Working together to balance the budget

Dear Faculty and Staff:

As we move deeper into the semester, I hope that you are finding moments to savor the invigorating splendor of the fall colors and our frequent sun-splashed days during this season of transition. The Palouse and the Pullman campus currently offer a stunning kaleidoscope of color, and I know from my recent travels statewide that similar scenes greet our WSU family and friends at all of our campuses.

A week ago, I sent an email describing a few of the actions we are taking to reduce university spending during the current fiscal year. Cutting the budget is not something we take lightly. In fact, it’s agonizing for our entire community. The decisions we make can, and in some cases, will, substantially change the lives of our students, our faculty, and our staff.

Yet, no matter how much I and other members of the leadership team regret the necessity of these actions, we have no choice. WSU’s system-wide budget has been overspent by about $25 million a year each of the last four years. As a consequence, we have tapped into our financial reserves in order to pay bills, reducing those reserves from about $200 million in FY 13 to slightly less than $100 million last year. We must take immediate, firm steps to restore the University’s financial stability.

There is no ideal way to communicate challenging financial information. Budget-related communications must be frequent, timely, and fact-based. In our effort to keep you better informed about University-level financial decisions, our leadership team has committed to sending monthly budget updates to the WSU community. We have also asked all chancellors, vice presidents, and deans to communicate directly to their respective students, faculty, and staff about the impact of spending reductions in their areas.

I understand there will be anxiety, uncertainty, and fear as we reduce spending during the next 3 years. I encourage you to ask questions and voice your concerns going forward. We will be transparent as discussions take place and decisions are made.

Do we have budget challenges to solve? Yes. Will we find ways to continue to ensure an exceptional student experience at Washington State University? Yes. Thank you for all that you do on behalf of the University.

Each of the last two years, Provost Dan Bernardo and I have hosted town hall-style meetings for our campuses, colleges, and other units during the fall. The meetings bring the community together to celebrate the University’s progress and discuss our challenges. The sessions are also one of my favorite activities of the year because of the opportunity they offer to connect and reconnect with our tremendously talented and hard-working faculty, staff, and students across the state.

This September, Dan and I participated in 16 town halls and highlighted system-, campus-, and college-specific successes, the Drive to 25, WSU’s budget, and some of our priority University initiatives. We also engaged in some lively discussions with our audiences, which reminded me again of the passion of our community for the University.

If you didn’t have the opportunity to attend one of the town halls, you can review the information shared in the presentations. We have organized the material so that you can view the core presentation shared with all audiences, as well as the information specific to a particular campus or college.

I hope you will take a look at the online material—there is much to celebrate institution-wide. In the event you are pressed for time, below are a few highlights from the presentations:

University successes
  • We continue to increase system-wide enrollment, with 30,614 students enrolled across 6 campuses fall semester. We also continue to recruit and enroll an increasingly diverse group of students, and the academic credentials of the students we enroll are increasing.
  • We raised more than $122 million last year in private fundraising. We are also actively preparing for our next major fundraising campaign.
  • We continue to attract outstanding leaders to senior leadership positions at the University. We have significantly diversified the race and gender balance of our senior leadership team during the past 2 years.
  • Our Research and Development expenditures totaled just over $334 million last year—testament to the great ideas and perseverance of WSU faculty, staff, and students.
  • We enjoyed a great year of on- and off-the-field success as a member of the Pac-12 Conference. Several teams played in the postseason, and 148 of our students received All-Conference Scholar-Athletes honors.
Drive to 25
  • We continue to progress in our goal to be ranked as one of the top 25 public research universities in the country by 2030.
  • We have identified 11 metrics to measure our progress, including AAU metrics, peer-comparison metrics, and WSU-specific metrics.
  • Groups of faculty, staff, and students are working on action plans for each of the 11 metrics. These plans will be published online in early 2018 for comment and critique.
University budget
  • We have overspent the University budget for the previous 4 years by approximately $25 million each year as illustrated below. This overspending has decreased the University’s reserves by 56% since FY 2013—from about $200 million to slightly less than $100 million. Rebuilding our reserves is critical to the institution’s long-term fiscal health.Annual Review Balance
  • The last fiscal year in which we brought in more money than we spent was FY 2013.
  • Our goal is to reduce our annual deficit spending to $20 million this year, to $10 million the following year, and to balance revenues and expenditures in FY 2020.
  • We continue to look at ways to increase revenue at the university and college levels.
Priority University initiatives
  • The WSU-INTO partnership has met first year enrollment goals of enrolling about 160 new students fall semester. We are on track to meet new mid-year enrollment goals.
  • We continue to work on campus climate issues, with several groups focused on specific tasks. As promised at the conclusion of the spring semester, a national search for an associate vice president for equity, diversity, and inclusion is underway. The position will manage all of the University’s resources focused on diversity issues.
  • Expansion of our Global Campus programming remains a priority, with plans underway to add another 11 academic degrees by next academic year.
  • We continue to grow our High Performance Computing Resources (HPC) (Kamiak) to keep pace with explosive growth in research and scholarship by WSU faculty, staff, and students in HPC.
  • The online academic resources available to our students are growing, helping to address affordability issues related to the cost of textbooks, in particular.
  • We are refining WSU Insider, our new internal communications-focused website/e-newsletter, which is designed to keep the WSU community statewide better informed about the University.

I appreciate all of the faculty, staff, and students who turned out for the town halls, particularly given how busy the beginning of the semester is for everyone. Attendance was higher than last year, but I want to ensure moving ahead that these presentations and engagement with you are helpful. If you have suggestions for improving next year’s sessions, please drop me a note.

I also want to congratulate Dr. M. Kariuki Njenga on his recent election to the National Academy of Medicine (NAM). Election to the national academies is incredibly selective, recognizing faculty who are engaged in truly world-class research and scholarship. Kariuki’s accomplishments and election to NAM is additional compelling evidence of the quality of our faculty. The honor also advances our #Driveto25 metric focused on increasing the number of our National Academy members. I invite you to learn more about Kariuki’s careerand his efforts to address emerging zoonotic diseases.