Addressing audit findings; moving forward with modernization initiative

Dear Faculty and Staff:

Congratulations on completion of another successful academic year. Celebrating commencement with our students and their families as our graduates take the next step in their life journey is always a richly gratifying highlight of the academic year.

I very much appreciate the role that all of you throughout our statewide community have played in making the WSU experience so positive for our undergraduate and graduate students. Thank you!

Many of you likely have seen media reports about the results of a recent internal audit of WSU athletics. This routine audit, which was discussed at the Board of Regents meeting earlier this month, revealed several areas in which improvements are needed. They include the way we manage football game day ticket counts, use tickets for fundraising purposes, and handle tickets allocated to IMG, the national marketing company we partner with to promote Cougar athletics.

It is critical that we manage all University resources properly, and we take the issues identified in the audit very seriously. We clearly need to create a culture within Athletics that emphasizes compliance and accountability. Athletic Director Pat Chun already has initiated the first steps in that effort, and he will implement additional changes in response to the audit findings.

To ensure that our corrective actions resolve all of the concerns identified, we have requested a follow-up audit next year. We will share those results after they become available.

This has been a banner year at WSU on many fronts. Among the achievements indicative of the tremendous momentum of our statewide enterprise:

  • Record system-wide student enrollment
  • The highest research expenditures in WSU history
  • The awarding of the most spring semester degrees in University history
  • One of the largest-ever appropriations of capital and operating funds by the Washington legislature to WSU
  • Election of a faculty member to one of the national academies for the first time in a decade
  • Completion of one of our best fundraising years since our major campaign ended 3 years ago

These achievements would not be possible without exceptionally dedicated faculty and staff. Thank you for your efforts.

That we have achieved so much while simultaneously focused on reducing University spending and bringing revenues and expenditures back into balance makes all of our achievements even more remarkable. On the fiscal front, we are making excellent progress in our 3-year effort to restore WSU’s fiscal health and rebuild depleted financial reserves at the campus, college, and unit levels.

My thanks to all for your ideas and hard work to eliminate the $30 million annual structural deficit from the budget. I look forward to sharing details about our outstanding progress in this endeavor with you later in the summer, after the fiscal year comes to a close June 30. The most current information about our progress is posted monthly on the WSU fiscal health website.

As we continue to improve the University’s fiscal standing, we simultaneously must address the critical need to upgrade our antiquated financial and human resources system software—which creates its own fiscal challenges.

As you may know, at their May meeting our Regents discussed a financing plan to purchase a new software package for all of our campuses called Workday. Workday is a comprehensive Enterprise Management System used by many of our peer and peer-plus institutions. It is well suited to the unique needs we have at a public research university with multiple campuses and geographic locations.

I want to provide some additional perspective about this modernization initiative and how it will impact the WSU community moving forward.

How much will it cost?

We have budgeted $30 million in one-time costs and $7 million annually in operating costs for the Workday system. In examining ways to do this while minimizing the impact on the overall WSU budget, we identified 2 different loans the University pays from central resources that will be paid off in the next couple of years. We are proposing to the Regents that once the 2 loans are repaid, we will direct those regained funds toward a new loan we will request to purchase the Workday system. In this way, we won’t add a new stress point to our already strained annual budget.

The annual $7 million operating cost of Workday will be paid for via 4 sources: seed funds set aside historically for this purpose in the Office of Administration and Finance, revenue from enrollment growth, a 0.5% tax on payroll expenditures across the University, and internal reallocation of resources at the vice presidential level.

When will it happen?

The modernization initiative has been underway for the past 2 years. This summer we will sign contracts with Workday and secure the needed financing as described above. This fall we will work with campus groups on various aspects of system implementation. We expect to begin fully utilizing Workday by the summer of 2020.

Why now?

Like just about everyone at WSU, I have asked myself many times why are we doing this now? Why not wait a few years until our fiscal situation has stabilized and then move forward?

Question: What do a Volkswagen Rabbit, an IBM PC, and our current computer system have in common?
Answer: They were all constructed in the same era!

While I feel some nostalgia for the 1970s and 1980s, I also have no desire to work with technology from that era. Our current system is coded using a programming language that is no longer used. We have no external vendor support for the system, and the number of WSU staff who are able to make needed updates is declining. In short, there is a growing risk of system failure if we don’t significantly update our system.

Further, many units don’t have a firm grasp on their budgets due to these shortcomings, so they have developed secondary systems to compensate. Due to poor data and incomplete information, our leaders at all levels often don’t have the fiscal data required to make fully informed decisions involving resource allocations. As the quality of the fiscal data available improves, I am confident that we will make better decisions about how to use our money most effectively moving forward.

This fall, as we have done the past 2 years, Provost Bernardo and I will visit each of our campuses, colleges, and other units to provide additional updates about WSU’s initiatives for the upcoming year and to answer your questions. We will provide more details about the modernization initiative at that time as well. In the meantime, if you have questions, please feel free to reach out to me directly or to Vice President for Finance and Administration Stacy Pearson.

I wish you a productive—and rejuvenating—summer. Please know that I appreciate all of your contributions to the University and your dedication to making sure our students receive a transformational experience.

Go Cougs!