An insightful ‘conversation’ with Butch

Greetings from French Administration! I trust that each of you has had a productive July and that you are getting ready for the fall semester. While I have been involved in higher education for more than 25 years, I am still amazed at how fast the summer goes by. I always get excited when our students return to campus from their summer experiences, and move-in day is right around the corner!

I was out walking around our beautiful campus in Pullman this week and just happened to run into Butch T. Cougar. We had a chance to visit a bit—I was impressed with the speed at which he tapped out questions and comments on the oversized keyboard of his laptop. Our “conversation” went something like this:

Butch: Welcome to WSU! I hope things are going well and that you, Noel, Cayenne, Amber, and Onyx are getting settled into Pullman and Seattle.

Kirk: Boxes are unpacked, we have all our Cougar gear for the fall—and yes—we are getting settled in.

Butch: Besides unpacking, what have you been up to this summer?

Kirk: I have been spending quite a bit of time getting to know Washington State University. I have had the opportunity to visit the Spokane, Everett, and Tri-Cities campuses, spent time at our offices in Seattle, and visited with WSU donors, friends, and elected officials across the entire state. Everyone I meet has a strong passion for Washington State. I remain impressed with the tremendous opportunities ahead of us.

Butch: I follow you on Twitter, so I know that you and Noel have been dining at many of the local restaurants in Pullman and Moscow. What else have you been up to on the Pullman campus?

Kirk: I am spending a couple of hours touring each of our colleges meeting faculty and staff, seeing laboratories and classrooms, and, in general, learning as much as I can about all of the great scholarship going on at WSU. So far, I have toured the Honors College; the Carson College of Business; the College of Arts and Sciences; the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences; the Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture; the College of Education; and the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication.

Butch: What have you learned?

Kirk: Our faculty are amazing! As I’ve toured laboratories, classrooms, and facilities across campus I’ve been impressed with the world-class work done across many of our academic disciplines—and not just STEM fields. While I have been very impressed, I also came away from these tours realizing that we need to improve the way we communicate some of our achievements to the Pacific Northwest, the nation, and the world. It is admirable to be humble, but we need to do a better job at bragging about Washington State and the impact we are making.

Butch: I think I am pretty well known throughout the Pac-12 Conference as the best mascot. What else do we need to do?

Kirk: We need to tell the story of Washington State University’s accomplishments more effectively and more broadly. The first step toward building our brand will be identifying a new leader for WSU University Communications. I have initiated the process to conduct a national search to hire a vice president for marketing and communications. This new leader will work with our existing (and enthusiastic) University Communications staff on ways to market and brand WSU to a broader audience.

Butch: Cool idea, but I thought you recently sent out a note to the campus community saying we had to be careful with our budget. How are we going to pay for this vice president?

Kirk: Great question! We will combine the salaries of some vacant positions in University Communications to fund the new vice president’s salary. I also will not refill the senior advisor to the president position currently held by Bob Drewel following the end of his official service to WSU in December. In short, we are going to consolidate existing vacated positions and savings to make the vice president for marketing and communications a reality.

Butch: What else did you learn during your tours of campus?

Kirk: We have significant space challenges ahead of us in the next several years. In each college it was clear that we need to continue to aggressively add new space, as well as renovate existing facilities as we grow our scholarship and student population. Additionally, many of our faculty members need increased funding to enhance their research laboratories in order to ensure that their students are working with state-of-the-art equipment. Finally, we need to also ensure that our faculty members in the social sciences, arts, and humanities have the resources needed to perform their scholarship at the same level as their colleagues in other disciplines at WSU.

Butch: It sounds like you have enjoyed these tours! Don’t you ever get discouraged when you see all of the needs at WSU?

Kirk: Never! One of the primary jobs of the president of any major university is to help our faculty, staff, and students be successful—which often equates to finding additional financial resources to help the institution move forward. With a combination of a bold vision, increased philanthropy, and a great faculty, I am optimistic we will continue to be successful as an institution.

Butch: I have always loved being a Cougar, and the people at WSU are our best asset!

Kirk: I agree! As we continue to build Washington State, we must focus many of our efforts on our faculty, staff, and students. It will be increasingly important that we continue our efforts to create and sustain an inclusive university environment that is welcoming to everyone, regardless of their ethnic background or sexual orientation. As a modern, forward-looking university, we need to become much more aggressive about attracting and retaining diverse students, staff, and faculty members.

Butch: Well said! It has been nice chatting with you. But I need to go and get ready for the start of the Pac-12 season! See you around!

Kirk: Thanks for the chat. As always, Go Cougs!