Dear Faculty and Staff:

Welcome back for the fall 2020 semester. Despite lack of the usual visible evidence of the hustle and bustle that takes place throughout the WSU system as we begin a new academic year, I know all of you worked extremely hard to make our opening successful. Thank you so much.

The last several months have continued to create unprecedented stress for our community. The uncertainty surrounding COVID‑19, the state of the economy, and the issues involving systemic racism and social justice are among the concerns that need our attention. I deeply appreciate all of your efforts during these times in support of WSU and the resilience you demonstrate each day as you juggle a multitude of work- and life-related tasks.

I hope that you were able to escape the day‑to‑day worries for at least a short while during the summer. Taking time for peaceful and relaxing activities is more imperative than ever during this pandemic. Noel and I were able to load up our Airstream and spend time exploring the Arches and Canyonlands national parks in Utah this summer—a first for both of us. I continue to marvel at the beauty of our national parks and look forward to future camping and hiking at several of the other national parks in Utah, including Zion, Bryce Canyon, and Capitol Reef.

One of the key challenges for all of us this fall is finding ways to relieve some of the stresses caused by the work environment. I recently talked to some of the senior leadership at WSU to explore ways we could assist our community with better balancing of work and life responsibilities. As a result of those conversations, here are some of the ideas and practices we want to implement this semester:

  • Write shorter emails. I generally take emails at face value while others may not (which can create misunderstandings). Please set up a short video or regular phone call when the topic for discussion may be sensitive or the conversation difficult.
  • Ask yourself if we really need a new committee or a meeting to get things done. We should continue to be as efficient as possible and recognize that everyone’s time is limited. We can, and should, lead by example and schedule shorter and fewer meetings whenever possible.
  • Some universities and colleges try to avoid sending emails from leadership after regular work hours. Instead, people who work in the evening queue up their emails for the next day and send them early in the morning. If you do need to send an email outside of normal work hours, please include language that lets the recipient know you do not expect a response at that time. Wording along these lines is clear: While I am sending this email now, I do not expect a response or action outside of your own regular work hours.
  • I encourage all of us to take Zoom, email, and social media breaks as needed. We do not expect 24/7 monitoring.
  • When urgent issues come up after regular work hours that cannot wait until the next day to be addressed, I encourage texting colleagues. Otherwise, rely on email during regular work hours to conduct business.
  • We will avoid communicating significant information on Fridays in order to give everyone one day a week free of a new worry or issue to consider. Instead, we will plan to provide updates about the University, town hall meetings, and other matters during normal business hours Monday through Thursday.

I am sure that many of you may have other suggestions that would help destress our work environment. I welcome your ideas.

I do want to ensure we provide frequent updates to you throughout the semester about important University developments. With that goal in mind, I will continue to send a monthly email letter to our community that I will try to keep mostly free of COVID‑19 information. These communications will be supplemented by digital communications from Provost Elizabeth Chilton, Vice President of Student Affairs Mary Jo Gonzales, and Vice President for Finance and Administration Stacy Pearson—as well as our COVID‑19 related updates as needed. We will also push content via WSU social media channels and hold online town hall meetings every 3 weeks or so during the semester. My goal is to carefully balance the need to keep you as informed as possible with a desire to avoid overwhelming you with too much redundant information.

Good luck as the semester proceeds. Your efforts to work together for the good of our students, our research, and our service-related activities—despite all of our challenges—inspire me to come to work every day filled with enthusiasm about WSU’s future. I look forward to working with you throughout the fall and the spring semester to come.

As always, feel free to reach out to me with your suggestions, concerns, and questions.

Go Cougs!
Kirk