PULLMAN – WSU’s president is back in the classroom.
Elson S. Floyd is teaching a weekly, three-hour graduate seminar this fall. It is something he has done at each of the four other universities where he served as president or vice president. During last spring’s intense discussions about how to cope with sharply declining state revenues, he decided to teach again.
“I knew that we were going to have to ask everyone to do more with less. For some faculty, that meant teaching an additional section. And I believe very much in leadership by example,” he said. “So my very complicated schedule has gotten a little bit more complicated.”
The time demands on university administrators are intense. According to a 2006 survey conducted by the American Council on Education, only 17 percent of presidents at public colleges and universities, and 24 percent of those at private institutions, taught a course by themselves. More than 14 percent of all presidents taught a class as part of a team.
Floyd, who took the top WSU job in 2006, is teaching higher education administration, “because that’s all I know.” The 15 students in his course – he refers to them as colleagues – are mostly full-time university employees working on advanced degrees, or students who work part-time in various campus programs as graduate assistants.
“They are colleagues, because we will all be in this profession together,” he said. “I’m just elated with their excitement and enthusiasm.”
Class participants are expected to learn to do significant research on one of the course topics and to produce an article worthy of publication in a scholarly journal.
Shane McKee signed up for the course because he liked the list of topics, such as university governance, finance, globalization, fundraising and marketing. Plus, he had been impressed when he heard Floyd gave a guest lecture at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. At the time, Floyd was president of the entire University of Missouri system.
“He talked about his experience in student affairs, how he worked his way up. He talked about finances and raising money,” McKee said, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in higher education and works in the office of Student Involvement and Leadership Development. “I remember him vividly, just his personality and being able to relate well to him.”
Floyd’s second class session this year dealt with demographics and enrollment trends. He spent most of the three hours on his feet, leading a lively discussion and writing on the whiteboard with a blue marker. One trend he emphasized was the “browning and graying of America” – the need for universities to be sensitive to the needs of more students of color, and to older people who are back in the classroom.
John Fraire, WSU’s vice president of enrollment management, was on hand to explain WSU’s strategies for finding the best students and providing financial aid. Floyd plans to bring in other faculty and staff members to share their expertise.
Floyd sees teaching as a way of encouraging graduate students and getting to know more of them personally. He said he has also gained a better sense of some of the practical issues that faculty members face. For example, his class was assigned to Room 206 in the Smith Center for Undergraduate Education. However, Smith has no Room 206.
“So then we went to 216, but 216 was not set up in seminar style, which is what we wanted, so now we’re in 218. Only, I had no (whiteboard) writing implements for the first class, so there was paper spread all over the floor,” he said. “Believe me, there were no special privileges afforded me as president.”
Floyd said he will only be able to teach during fall semester. “In the spring, it’s impossible, because the Legislature is in session and I can be called to Olympia on a moment’s notice.”