A few thoughts about recent discussions
Summer is finally upon us! I trust everyone had a successful end to the spring semester, and that your summer personal and professional activities are well under way. My normal “to-do” list for this summer is pretty extensive—but mostly it revolves around successfully moving our household from Manhattan to Pullman!
The past month has been a busy one, and I have a few updates that I want to share with the Washington State University community. I want to focus on four major areas in this letter: WSU budget, expansion of the Pullman/Moscow Airport, the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, and the spring WSU Foundation Board of Trustees meeting.
Over the past 2 months, I have had the opportunity to review the WSU budget with key members of the senior leadership team. In short, we have been spending more money annually over the past couple of years than has been brought in, which is simply not sustainable. As a University we are spending down central reserves at a significant rate and will need to make some adjustments as to how we budget future building projects and new University initiatives. In order to address these issues we are taking some immediate steps:
- First, we will be re-instituting a formalized budget development process for the University. It has been a number of years since a formalized process has been used internally at WSU, and in meeting with our key institutional financial officers we all agree that it is time to bring an improved budgeting process in place.
- Second, we can no longer build new buildings without a comprehensive funding plan in place, and we cannot rely on University reserves to “make up” for funds that haven’t been clearly identified. This will require us to be very strategic in our capital projects, and we will involve the WSU fundraising team much earlier in capital project development. Since we have a 10-year plan for capital projects, we need to integrate anticipated state support with private philanthropy more effectively. The bottom line for the future: if we don’t have all funds accounted for, we can’t break ground and start building new projects.
- Third, we cannot bring items to the Board of Regents for approval on anything without a robust financial analysis accompanying our proposals. I will insist on this internally, which may mean it takes a bit longer to have fully developed proposals and initiatives.
- Fourth, we are continuing discussions with WSU Athletics on ways to reduce our annual deficit. I am working closely with Director of Athletics Bill Moos and his staff to develop a plan that ensures we are balancing revenues and expenses while also ensuring we continue to compete for Pac-12 championships. I will present more details on this to the campus community in the early fall.
Ultimately, we will have some financial challenges over the next couple of years and I will work to ensure that University leadership is bringing forth reasonable solutions that continue our positive momentum but are fiscally responsible.
Expansion of the Pullman/Moscow Airport
Reliable air service into our local airport is a must if we are to continue to aggressively expand our research and scholarship, recruit undergraduate and graduate students nationally, and recruit and retain exceptional faculty and staff. I want to be very clear that Washington State University is committed to a successful and collaborative expansion of the airport.
I want the campus community to know that we are continuing to dialogue with community partners on moving the airport expansion forward, but doing so in a way that protects the ability of our faculty and USDA partners to conduct much-needed research in appropriate research facilities. While there has been a lot of speculation recently in the media, I am confident that we are converging on a solution that will be satisfactory to all parties. I want to especially thank Olivia Yang, our interim vice president for Administration and Finance, for taking the lead on this issue for Washington State. As you have questions or concerns about the airport, please reach out to Dan Bernardo, Olivia Yang, or myself.
Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine
There is a great deal of institutional effort going into the successful launch of the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine. We are anticipating an accreditation visit in late June and are optimistic that we will begin to recruit our first entering class of Cougar physicians once we hear the outcome of the accreditation visit sometime in late October. The efforts and progress made in developing a new medical school on an accelerated time schedule is a remarkable achievement—and one that we should celebrate.
One of the key steps (of many!) in a successful medical school accreditation is ensuring adequate institutional financial support to hire faculty members, build an administrative team, provide student support, and initiate research programs. Interim President Dan Bernardo and I have worked with the interim vice president for Finance and Administration (and staff), the chief budget officer, and the Floyd College of Medicine financial team and have come to an agreement on the pro forma budget for the first 6 years of operations. This budget integrates our planned private philanthropy to support the growth of the Floyd College along with institutional support and gives the WSU fundraising team some direction on where to focus fundraising efforts.
I will keep the campus community informed as we continue the start-up phase of the Floyd College of Medicine in anticipation of our first class of students starting in Spokane. That day will be here before we know it!
Trustees Meeting in Spokane
Noel and I enjoyed attending the 2016 Washington State Foundation Board of Governors and Board of Trustees meetings in Spokane. I had the opportunity to meet many of the members of the Cougar family who have invested in helping us ensure our students have a great experience at WSU. During the meetings, we initiated discussions with the trustees and campus leadership on planning for our next major philanthropic campaign for WSU. The highly successful $1 billion campaign wrapped up a little over a year ago, and it is already time to put forth ideas about ways in which philanthropy can continue to help Washington State thrive and grow. I came away from the WSU Foundation meetings with a profound sense of optimism about our future.
This letter has been a long one with a lot of content! It is my goal to ensure the entire WSU community knows what is happening at our University, and I look forward to sharing news and commentary in the coming months.