By Dr. Kirk H. Schulz and Dr. Elizabeth S. Chilton
January 27, 2021
Over the past 18 months, Washington State University (WSU) has put in place a strategic plan for the WSU System and structured a strong active planning environment for the university. This work has placed WSU at a crossroads for how to continue to evolve and operate as a system.
Though there are many pathways forward, two primary options emerge. The first option would largely keep the current leadership structure in place, with the system roles largely house on the Pullman campus. This has worked reasonably well for the past 30 years. However, it does not provide the flexibility for substantial growth outside of the Pullman campus. It also presents with organizational inefficiencies embedded in the sometimes overly complicated matrix organization.
The second option would be to strengthen the original intent of the creation of the WSU System and build a foundation for future growth that explicitly recognizes the strong bond between communities and the WSU campuses that service those communities. This pathway would focus on more self-governance and delegated authority for WSU campuses, while optimizing many operations at the system level. Doing so would allow WSU to better serves its students and constituencies, while at the same time, ensuring quality, communication, and coordination at the system level. This option prepares WSU for post-COVID growth and opportunity. Through the system strategic planning process, a set of principles were adopted as part of the process to define how the WSU system operates. Many of these principles have been espoused at WSU for many years and are a reflection of a desire for a strong WSU system: OneWSU degree, OneWSU faculty, OneWSU commitment to shared accountability, operational excellence, fiscal stewardship, data informed decision-making, and community partnerships. Building and maintaining a strong system requires that each campus has clear, articulated delegated authority and access to strong set of system-level administration and support services.
To continue to move forward with system planning, three of our existing OneWSU operating principles need to be expanded for system growth and optimization.
Since its inception, WSU has set itself apart from many of our peer institutions through its commitment to serve the public good and educating the next generation of problem solvers, innovators, and leaders. The university’s efforts have always been grounded in the creation of practical solutions that benefit the greatest number of people. The vision for OneWSU carries this wholeheartedly. To create systemwide operational excellence, it is critical to articulate which functions and processes should be managed at system level, and which are better suited in localized, campus control, and to build a system structure that supports the integrations of both. Throughout this process, WSU will continue to grow the interconnected nature of its campuses and teaching, research, and extension centers, while celebrating that which makes each location—and the community it serves—distinct. The OneWSU Operating Excellence principle must reflect both the need for “centralized” and “decentralized” functions, with an emphasis on clear accountability and responsibility.
Our OneWSU faculty principle must empower each campus to assume primary responsibility for hiring, supporting, and mentoring faculty members to meet the unique needs of each campus location. This means broadening the “one faculty” core statement. Each campus has different student bodies, degree programs, resources to support faculty scholarship, teaching loads, and access to graduate students and post-doctoral researchers. More individual campus autonomy with respect to faculty allows each location to optimize their needs, and most importantly, ensure faculty success in supporting the unique mission of each campus and the system as a whole. A more decentralized faculty structure could look like the following:
For this to work effectively, it will require a strong chief academic officer for the WSU system. Just as the WSU President currently serves as the Chancellor of the Pullman campus, the Provost and Executive Vice President also serves as the VCAA for WSU Pullman. These positions would also need to be split with specific duties as follows: