Setting a target for WSU’s future

Greetings from French Administration! I hope that everyone is having a great summer and that you have fun plans for the Fourth of July holiday.

June has been a productive month for Washington State, highlighted of course by Provost Dan Bernardo’s “bee beard” at a recent fundraiser for the WSU Honey Bee and Pollinator Research Center. This is an excellent example of WSU’s land-grant mission to provide service through practical research and education. Bees are key to healthy food systems and WSU’s research is helping sustain Washington food and agriculture, a $35 billion industry. If you haven’t seen the article and pictures about the bees, check out the story here.

We also had the preliminary accreditation visit by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME) for the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, lots of construction underway in Pullman, and many new students participating in WSU Alive! sessions. I had the opportunity to visit with students and families during several of the Alive! sessions, and it was fun to see the excitement, energy, and enthusiasm for our newest members of the Cougar Family.

In the nearly three weeks since I officially started at Washington State, I have met many people who, through their work and support for us, or on our behalf, are part of the Cougar community. I spent three days in the Seattle area where WSU is fortunate to have many corporate partners, alumni, and friends. I met with higher education leaders and members of the media. I came away with the firm belief that we have significant opportunities to deepen long-standing corporate partnerships with Washington’s key industries. Everyone I talked with enjoys a good relationship with WSU—and they want to partner more with us. There is a significant need for WSU graduates in all disciplines to provide these companies with talent to fuel a strong, dynamic workforce. While WSU draws students from across the state and the United States, a significant concentration hails from the Puget Sound area, making this region a key partner.

During my travels around the state, one of the questions I am asked most frequently is “What is your vision for Washington State University?”

As a campus community, I believe that we need to articulate an overarching goal that best describes our aspirations as an institution. In order to have the broadest possible impact, any goal should be easy to remember, measurable, and have the support of the greater WSU community, including faculty, staff, students, campus leadership, policy makers, alumni, and corporate and foundation partners.

Membership in the Association of American Universities has been a much-discussed goal. But we have no real control over what institutions are invited to join the AAU. Thus, while WSU will aggressively grow our scholarship, student enrollment, physical facilities, and academic reputation, it is entirely possible that we still may not obtain AAU membership despite significant institutional progress and momentum. Instead, we need to choose an institutional goal that will challenge the University to excel in the minds of our constituents while simultaneously moving us toward future AAU membership.

Keeping all of this in mind, I believe that a possible University goal is as follows:

Washington State University will be recognized as one of the nation’s top 25 public research universities, preeminent in research and discovery, teaching, and engagement by 2030.

I have spent a good portion of my professional life in leadership at land-grant universities. I believe fully in the transformative power of these institutions and in their ability to evolve to meet the needs of people in the twenty-first century. We should also consider the following questions: How would we measure progress on this goal? And what impact would such a goal have on our academic colleges and on our existing WSU strategic plan?

There are no quick and easy answers. Further, there are countless other questions that members of our campus community will have that need to be carefully considered.

Thus, I am inviting the WSU community to engage in a campus-wide dialogue on this proposed institutional target. It will be a focal point of town hall meetings Provost Dan Bernardo and I will be conducting on each campus and with each college, and similar units, during the fall semester. Additionally, we will have materials on a web page and opportunities for anyone associated with WSU to provide comment and critique. I will also share feedback that I receive from the various campus meetings and conversations I participate in.

In closing, I continue to be very impressed with the energy and capabilities of Washington State University and believe our best is yet to come. I am looking forward to upcoming visits to WSU North Puget Sound at Everett, WSU Tri-Cities, and WSU Vancouver, as well as hearing from the campus community, as we work to build an even bigger and better WSU!