Top priorities moving forward

January 2019

Dear Faculty and Staff:

Greetings as we approach completion of the fourth week of spring semester. I trust that you enjoyed some downtime during the holiday period and that the semester is off to a good start. Noel and I returned from the break feeling refreshed and excited about the spring after some family travels.

I have been reading an excellent book about institutions such as ours in recent weeks. Land Grant Universities for the Future—Higher Education for the Public Good by Stephen M. Gavazzi and E. Gordon Gee examines how land‑grant universities have both thrived and struggled in recent decades.

As I have reflected on the authors’ conclusions, it has challenged me to think about how we can expand WSU’s mission to meet the future needs of the state of Washington. It’s a question we might all consider.

If you are interested in reading the book—and I encourage you to do so—please contact me directly. I will also share additional insights from my own reading in upcoming campus letters.

Spring semester will see continued efforts across the WSU system to advance initiatives that simultaneously strengthen the foundation of the University and enhance our ability to transform lives and contribute to the public good.

Below are brief updates about three of these important initiatives: fiscal health, long‑term planning, and advocacy for the University in Olympia during the legislative session. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me directly if you have questions, comments, or concerns about these efforts.

Advancing our fiscal health

We continue to make much progress in restoring our institutional fiscal health. As I wrote to you previously, our ongoing goal is to reduce spending by $10 million per year in order to eliminate a structural deficit that had reached $30 million annually.

This last fiscal year, we significantly exceeded our target by reducing the overall deficit from $30 million to less than $9 million. I am pleased to report that if mid‑year projections hold, we expect to finish the current fiscal year at the end of June with something less than $4 million in deficit spending.

Looking ahead, we anticipate that revenues should exceed expenses in the next fiscal year (FY 2020)—for the first time in 5 years.

This outstanding result has been achieved because most of the campuses, colleges, and administrative units have continued to reduce spending. I appreciate the efforts of leadership, faculty, staff, and students who are all working together to restore our fiscal health and build financial reserves.

In the coming weeks, look for fiscal health updates from major units across the WSU system on our Fiscal Health website. The site will continue to provide updates going forward.

Launching the long‑term system‑wide planning process

As I interact with faculty, staff, and students at all 6 of our campuses, I am often reminded that Washington State University is truly Washington’s state university.

I have also come to appreciate during the past few years that each campus is unique and seen as a linchpin of economic growth and upward mobility for the community in which it resides. While all of our faculty, staff, and students are bound together as members of the Cougar family—regardless of location—it is important that we continue to look for ways to be more efficient as a university system while maintaining the individuality and uniqueness of our campuses.

Thus, as we embark on a new University strategic planning effort, we must embrace the distinctiveness of each campus and recognize that we are a complex system of diverse geographic locations. As a Cougar family, we will formulate our first‑ever WSU system strategic plan. We will also need to create a distinct plan for the Pullman campus as well as for each of our other campuses.

WSU Vancouver and WSU Everett recently completed new strategic plans. Planning efforts are underway to create plans at WSU Tri‑Cities, WSU Spokane, and the Global Campus.

We must link our next set of strategic plans with our budget and spending. At virtually any university, you can track priorities by examining the places the institution continues to invest discretionary monies that are either new or non‑designated funds. As we develop our new strategic plans, it is my goal that the way we budget and the way we plan our future are done in concert, and that the process involves significant engagement with faculty, staff, and students.

Our strategic plan website is a good way to track the planning process. The site, which is in the process of being updated, will provide regular updates and information about how you can contribute to the effort.

Advocacy in Olympia

With the beginning of the 2019 legislative session in Olympia earlier this month, many members of the University community will visit with elected officials over the course of the session. We are fortunate to have one of the most talented government relations teams in the state, whose members work year‑round to advance University legislative and funding priorities.

Each year WSU brings a concise list of priorities to the capitol for consideration by Governor Inslee and the legislature. As reported previously, our top priorities this session include base funding for the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine to pay for 60 medical students (years 3 and 4) and a planned increase in the size of the starting class from 60 to 80 students beginning fall 2019.

Additionally, in cooperation with the University of Washington, we are advocating for a 4% salary increase for faculty and staff in each year of the biennium.

You may read or hear news and information from various sources about the state budget, our legislative priorities, and new legislation impacting public higher education. If you have concerns or would like more information, please feel free to reach out to Colleen Kerr, vice president for government relations and external affairs, at any time.

You can find regular updates about progress on WSU’s priorities and other issues of interest to public higher education on our government relations website and in WSU Insider.

I appreciate all that you do each day as we continue our Drive to 25. Again, feel free to reach out to me with your questions or concerns. Good luck as the semester progresses.

Go Cougs!