Coordinated advocacy yields far-reaching results

February 2019

Dear Faculty and Staff:

Greetings from French Administration. I think it is fair to say that most of us are looking forward to spring after experiencing the onslaught of snow and ice and other inclement weather that has hampered operations at all of our campuses. Here on the Palouse, it’s definitely been a February to remember, weather wise.

Given the challenges of the season, I want to acknowledge our outstanding facilities services personnel who have been working around the clock to keep all of our campuses open and operational. Please join me in thanking these men and women who are often working outdoors in below freezing conditions while many of us are still asleep or working indoors in warm buildings. Thank you!

I was amazed, and pleased, by the number of people who reached out to me last month to express interest in reading Land Grant Universities for the Future by Stephen Gavazzi and E. Gordon Gee. Due to that interest—and the relevancy of the book as we plan the future of our institution—we have scheduled Dr. Gavazzi to visit WSU in May. Details will be available soon.

I look forward to engaging Dr. Gavazzi as we further explore ways that WSU can balance national aspirations with the need to focus on serving the state of Washington. In the meantime, if you would still like a copy of the book, please drop me an email. Those who already requested one should receive it in the next couple of weeks.

I only recently returned to the Pullman campus after a 3 week business trip that included meetings with donors, policymakers, corporate partners, and alumni, among others. When I travel, I typically read comments on social media, particularly by our students, wondering why I am not in Pullman more often.

The comments beg the larger question: What is the role of a university president, and why do I travel so frequently? Rather than attempting to respond in a 280 character tweet, I want to offer some reflections here about what I believe are a president’s highest priorities.

I am nearing the end of serving as a university president for nearly a decade, and I have considered this question many times during this period. At the end of the day, I believe that a president’s job should be focused on 2 key areas: 1) leading the development of an institutional vision and strategic direction and 2) procuring the financial resources required to help fulfill the institutional vision and aspirations.

In my January 2019 letter to the University, I wrote about the Drive to 25 and our initial conversations about the creation of our next 5-year strategic plan, so I won’t repeat that information here. However, I do want to address the second topic—the focus on identifying and acquiring external funding.

Securing the resources required to support and advance our institutional vision and priorities encompasses tasks that range from allocating existing internal resources to obtaining critically important funds from external sources. The pursuit of external fiscal support takes many forms, including formal presentations to support major gift requests, the cultivation of corporate and public partnerships, and relationship building with local, state, and national policymakers and public policy partner stakeholders.

At nearly all universities across the country, most of these activities require frequent travels to visit stakeholders, decision makers, alumni, and other influencers whose actions can affect the future direction of the institution. As a result, many university presidents and chancellors become road warriors to secure these needed monies.

The development of personal relationships is a key part of this process. It is vital to advancing relations with our donors and benefactors as well as with the local, regional, and national elected officials who are important authorizers and funders of activities that support WSU’s mission. Relationships are built over time, with multiple face to face interactions. When these relationships are coupled with compelling projects and initiatives, we are successful at identifying and gaining financial resources.

Often, when we discuss efforts to gain resources from elected officials we think in terms of lobbying for particular initiatives or projects. However, at WSU, through our Office of External Affairs and Government Relations headed by Vice President Colleen Kerr, we operate with a much broader perspective, one focused first on partnership with our stakeholders to meet our public mission. Engagement and advocacy support those projects and initiatives.

While this may sound like a matter of semantics, there are some key differences. In my mind, advocacy for university projects incorporates the use of a broad array of tools to provide useful information to decision makers. These tools include, importantly, working with our key stakeholders to advocate for projects, targeting lobbying efforts to focus on individual elected officials on issue specific projects, publishing editorials and other opinion pieces to educate and create partners in our communities, marshaling alumni engagement to support priorities, and visiting our campuses to meet faculty, staff, and students face to face to learn about their activities and needs.

While the president or chancellor plays a key role in legislative advocacy, this is a team sport that requires engagement from a variety of groups to be successful. The end result is that legislative advocacy based partnership paired with long term commitment results in some amazing success stories for WSU.

Earlier this month, for example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) budget for fiscal year 2019 was signed into law. The budget will deliver many important benefits to Washingtonians, the state’s multibillion dollar agricultural industry, and WSU. For starters, the budget contains a significant increase in funding for the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) research infrastructure at several locations around the country and direction from Congress to fund priorities identified in the 2012 USDA ARS strategic document and the 2015 Facility Report. Supporting this funding in partnership with our stakeholders was a major WSU priority.

It was an effort that paid off—in a big way. I am happy to let you know we are one step closer to construction of a new federally funded ARS building in Pullman.
While there are still details to be worked out, this appropriation never would have happened without a strong federal advocacy effort led by Glynda Becker, director of WSU’s Office of Federal Relations in Washington, D.C., part of Colleen’s team.

The key elements of our federal advocacy strategy included a first time, multi year partnership between WSU, the Washington State Department of Agriculture, and our agricultural partners to engage with members of the state of Washington’s federal congressional delegation, the federal administration, authorizing committees, and the USDA. That approach resulted in a summertime visit to the Pullman campus by USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue, visits by key congressional leaders to Pullman, and opportunities for WSU leadership to visit face to face with important federal decision makers.

The new ARS building represents the culmination of just one of our successful long term federal advocacy efforts. I am pleased to share that our efforts also have yielded federal funding to support research in both aviation biofuels and antimicrobial resistance.

In fact, the federal budget allocates $15 million to WSU’s FAA Center of Excellence for Alternate Jet Fuels & the Environment, known as ASCENT.

It also includes $168 million for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, Antibiotic Resistance Initiative to support work like we do at WSU connecting human and animal health. Through WSU’s creation of the Pacific Northwest Antimicrobial Resistance Coalition in 2016, we have worked hard to establish a leadership role in this area. Our coalition based advocacy, led by the Office of Federal Relations, has kept the funding consistent despite reductions in federal investments for this type of work.

As a result, WSU has become a leading recipient of CDC funding. This provides enhanced opportunities for the University and all of our coalition partners to compete for CDC funding. We and our partners will seek shares of the newly allocated monies, along with other organizations in the Pacific Northwest interested in mitigating the effects of drug resistant bacteria in the United States and around the globe.

As we look toward the future, there are many more research areas that we could grow significantly with enhanced federal advocacy efforts. To pursue these opportunities, we will expand our engagement with Cornerstone Government Affairs in Washington, D.C. Success in this endeavor will enable us to expand the nationally recognized research and scholarly efforts taking place across all of our academic units and campuses.

Please watch for future opportunities to meet with our external affairs and government relations staff, which manages state relations and regional relations as well as federal relations. Team members need to know more about the ways in which public funds can enhance your scholarly efforts.

So, while we celebrate our achievements, it is also a time to think of the incredible possibilities that lie ahead. I look forward to continuing to engage our campus communities in conversations as we move WSU’s research and scholarship to greater heights.

As always, please let me know of questions you have.

Go Cougs!