Drive to 25: Alive and well, and advancing

Dear Faculty and Staff:

Happy end of February. I hope all is well with you as we continue the run-up to spring break.

Like many of you, I suspect, our unseasonably mild temperatures and lack of snow across much of the state earlier this month prompted me to begin envisioning favorite outdoor spring and summer activities, including the upcoming camping season.

Then, of course, winter intervened to deliver a cold dose of reality, complete with the lowest temperatures of the season. Despite that temporary setback, I continue to anticipate the beginning of March and the joys spring promises, including longer days warmed by increasing sunshine, the brilliant colors of nature reawakening, and opportunities to fire up the outdoor grill.

Speaking of camping, this is the time of year Noel and I start prepping our Airstream trailer for summer travel. This year we are planning trips to Bend, Oregon; Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks; and Hells Canyon, with at least one more weekend trip squeezed in between June and August.

The Pacific Northwest, as well as the West in general, offers an endless variety of stunning natural landscapes. It is always a joy—and intellectually refreshing—to experience the majestic outdoors. I hope you will have opportunities to engage in similar adventures during the warmer months that await.

During recent months, I frequently have been asked about the status and our commitment to advancing the Drive to 25.

The question is understandable in light of current efforts to restore WSU’s long-term fiscal health. It certainly seems counterintuitive to be engaged in an initiative to become one of the nation’s top 25 public research universities at a time when we are reducing our hiring, discontinuing or delaying worthwhile initiatives, and cutting back on important discretionary spending.

Yet despite the challenges, the Drive to 25 remains the University’s highest strategic priority. There are 5 major reasons for this:

  • The D25 is essential to the long-term well-being and future aspirations of our entire academic enterprise. Raising our institutional profile through the D25 will open doors to new external research funding, create additional public and private partnership opportunities, and heighten the interest of prospective students, among other benefits.The contributions of all our colleges—system-wide—will be essential to success in the D25. Thus, in the years ahead, we are committed to building our teaching and research strengths across the disciplines.
  • We are in the preliminary planning stages for the University’s third comprehensive fundraising campaign. The D25 provides a critical roadmap to guide identification of our campaign goals and objectives.
  • The launching of the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine and the exceptional faculty hired by the college will create new and expanded research and scholarship possibilities, as well as new collaborative and commercialization opportunities. The continued success of the college is vital to our D25 aspirations.
  • Similar to the medical college, our growing partnership with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) will produce new teaching and research opportunities for WSU faculty, staff, and students. It will create career pathways for students upon graduation as well. Again, success in this partnership will boost WSU’s profile nationally and accelerate progress in the D25.There are numerous dynamic partnerships between national labs and public research universities across the country that are mutually beneficial, both for the partners and for the constituents they serve. I am confident this will occur in our collaboration with PNNL. Stay tuned for more details about this expanding relationship later this semester.
  • Finally, there is not a better time to pursue the D25 in light of the strong support for public higher education in the state of Washington. While many states continue to cut funding in this area, the Washington legislature continues to demonstrate foresight by investing in the programming and the infrastructure our two flagship universities need to ensure the future vitality of our state.In addition, the economy is booming in Washington. This is an opportune time to bring bold new ideas to Olympia for support.

While these are all compelling reasons to move forward with the D25, there is little doubt that our work to restore the University’s fiscal health will slow our ability to achieve some of the goals set for the 11 metrics we will use to measure D25 progress.

For example, achieving the objectives laid out in newly drafted action plans for several metrics relies on the premise that we will add new faculty members at an accelerated rate. Unfortunately, our financial challenges preclude that possibility in the short term.

As a result, if we are to make progress on several key metrics, we as a university community must come together to identify creative new ways to add tenure-track and clinical-track faculty as appropriate at all of our campuses. As we restore our fiscal health, investing in the hiring of additional faculty will be a key to our long-term D25 success.

It is also important to note that while the fiscal health initiative hampers our ability to make new investments in strategic priorities, it has not eliminated the opportunity. For example, because creating an inclusive and welcoming campus culture throughout the WSU system is a top priority, we invested funds to create a new associate vice president position to lead this initiative.

So, what are we doing right now in regard to the D25? Groups of faculty, staff, students, and administrators system-wide have created draft action plans for each of the 11 metrics identified last year to measure D25 progress. I invite you to review those plans and then use the form on the D25 website to provide feedback, which will be routed to the action plan working groups to consider as they refine their plans.

Additionally, we will start measuring our progress annually against our peer institutions and publish this information for the broader campus community to help celebrate our continued successes. Progress will be measured by taking the average of the University’s standing among public research universities using the selected peer-comparison and AAU metrics as reported annually by The Center for Measuring University Performance (MUP) at Arizona State University and the University of Massachusetts Amherst. MUP publishes a report each year identifying the top American research universities.

Bottom line, the Drive to 25 is alive and well. While the pathway ahead may not be as smooth as we would like, we will continue working together to solve challenges, and the D25 will help us to stay on course. The key is to stay focused and continue making reasonable progress. As we emerge from budgetary challenges, we will be in a stronger position to fulfill the D25 goals.

Thank you for all that each of you continues to do to propel this amazing organization to the next level.

Onward and upward,