Next steps in advancing ONEWSU concept

Dear Faculty and Staff:

We hope this note finds you well as we all continue to deal with the challenges of COVID‑19.

It is encouraging to see signs of progress in the effort to get the pandemic under control in the United States—not the least of which is getting vaccines into the arms of Americans coast to coast. Viewed from a medical and scientific perspective, it is an amazing feat to develop and manufacture large amounts of an effective vaccine in such a compressed timeframe.

As the vaccine rollout proceeds, we will continue to make decisions guided by a safety-first mentality as we plan to gradually reintroduce more in‑person experiences at WSU campuses statewide in the coming months. Our thanks, again, to all of the WSU faculty, staff, and students who are contributing to the efforts to return the state to normalcy.

In various forums throughout the fall 2020 semester, we discussed some of the next steps needed to further develop the WSU system. Among the high-priority goals driving our efforts:

  • the need to strengthen the University’s ability to support the educational and professional goals of our students,
  • the need to strengthen the University’s ability to support the interests and professional development of our faculty and staff, and
  • the need to create a system-wide environment that is truly equitable, diverse, and inclusive.

Kirk’s September campus letter addressed some of the related topics: individual campus designations, the desire to move toward a more interconnected and interdependent system, and the beginning of the process to create a strategic plan specific to WSU Pullman. Continuing the theme of system evolution, the October campus letter covered some of the next steps in implementation of the WSU system plan, the use of vice president titles to refer to system-level responsibilities and chancellor titles to refer to campus-level responsibilities, and the formation of several new advisory councils to discuss and refine plans about the system.

As the conversations continue and we further define—and refine—both philosophical and operational details about how the system will function, it is important that we base the path forward on the principles and commitments outlined in the WSU system strategic plan and that they reflect the insights contained in the roles and responsibilities report completed in June.

In order to stimulate additional community dialogue, we recently developed 2 brief white papers that describe some proposed next steps:

This provides an overview of the ONEWSU concept and highlights qualities that make each campus unique. We also share insights about how the systems of some of our peer institutions operate, describe the need to separate the current dual jobs of WSU system president and WSU Pullman chancellor, and define the role and responsibilities of those 2 positions.

This addresses ways to achieve the highest level of operational excellence across the WSU system. We include proposals to separate the functions and processes that can be managed most effectively and efficiently at the system level from those that can be managed most effectively and efficiently at the campus level.

We also propose that WSU campuses take on greater autonomy in some key academic functions (for example, tenure and promotion processes and new academic program development). Additionally, we address the need to separate the system-level responsibilities of the provost from those of a vice chancellor for academic affairs for WSU Pullman. Finally, we propose a timeline for system optimization.

(Need an accessible version of the white papers? Email Hailey Rupp.)

We have shared both of these white papers with several groups across the WSU system, sparking some lively and helpful dialogue and debate. We welcome your thoughts as well. You can provide input here or via the Faculty Senate blog.

Because several common issues have arisen as the community has read the white papers, we have addressed some of the most frequently asked questions below.

Q: Won’t these proposed changes to the University’s administration be expensive at a time of strained budgets and only add to administrative bloat?

A: We intend to implement these structural changes involving administrative positions largely by redeploying current WSU personnel. Creating job descriptions that clearly delineate campus-level versus system-level responsibilities will allow us to streamline many administrative functions.

Q: Will these proposed changes mean that each campus will be separately accredited?

A: WSU will continue its single, system-wide approach to accreditation—meaning that all campuses will remain part of a Research 1 (R1) university and that graduates of all campuses will receive the same WSU diploma, as is currently the case.

Q: Why undertake this now?

A: With the completion of the system strategic plan last May and the roles and responsibilities report shortly thereafter—combined with all the lessons learned during the pandemic—it is an ideal time to move forward. Doing so will advance our ability to achieve a number of system-wide goals: 1) a high quality, seamless student experience, 2) administrative efficiency, 3) heightened accountability, and 4) greater nimbleness to support innovation and respond to external challenges.

Q: Would considering some greater delegated authority for campuses mean jeopardizing our R1 status with the Carnegie Foundation and others?

A: As long as there is no proposal or movement toward separate accreditation, we will continue to report our research expenditures as a system, and, therefore, our R1 status would not be affected.

We expect, and welcome, additional questions. Each month we will respond to these questions on our system FAQ webpage (currently in development). We will also highlight some of the most common topics in monthly update letters like this one to the campus community.

Each of the next several months we also plan to share additional white papers describing other details about the proposed structure of the evolved WSU system. We will address topics such as student affairs, research, finance and administration, and health sciences. We will share these white papers broadly to ensure everyone at WSU has ample opportunities to engage with us.

Change is difficult and can bring with it significant apprehension. However, this moment in our institutional history offers an opportunity to work together to expand and enhance the University’s ability to serve our state and our region while advancing the WSU community’s longstanding desire to strengthen the ONEWSU concept.

Our future is bright, and we look forward to a bigger and better WSU system in the future. We hope you will join in the conversation and help guide us on the best path forward.

Go Cougs!

Kirk Schulz

Elizabeth Chilton
Provost and Executive Vice President