Dear Faculty and Staff:

Happy Halloween! One of the joys of serving as WSU’s president is that I continually meet interesting and intriguing people. Occasionally, unusual conversations take place. Just last night, I was standing in the backyard of the president’s house playing with our corgis, Cayenne and Joule, when a huge, floating pumpkin drifted into the backyard. This is the conversation that ensued.

KHS: Good evening. My name is Kirk Schulz, and I am president of WSU. Not to be rude, but what are you doing in my backyard?

Pumpkin: I am the Great Pumpkin! I am looking for Linus, and I have a big bag of toys to give away tomorrow night!

KHS: So, you are the Great Pumpkin from the comic strip Peanuts? The one that NEVER shows up when Linus waits for him in the pumpkin patch? (Looking closer) Hey, I don’t remember ever seeing a pumpkin with a mustache. What is that all about?

Pumpkin: This year is going to be different—I promise! By the way, is this the place that hosted ESPN’s College GameDay on October 20?

KHS: We did host College GameDay in Pullman. The TV broadcast really highlighted our campus and the beauty of the Palouse to a national audience. We had more than 2 million people watch GameDay and made more than 3.6 million impressions on Twitter during the week leading up to the show. A big thank you goes out to the faculty, staff, and students who worked hard to showcase the University all week.

Pumpkin: It sounds like things are going really well at WSU. I am not exactly sure what college presidents do, but I imagine you are working on many things besides GameDay and Cougar Football…

KHS: How much time do you have?

Pumpkin: I am ready to go for Halloween, so I have plenty of time.

KHS: We continue to work on restoring our institutional fiscal health. We reduced our structural budget deficit from $30 million annually to less than $8 million last fiscal year, which was tremendous progress in one year. All of our chancellors, vice presidents, and deans are currently providing updates to their units about their area’s progress. You soon will be able to review those communications on our fiscal health website. If our financial projections are correct, WSU should be back in the black next fiscal year for the first time in 5 years. Hats off to everyone for their hard work.

Pumpkin: That sounds impressive. You know, I am a bit of a technology geek. Anything along those lines that I might be interested in?

KHS: We are replacing our 1970s-era financial system with Workday. This new cloud-based system will provide a set of modern tools to use for human resources, payroll, and financial systems. It will cost us about $30 million to purchase, with a $7 million annual operating cost—needed investments that will ensure our future fiscal health. I believe that all of us will be able to make better decisions with timely fiscal information.

Pumpkin: Very interesting. Back at the toy factory we are also looking for ways to be more efficient in how we do things. Since I am the “great” pumpkin, I was put in charge of optimizing processes. Are you going to also improve administrative and financial processes at the University?

KHS: You are one weird pumpkin. Interestingly, we are going to work with the University Fiscal Health Advisory Committee on finding ways to do things more efficiently to attain cost savings. Simply automating a bad process doesn’t really help in the long run, so we have to update our software and improve the ways we do things.

Pumpkin: If you think I am weird, guess what else I am pretty excited about?

KHS: New pumpkin pie recipes?

Pumpkin: I love strategic planning. Sometimes we get all of the pumpkins together to discuss what we want the pumpkin patch to look like in the future…

KHS: We are soooo much alike! We are finishing up WSU’s current 5-year strategic plan in 2019 and Vice Provost Erica Austin is leading the development of the next plan. We have done a lot of planning during the past few years, with discussions focused on topics such as the Drive to 25, restoration of our fiscal health, development of our research strengths, the Grand Challenges, and strategic plans at our other locations. Going forward, we need to consolidate all of these efforts into a single plan for the WSU system.

Pumpkin: One of my big challenges as the Great Pumpkin is finding ways for all of the other pumpkins in the pumpkin patch to feel involved in planning our future.

KHS: I completely understand. One of our priorities for the next planning process is to engage our faculty, staff, students, alumni, donors, and community members in the conversation. We will emphasize that everyone can get involved in planning our future.

Pumpkin: (Glancing at the afternoon sun) My goodness. It is getting late. I need to be going soon. Anything else I should know?

KHS: Do you want to donate to WSU? We are working hard to prepare for our next comprehensive fundraising campaign. Many of our academic leaders at the University, including chancellors, deans, and vice presidents, will be on the road talking to WSU alumni and friends about critical areas for investment in moving WSU forward in the Drive to 25.

Pumpkin: I would be happy to help. Perhaps I can drop off a pumpkin at your house for Thanksgiving. Would that count as a donation? It has been nice chatting, but I have to go and find Linus…

KHS: Nice seeing you. Drop by WSU anytime for a chat.

Well folks, you never know who you may meet in your backyard. Until next month…

Happy Halloween, and Go Cougs!