After an extensive national search Dr. Robert Walter Kustra, Lt. Governor of Illinois, chair of the Illinois Board of Higher Education and an adjunct professor of political science at Northwestern University, was selected as Eastern's ninth president. Kustra's background represents a significant departure from previous Eastern presidents. The new leader is the first person from an urban environment and only the second non-Kentuckian and non-southerner in Eastern's history to become president. He assumed the presidency from Funderburk on July 1, 1998.
Kustra enthusiastically instituted a series of major academic and administrative reforms. The previous nine colleges were merged into five: Arts and Sciences, Health Sciences, Business and Technology, Justice and Safety, and Education. Significant changes have been proposed in the general education curriculum along with other academic reorganization activities. A Center for Kentucky History and Politics and a Center for Teaching Excellence have been created along with an Appalachian Studies Center. More professional research by the faculty has been encouraged along with EKU's continuing commitment to providing service. Increased emphasis on improving student retention rates and upgrading admissions standards has been a major goal of the Kustra administration.
Kustra has made a very strong commitment to improving the quality of student life. "First Weekend" was instituted in an effort to provide social and cultural programs to keep students on campus during weekends. Also, in an effort to reach out to students in Eastern's service region, faculty members were urged to make visits to the students. Construction began on a new student services building aimed at centralizing all student related activities in one building. Kustra also reinvigorated the athletic program. The Harry Moberly Wellness Building was dedicated in 2000. Kentucky basketball legend Travis Ford, was hired as men's basketball coach. On February 14, 2001 Kustra surprised many when he announced his intention of leaving the university on June 30, 2002, the termination date of his contract. Kustra left campus on June 30, 2001 to assume a position as a senior policy adviser at the Council of State Government in Lexington.