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Graduate future demands culture change

The Graduate Education Commission, after a year of gathering and analyzing data, has completed its assignment, emerging with a proposed 10-year road map that could dramatically “change the future of the university.” Its recommendations, if enacted, are intended to move the graduate program “out of the 20th century” and position the university as an educational leader both nationally and among its peers.

The 26-member “blue ribbon” commission — comprised of 19 faculty, six ex officio members from all colleges and most campuses, and one external member — put its stamp of approval on the 33-page proposal on Friday, Feb. 10. The report addresses everything from assessment to funding and culture. Early this week, it was posted online at for faculty and staff review and comment.

Howard Grimes, dean of the Graduate School, described the GEC’s conclusions and recommendations as “bold, forward thinking and intellectually challenging,” and encouraged faculty to review the document, provide feedback (even if they do not agree with the initial recommendations) and become involved. Comments are needed by March 3.

Grimes labeled the report as a “call to arms.” Briefly put, it asserts that the university needs to increase its number of graduate students by more than 50 percent over the next 10 years, from 3,155 to about 4,800, with most of the growth to be focused in the doctoral area.

A driving force
“One of the driving forces behind this effort is the fact that WSU has a low percentage of graduate students and a low ratio of Ph.D. to master’s students,” said Richard Shumway, professor in the School of Economic Sciences and chair of the Graduate Education Commission (GEC). Currently, 10.6 percent (1,982 students) of WSU Pullman’s total student population is graduate students. “That’s pretty stark compared to our peers and major research universities in the American Association of Universities. Our peers average 16 percent. For individual universities the percentage ranges from 11 to 22, and we are at the bottom.”

That number differs, however, for the branch campuses — WSU Spokane has 437 graduate students, 28.5 percent; WSU Tri-Cities 346 students, 30.2 percent; and WSU Vancouver 474 students, 24.2 percent. All totaled, WSU’s graduate population is 3,151 graduate students, 13.5 percent.

If the plan is successful, WSU’s overall graduate population would rise to about 17 percent by 2015.

Failure not an option
Failure to actively pursue this goal, Grimes said, is not an option. “Graduate education and research is what distinguishes WSU. It’s what sets us apart from other regional state universities. It’s at the core of our mission and we have got to excel at it.”

The report states: “The commission has attempted to identify barriers that need to be removed and incentives essential for necessary change. None of this will work, however, unless there is effective cooperation between and among faculty, departments, schools, colleges, campuses and university leaders.

“The commission has the full expectation that this report will help shape the future of the university, and we will emerge as a stronger, more intellectually vibrant (institution).” The report strives to “convey a new identity for graduate education” and “issue a strong set of challenges to the university that will deeply and positively alter our environment.”

The biggest hurdle to achieving these goals, Shumway said, is that “we have to change our culture and that means faculty have to become universally committed to providing high quality graduate-level education. We make a few quantitative recommendations in the report, but everything is driven by quality goals. We argue that if we focus first on quality, the numbers will respond.”

Problem exists universitywide
Many GEC representatives came in believing there was an overall problem, Shumway said, but did not think it applied to their college or department. After requesting and studying lots of statistics, however, it was realized that the problem was universitywide and every department needs to participate in the solution. “Currently, nearly half of our faculty members do not serve as chairs of any Ph.D. graduate committee — and that’s true of faculty in all ranks. Even on a unit-by-unit comparison that holds true.”

In addition to calling for an increase in the number of graduates, the report also focuses on the quality and diversity of graduate students.

“We need to significantly increase our efforts to attract the best and brightest graduate students, as well as a more diverse population,” Shumway said. “An excellent student body is a diverse student body. We are not very diverse as a faculty or student body. This effort has got to include the faculty. To attract more diverse graduate students, we have to also attract a more diverse faculty.”

The GEC also calls for the development and implementation of a “performance-based model for assessing” graduate-level programs. “We need to invest in those programs that have the greatest potential for achieving excellence,” said Shumway. “That will include both disciplinary and interdisciplinary programs. The latter can be greatly facilitated by successful training grants, which foster growth.”

13 recommendations
The heart of the report centers around 13 recommendations for “transforming graduate education” at WSU, which are divided into three sections:

A. Fundamental Change in Our Culture and Goals for Graduate Education
1. Articulate a university commitment to graduate education, especially to the doctoral programs, and develop and implement precise policies, procedures and resources to deliver on this commitment.
2. Develop and implement a performance-driven model for routinely assessing and evaluating the quality of our graduate programs.
3. At least double the number of Ph.D. graduates (to roughly 300+) and increase the overall percentage of graduate enrollment in the student body to 17 percent by 2015 while simultaneously increasing quality in all aspects of graduate education.
4. Significantly enhance and expand efforts to attract a cadre of the brightest, diverse students and faculty to WSU.
5. Develop new, and augment existing, revenue streams to support significant growth of our graduate programs and build strong interdisciplinary programs.

B. Promotion of Interdisciplinary Opportunities
6. Clarify the roles of centers, institutes, departments, schools and programs.
7. Implement a series of changes to facilitate increased success and appropriate recognition in developing and implementing interdisciplinary graduate programs and student/faculty opportunities.
8. Quadruple the number of training grants in the next decade.

C. Improving the Student Climate and Promoting Leadership Opportunities
9. Enhance graduate student experiences, including experiences that prepare students to compete and provide leadership in multicultural America and the global community.
10. Provide and promote universitywide opportunities for graduate students to develop effective leadership skills.
11. Include postdoctorates in these opportunities whenever possible and create an environment where their success and career development is enhanced.
12. Improve universitywide career counseling for graduate students.
13. Enhance systemwide, multi-technology opportunities for graduate student education and develop appropriate models to ensure rigor.

Achieving the GEC’s goals “basically comes down to ramping up what we already do,” said Grimes. “But, we also need to recognize that it will require a prolonged, sustained focus at the university level to achieve this.” 

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Graduate Education Commission membership includes:

* David Bahr, Associate Professor, School of Mechanical & Materials Engineering

* Donald A. Bender, Director, Wood Materials and Engineering Laboratory, and Professor, Civil & Environmental Engineering

* Karl A. Boehmke, Executive Budget Director, Budget Office

* Wendy C. Brown, Professor, Veterinary Microbiology & Pathology

* Steven R. Burkett, Associate Dean, Graduate School

* Cynthia L. Corbett, Associate Professor, College of Nursing

* William B. Davis, Assistant Professor, School of Molecular Biosciences

* J. Thomas Dickinson, Regents Professor, Physics and Astronomy

* Don A. Dillman, Regents Professor, Sociology, and Deputy Director, Social & Economic Sciences Research Center

* Lenoar Foster, Associate Professor, Educational Leadership & Counseling Psychology

* Stergios B. Fotopoulos, Professor, Management and Operations

* Howard D. Grimes, Dean, Graduate School
DaVina Hoyt, President, Graduate and Professional Student Association

* Carol S. Ivory, Professor, Fine Arts

* Norman G. Lewis, Director, Institute of Biological Chemistry

* Michael M. Morgan, Professor, Psychology, and Director of Research and Graduate Education, WSU Vancouver

* John Nilson, Director, School of Molecular Biosciences

* William L. Pan, Chair and Professor, Crop and Soil Sciences

* Susan Dente Ross, Associate Professor, School of Communication, and Associate Dean, Liberal Arts

* Sally Savage, Vice President, University Relations

* Dawn M. Shinew, Associate Professor, Teaching and Learning

* C. Richard Shumway, [co-chair] Professor, School of Economic Sciences

* Michael J. Tate, Vice President, Equity and Diversity

* Orlando L. Taylor, [co-chair] Dean of Graduate School, Howard University

* Joe Valacich, Professor, Management Information Systems

* Kelly A. Ward, Associate Professor, Educational Leadership & Counseling Psychology

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