May 21st caught me by surprise this year.
This is my anniversary date at Washington State University. It is hard to believe it was five years ago that I walked through the doors of this great institution filled with the eagerness and anticipation of a new challenge and a new opportunity. What I found was an institution that truly was much better than advertised. A tremendous legacy of research and teaching was to be found here, along with an unparalleled sense of alumni pride.
What was as clear to me then, as it is now, is that the strengths of this institution needed to be fostered and supported in new and innovative ways. One of the first steps I took as president, was to forward the idea of establishing a School for Global Animal Health. To me, the work that had already begun was second to none in the country. The idea also carried tremendous opportunity for philanthropy, and I am proud to say that our vision resonated with Northwest visionaries Paul Allen and Bill Gates. Their gifts have now brought this idea to life, and will forever be a part of the WSU fabric.
Washington State University is also home to some of the finest medical based programs, with strong foundations in pharmacy and nursing. To me, the best way to advance these colleges was to combine them together with a 4-year medical degree education. I am proud to say our new Biomedical and Health Sciences Center in Spokane has become a reality, thanks to dedicated faculty at Washington State University, along with strong leadership both in the state legislature, and in Spokane.
One of the earliest investments I fostered was in finding new ways to attract research grants and support. To me, WSU had tremendous upside potential in this area, and I am proud to say that in five years we have nearly doubled our annual research grants to a highly respectable $400 million annually. This means more opportunities for students, for graduate education, and for the advancement of our institution.
I have also sought ways in which to expand the opportunities for students. Over the past two years, we have seen an increase in incoming freshmen at the Pullman campus of more than 4,000 students. We now have a much more diverse student body, one which increasingly includes students who come from families which have never sent a student to college. As a first generation student myself, I understand the profound opportunities higher education can provide.
To enhance the student experience, our Washington State University Football Stadium Project will be completed in time for the beginning of the 2012 season. I am happy to have joined with the Pac-12 presidents in forming a new conference, and to have pushed for new television revenues that led not only to greater resources for our student-athletes, but also to the hiring of Coach Mike Leach, who has already ignited the Cougar faithful around the hope of this new season, which is already promising to be a great one.
Helping students gain access to records and to university accounts in a real-time digital environment meant the upgrade of our student computing systems. This was no easy feat. I am proud to say that the leadership I brought to WSU has done the job that was so desperately needed. Our student systems are now among the finest of any higher education institution in the nation.
The mission of a land-grant institution is to create the best research possible, and then deliver that work into the hands of those who need it most. In my tour of nearly every extension office in our state, I am proud to say the work being delivered is of the highest value to our citizens. It stands as proof positive that the research we develop at WSU, is being deployed in a needed and meaningful way for the citizens of Washington who need it the most.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the hard work and sacrifice of our faculty and staff during these past five years at Washington State University. This institution has undergone the deepest cuts ever imposed by the legislature. This represents a reduction of 52 percent in our operating funds during my time in office. We have stood together, working towards solutions in a shared governance process. Some of the solutions have not been easy. Hundreds of employees have left and not been replaced. But new programs have emerged – offering reduced costs and, in some cases, renewed synergy. For example, combining the College of Science with the College of Liberal Arts has developed a new focus of each school that I believe will show tremendous benefits in the near term – as well as creating substantial savings for years to come.
We have expanded the ways in which students can access our educational offerings. New baccalaureate offerings are now available in Everett, with additional programs being offered in our urban campuses in Spokane, Vancouver, and the Tri-Cities. In addition, we have created a new WSU Global Campus, offering distance learning to virtually anyone with a computer.
Finally, we have asked our Cougar nation to do something extraordinary. We have launched a capital campaign, with the ambitious aim of raising more than $1 billion by the year 2015 to transform the work we do at Washington State University. There is still much work to be done. Yet, it is with great pride that I tell you we are well on our way to reaching that goal, with donations rapidly approaching $700 million.
Washington State University is a much different place than when I arrived here five years ago. We have been together through the rough times. But our resilience and our determination to keep this university strong have been what has truly made the difference. I am proud of what we have accomplished, and I look forward to our next chapter.
There are much brighter days ahead than those we now leave behind.
Thank you for having me as your president.
Elson S. Floyd
Washington State University