MANHATTAN, Kan. (WIBW) -- A native Kansan who served as secretary of defense under two U.S. presidents received an honorary doctorate from Kansas State University Friday.
Robert M. Gates was recognized with the honor at commencement for the university's Graduate School on May 11th at the Bramlage Coliseum. He received an honorary doctorate philosophy degree and also served as the commencement speaker at the ceremony.
"As a former defense secretary, I must say something about K-State’s unique relationship with the United States military- the partnerships with the Kansas National Guard and Fort Riley, in particular. I know the soldiers and their families are incredibly grateful for the many programs and activities K-State has provided to help ease the strain of a decade of protracted conflict," Gates told the crowd.
Gates went on to talk about the challenges students now face in our country when pursuing a higher education. In the 1990s, he says public colleges and universities drew more than half of their operating budgets from taxpayer sources. Today, money from state coffers provides about 30 percent of funding- in Kansas, roughly 25 percent.
"Higher education has come to be seen increasingly as a personal benefit rather than a public good. Exacerbated by fiscal crises in many state governments caused by poor planning budgeting and pandering to more influential constituencies, the financial costs of higher education have shifted from the states to the students. Ultimately, I believe we will all pay the price for short changing education, research and other investments in the future especially in the fields of science, technology and engineering. It will be felt in the decline of America’s quality of life, standards of life and global influence," he said.
Gates encouraged the graduates to enter into public service. He says our country needs the best and brightest minds to fix problems and improve policies.
"Public service remains a necessary and honorable calling and contrary to the perceptions of many, a fulfilling and satisfying opportunity," he added.
The Kansas Board of Regents approved the awarding of the honorary degree to Gates at its meeting Thursday. The honor was made possible when the board changed its policy in 2010 to allow state universities to confer honorary degrees.
In 2006, Gates became the 22nd U.S. secretary of defense under the administration of President George W. Bush. He then became the only secretary of defense asked to remain in his post by a newly elected president in 2009, when President Barack Obama took office. Gates stepped down in 2011.
Prior to joining Texas A&M University, first as interim dean of the George Bush School of Government Public Service from 1999-2001 and then as university president from 2002-2005, Gates spent nearly 27 years as intelligence professional. He joined the Central Intelligence Agency in 1966, served as director from 1991-1993 and became the only career officer in CIA history to rise from entry-level employee to director. He was deputy director of the CIA from 1986-1989 and served as assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser at the White House from 1989-1991 for President George H.W. Bush. Gates also served in the U.S. Air Force.
His many honors include the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian honor, which he received in 2011. Gates also was awarded the National Security Medal and the Presidential Citizens Medal. He is a three-time recipient of both the National Intelligence Distinguished Service Medal and the Distinguished Intelligence Medal, the CIA's highest honor.
Born and raised in Wichita, Gates earned his bachelor's degree from the College of William and Mary, where he now serves as chancellor. He earned a master's degree in history from Indiana University and a doctoral degree in Russian and Soviet history from Georgetown University.