Onward in the Drive to 25

Welcome back for the spring semester (and a rare snow day for the Pullman campus on Wednesday)! While lots of snow and cold weather have greeted us at all of our campuses during the first two weeks of classes, warmer temperatures and spring are only a couple of months away. I hope all of you came back refreshed and ready for what promises to be an exciting 2017 at Washington State University!

We have lost several members of the Coug family in recent months, including two students who died in traffic accidents during their return trip to Pullman after winter break. The entire University community sends deep condolences to the families and friends of all who lost loved ones. I, and the rest of the senior leadership team, remain committed to doing everything possible to ensure a safe environment for our faculty, staff, and students statewide. We currently are revising our communications plan to provide improved and more frequent information to everyone during times of high traffic to and from Pullman, in particular. I will share the plan as it takes shape.

Just last week I returned from a visit to Shanghai, China, to meet with the leadership at INTO University Partnerships. Some of you may have missed the announcement at the end of the fall semester about our new partnership with INTO, which promises to significantly enhance our ability to enroll undergraduate and graduate international students—thereby bringing a greater international dimension to all of our campuses.

A major partnership does not happen without a significant team effort, and I want to especially thank Vice President for International Programs Asif Chaudhry for his leadership on this initiative. Additionally, I would like to thank Matt Skinner in Finance and Administration and Erica Austin in the Office of the Provost for many hours of work to finalize the agreement. Finally, kudos to the faculty leadership—particularly in the Faculty Senate—for their support. In another letter to campus I will detail many of the opportunities that will arise from the WSU-INTO partnership.

Every university president has a different philosophy about a state of the university address. In my view, these speeches are a great opportunity to celebrate the exceptional year we had at Washington State University. We have highly talented faculty, staff, and students—and often we get so busy that we don’t take the time to acknowledge and celebrate the many great achievements accomplished by Cougs statewide. While we have had to reschedule the 2017 State of the University address from January 18 to February 15, I hope you will join me in celebrating our successes—whether you do so in person, online, or via a post-SOU message to campus.

The State of the University address will also kick off the official public launch of the Drive to 25—our goal to be recognized as one of the nation’s top 25 public research universities by 2030. I appreciate the vibrant dialogue about the Drive to 25 as Provost Bernardo and I visited academic units and campuses last semester. There was a lot of enthusiasm surrounding our aspiration—as well as many thoughtful concerns shared about the resources necessary to reach this stretch goal.

While it is relatively easy to announce an ambition like the Drive to 25, an equally important part of any university-level goal is the way in which we measure our success. There was clear feedback throughout the campus system indicating that some of the more popular rankings, such as U.S. News and World Report, were not useful tools for evaluating ourselves. Rankings systems often referred to and cited by the higher education community, including The Princeton Review and the QS World University Rankings, were also considered but discarded as a measurement tool.

Alternatively, and in line with the WSU Strategic Plan, our senior leadership team and deans chose to use three different types of metrics to measure our progress. First, since the Drive to 25 maintains our long-standing AAU aspirations, we needed to ensure we are using metrics that determine AAU membership. Second, we wanted to select metrics that are quantitatively measurable, fit with university core values, and are commonly used by other universities across the nation. Third, we chose several metrics important to the WSU community that are not easily comparable to other peer universities.

AAU metrics

  • Federal research and development expenditures
  • Faculty awards
  • National Academy membership
  • Citations: Thomson Reuters InCites

Peer-comparison metrics

  • Total research and development expenditures
  • Doctorates awarded
  • Annual giving
  • 6-year graduation rate

Strategic WSU-specific metrics

  • Percentage of undergraduates involved in research, scholarship, and creative discovery
  • Placement rate of graduates
  • Percentage of underrepresented minority faculty, staff, and students

These 11 metrics will help us to measure our accomplishments and progress. We will determine our overall ranking by taking the average of our standing among public research universities in our peer comparison metrics and selected AAU metrics as reported annually by the Center for Measuring University Performance (MUP). It is important to note that the MUP is a database of information and not a ranking service.

In my view, we will always need to assess if we are measuring ourselves well and using the right metrics. As such, we will review our metrics on an annual basis and, in collaboration with the greater university community, make changes as needed.

Ultimately, at the end of the day, any aspirational goal is ultimately accomplished by having great people associated with Washington State University—exceptional faculty, high-achieving staff, fantastic students, and outstanding leadership. I believe that the best of Washington State is still ahead of us, and I am looking forward to joining with the WSU family on our continued quest for excellence.

As always, I welcome your suggestions and comments at any time. Onward to #25!

Go Cougs!