tompkins said he wouldn’t need the black and gold attire to remind him of his once-in-a-lifetime experience at FHSU.
“What I’ve learned over this past year is that Fort Hays State is lucky to be in this community,” Tompkins said. “It’s a really good, supportive area. I’ve never seen so many local people attend university football and basketball games, as well as other university events, in my life. It’s amazing the fans of all ages who come and support the athletic programs at Fort Hays State.”
“The whole community seems to be supportive of the university,” he added. “That really helps it feel a part of the community. I’ve seen some instances where the university doesn’t have as big of a tie to the community. But that’s not the case at Fort Hays State. This was indeed an honor for me.”

Back to top