Vital system planning efforts continue

November 2019

Dear Faculty and Staff:

Happy Thanksgiving. I hope you are able to spend some time with family and friends over the holiday. Noel and I will enjoy an early Thanksgiving lunch before heading to Seattle for the Apple Cup football game against the University of Washington on Friday.

At the November Board of Regents meeting, University leaders reported on many of the ongoing high‑level institutional initiatives that will shape our future. I want to provide some updates and share my perspective about 3 of those initiatives.

System‑wide strategic plan

We continue to move forward with the development of our first comprehensive system strategic plan. Following the visioning conference on October 28, we posted all of the comments generated from the small group discussions online.

Right now, 4 concept teams of faculty, staff, and students from throughout the system are drafting system‑level goals, objectives, and strategies based on the input gathered from the community. The teams will complete their drafts soon. Then a writing team will begin to create the first iteration of the plan. The draft will be ready for the University community to review in mid‑January.

To date, we have gathered a significant amount of insights from the community during the planning process, which most recently has included the land‑grant symposium last May; the online survey earlier this fall focused on our purpose, values, vision, goals, and assumptions about the future; and the visioning conference in October. Those activities complement a variety of previous planning efforts that have addressed topics such modernization, campus culture and climate, student success, and strategic research priorities. In short, we have plenty of information to use in creating our strategic plan.

Strategic planning is a mixture of art and science. Some WSU community members may feel that development of the plan is rushed and not inclusive of all viewpoints. Others may feel that the process is too drawn out.

We are working hard to balance these perspectives as development of our plan moves forward. I want to add one other consideration. Our plan will be a living document. We intend to engage the community on an annual basis to think strategically about our future and the ever‑changing environment in which we will be operating, and we will modify our strategies and priorities as appropriate.

As I talk to faculty and staff across the WSU system, I understand there is some skepticism about the strategic planning effort. That is a common reaction at many universities engaged in this type of process. Historically, universities generate a lot of energy around the development of a strategic plan, only to see it relegated to sitting on a shelf and not being utilized as a guide in determining budget decisions, resource allocations, or other important priorities.

Our plan and our planning process will be different. We will consistently use our plan, which addresses the years 2020–2025, to guide decision‑making and resource allocation. I am personally committed to using our plan in this manner.

During the past several years, WSU’s senior leadership has demonstrated a willingness to be transparent on budgetary issues. They have worked to improve internal communications within the WSU community, and they have worked with campus governance groups to tackle challenging issues. We will bring this same spirit of collaboration, transparency, and openness to implementing a bold and visionary plan for our future through our system strategic plan.

Development of revised budget model

In my August letter to the campus community, I discussed initiating a process to build an improved budget model for the WSU system. While we can conceptualize several different ways to improve our budget model, there are several key steps that need to take place first.

Most important, we need to know what it actually costs to operate academic and administrative functions. As we examine different budgeting models, it is natural to ask: how much does it cost to operate a particular college or campus? With the formal launch of Workday on July 1, we will be able to develop an accurate “all‑funds” budget picture for the entire WSU system.

We also need to develop a set of core operating principles as part of the planning effort. These principles, combined with a comprehensive and accurate “all‑funds” university budget, can then help shape the development of an improved budget model and budget process. Stacy Pearson, vice president for finance and administration, will work collaboratively with the provost, chancellors, and other members of the community to define the optimal budget model.

While it is important that we move forward with creating an improved budget model, I want to emphasize that whatever model we create will be driven by our strategic plan, core operating principles, and organizational culture. The model will be thoroughly vetted with the University community before implementation, and then it will be implemented over a period of time to minimize any potential disruptions to our educational mission.

Working group focused on system leadership roles and responsibilities

As we have worked through our strategic planning process, one of the issues that continues to arise is a lack of clarity about the system‑level roles and responsibilities of University leaders such as chancellors, deans, and vice presidents. Executive Policy 29 was significantly revised in 2015 to clarify roles and responsibilities involving academic programs. However, as the complexity of the WSU system continues to grow, it is important to clearly define who has decision‑making responsibility across other areas of the University.

I have convened a working group to begin addressing this topic during the spring semester. Chip Hunter, dean of the Carson College of Business, will chair the 5‑member team. The other members are Theresa Elliot‑Cheslek, chief human resource officer; Laura Griner‑Hill, vice provost for faculty development and affairs; Sandra Haynes, WSU Tri‑Cities chancellor; and A.G. Rud, former chair of the WSU Faculty Senate and distinguished professor of cultural studies and social thought in education.

My thanks to the group for their willingness to tackle these complex organizational issues. We will keep the community informed on a regular basis as the work proceeds.

I know this is a long letter, but it is important to make every effort to keep the community up‑to‑date about these activities with far‑reaching implications. I appreciate the opportunity to serve as president of WSU, and I always welcome the feedback you provide about the ways we can do things better.

Again, happy Thanksgiving (and beat UW!).