Rawlins looks ahead in State of the University Address

For a man embarking on his final year as president of Washington State University, V. Lane Rawlins spent a lot of time looking ahead Tuesday at his annual State of the University address at the Beasley Performing Arts Coliseum on the Pullman campus.

“I don’t even want to think about that today,” Rawlins said, referring to talk of his retirement. “There is so much to do this year and we have a marvelous team working on it.”

In July, Rawlins announced plans to retire as president in June 2007. He became WSU’s 9th president in June 2000.

In his speech, Rawlins traced the historical and emerging trends in higher education and said that WSU is particularly well-positioned to be a leader.

“For us the destination is becoming increasingly clear. We want to be and can be one of the elite institutions in the world” in both education and research, Rawlins said.

Rawlins discussed the post-World War II events that led to the growth of WSU and other major universities as research institutions.

“Now we are concerned with a new crisis,” Rawlins said, pointing to the numerous recent reports and studies pointing to shortages of U.S. students who are graduating in science, math and engineering. “Suddenly the issue is undergraduate education again.”

Rawlins said that public funding of higher education has not kept pace with the funding for other public priorities. That led to tuition increases that consistently outpaced inflation, pricing more students out of higher education. But Rawlins said WSU’s focus on undergraduate education in the university’s strategic plan, adopted shortly after his return to WSU, puts the university in a particularly good position to respond to the emerging demands.

WSU’s biennial budget proposal, which Rawlins discussed in his address, asks for $14 million over the next two years specifically targeted toward increasing the number of students in these technical fields.

Other elements of the budget package are a major agricultural research initiative, a salary increase package to attract and retain faculty and staff, a joint effort with the University of Washington to increase medical education in Spokane and a biofuels initiative focused on the emerging partnership between WSU Tri-Cities and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratories.

As has become customary in these speeches, Rawlins ended his comments with a slightly expanded list of Top 10 WSU accomplishments of the previous year.

The list includes the strengthening of WSU’s international programs, the advancement of the university’s image statewide, outstanding performance by the business and budget offices, the growth of the university’s branch campuses, the growing importance of the arts at WSU, the good work of volunteer board members; the successes and growth of the university’s diversity programs, fundraising successes, strengthening public-private partnerships, construction of new facilities, advances in undergraduate education and outstanding accomplishments in research and scholarship.

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