Fort Hays State University welcomed back Tisa Mason, a former administrator at the school, as its new president Friday morning.

Mason was vice president of student affairs for six years, leaving FHSU in 2014 to become president of Valley City State University in North Dakota.

Interim FHSU President Andy Tompkins said he expects Mason will take office after the end of the fall semester. Tompkins was appointed by the Regents as interim president in mid December. 

Mason had been one of the five finalists to succeed retired FHSU President Edward Hammond in 2014. That time, the Kansas Board of Regents selected Mirta Martin, who resigned over Thanksgiving break last year amid controversy over her leadership.

Martin recently was selected as president of Fairmont State University in Charleston, W.Va.

At the time of that search, the Regents conducted more open searches for university presidents. Finalists were announced publicly and made campus visits, meeting with the public.

The board has since moved to closed searches, making an announcement only when the candidate is introduced and voted on. The board took a similar approach with the search for the University of Kansas chancellor earlier this year.

Those in attendance at Friday morning’s announcement and the following reception in the Sheridan Hall lobby, however, greeted the appointment with enthusiasm, giving a standing ovation as Mason took the stage.

Darrell Hamlin, associate professor of criminal justice, called Mason a “splendid choice.” Hamlin was president of the FHSU chapter of the Association of American University Professors during Martin’s final year.

“I also think that given some of the troubles FHSU went through with a number of people coming from the outside who may not have been the best fit, I think it’s a good choice to have somebody who has both experience with Fort Hays but also some experience as a president,” he said.

“We all knew she was wonderful at the student affairs side of things, but now having been a president, she’s also got the experience leading the academic side of the university and the staffing side of the university and the facilities issues. There’s no substitute for that kind of experience,” Hamlin said.

Hammond, who spoke at Mason’s inauguration at Valley City State, said he was “extremely proud” of the Regents for their decision.

“I’ve been able to watch her grow in that environment. She comes here with tremendous skill and ability and a true love and knowledge of this place,” Hammond said.

It was that love that called her back to FHSU, Mason said in an interview with The Hays Daily News shortly before the official announcement.

“I feel like it wasn’t meant to be then,” she said of being a finalist for the job in 2014, “but it’s meant to be now. It’s that calling and that pull that has me sitting here today, feeling very blessed and fortunate to have this opportunity.”

Mason said initially she wanted to stay at Valley City State, but received some “compelling calls” to apply for the FHSU position.

There was no campus visit during the selection process, but she said she has kept up with changes at FHSU and in Hays through social media in the intervening three years.

“The campus has done a lot of work in looking at a pathway forward. So I’m going to focus on understanding that, not taking my six and half years for granted, and rebuilding relationships and listening a lot and moving forward in alignment with what their ideas are,” she said.

She cited among the strengths of the university its growth in enrollment and keeping tuition increases low, and its financial strength.

“I think they’ve done really good in driving retention and completion, but we still have work to do. So that’s important to keep focus that our students are successful here,” she said.

“And this is the right place to do that because people believe in student success. They’re committed to removing barriers and lifting and elevating students and helping find their talents and move on,” she said.

Mason said she’s respectful of advances Martin brought to campus as well. She called the Hispanic College Institute, a summer program Martin inaugurated to expose Hispanic high school students to higher education, “fantastic.”

“I’m focused on this institution and respectful of those folks that had a connection with her, and I’d like to build a connection as well. It’s about moving forward and continuing to make progress with this institution.”