An intriguing chat with a campus visitor

Amazingly, we are down to just five weeks left in the fall semester! I hope the semester has been a good one for all of you as we approach more winter-like weather here in the Palouse and across our state.

One evening last week I was playing with First Dog Cayenne in the backyard when she ran over to some of the trees and started barking loudly. When I walked over to find out what was bothering her, I heard what sounded like a horse walking along our driveway.

As I drew closer, I was just a little surprised to see a man in a black suit—with no visible head—holding a pumpkin in his hands as he sat astride a black stallion! My first thought was that someone was pulling a “new president” prank. As I am rarely at a loss for words, I asked the visitor if he needed any help. That prompted the following conversation between me (KHS) and the headless horseman (HH):

KHS: This is the Washington State University president’s house. Can I help you?

HH: Happy Halloween! My horse Thunder isn’t feeling well, so I was looking for the WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital. Can you point me in the right direction?

KHS: Absolutely! Let me go inside the house and get a map to show you the way.

HH: So, you live here? Do you work at WSU?

KHS: I do work here—I am the new WSU president! Let me get that map. (KHS leaves and returns with a map and a #Driveto25 packet.)

HH: I had heard that WSU hired a new president. How is everything going?

KHS: I really enjoy working here, and it has been a busy five months in the state of Washington. We recently launched our #Driveto25—our goal is to be recognized as one of the Top 25 public research universities in the nation by 2030.

HH: That sounds ambitious. How has campus reacted?

KHS: To engage the WSU community in a conversation about this goal, Provost Dan Bernardo and I hosted 16 town hall meetings across the Washington State University system in four weeks during September and October. We visited every campus and college! We spent an hour with each campus or college leadership team, did a 30-minute presentation for faculty, staff, and students focused on WSU accomplishments, budget, and new initiatives, and then answered questions for 30 minutes. We posted the Q&A on the Drive to 25 website so that the entire WSU community can read not only the questions but our answers.

HH: I’ll be sure to check it out while Thunder is being treated at the hospital. So, how are you going to measure progress toward the Top 25?

KHS: The question came up several times during the town halls. Right now we’re finalizing the metrics we will use to measure our progress. They will include a set of common higher education measures used by our colleagues at other public research universities as well as several key metrics specific to WSU. In my November letter to campus, I’ll outline the metrics we’ll use to measure progress during the next several years.

HH: Thunder kind of likes wandering around the beautiful Pullman campus, so I may need to check in occasionally to find out the latest.

KHS: We will continue to update our strategic plan on an annual basis as well as our overall Drive to 25 progress—the WSU website will continue to provide additional information to the community. And Dan and I will visit each college and campus every fall to host a similar-style town hall discussion. I’m really committed to engaging the greater campus community on a regular basis in discussions about our future and how we will move forward as a university.

HH: What else did you learn during the town hall meetings?

KHS: I learned that we have a lot of facilities challenges across the WSU system. The good news is that our systemwide enrollment and our research expenditures are increasing, and we are continuing to add new academic programs. But we need additional research and teaching space at all of our campuses and within our colleges. As we look toward future building projects across the WSU system, it’s clear that public-private partnerships and increased philanthropic giving for buildings will need to be part of our solution.

HH (looking at his watch): I think I need to get going—can I have that map?

KHS: Here it is—I highlighted the route. The fine folks at vet med will take great care of Thunder.

HH: Let’s go, Thunder!

KHS (speaking to Cayenne): What a cool costume. You never know who you are going to run into on the Pullman campus. Noel is going to wonder what happened to us. Let’s go inside and get a dog treat.

As with most of my conversations on campus, it was fascinating to talk to my visitor. When I called the vet hospital the next day, though, the staff didn’t know anything about a headless horseman riding a horse named Thunder.

I appreciate everyone who came out to the town hall meetings and participated in the discussions. If you’d still like to share your thoughts, please visit the comment page on the Drive to 25 website. I welcome your feedback.

Go Cougs—and Happy Halloween!