Campus climate, DACA, university update focus of town hall meeting
By Meredith Metsker, University Communications
PULLMAN, Wash. — Washington State University is focusing on action when it comes to balancing the budget and addressing concerns about campus climate and the rescinding of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, President Kirk Schulz said Tuesday.
Addressing about 50 students, faculty and staff from the Carson College of Business during the second of 16 town halls, Schulz and Provost Dan Bernardo provided updates about the university and answered questions.
As a first step to support the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, Schulz said he and all the presidents of Washington’s public universities, community colleges and four-year schools signed a letter Tuesday backing the program and its importance to Washington state.
“You’ll see lots of affirmation-type things coming out, which is fine, but then you say what does that really do, practically?” Schulz said.
WSU will throw its energy into legal action and working through Congress. Along with the University of Washington, WSU participated in a multi-state lawsuit filed Wednesday by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson seeking to halt President Trump’s decision to end DACA. Schulz said WSU also plans to work with Washington’s influential congressional delegation.
“Most of those folks have been very public in their commitment to the DACA program,” Schulz said.
Campus climate and diversity
WSU’s student population has grown increasingly diverse over the last five years, but the same hasn’t happened among faculty and staff. This is a top priority for the university, Schulz and Bernardo said, so that all students have faculty, staff and advisors they can talk to and feel comfortable with. In the past academic year, WSU has hired three leaders of color into senior leadership positions: Mary Jo Gonzales, vice president for student affairs; Paul Pitre, chancellor, WSU Everett; and Stacy Pearson, vice president for finance and administration.
Schulz said the university is also addressing campus climate concerns and understands frustrations about progress taking too long. Last week, Schulz and Bernardo met with students who organized the Aug. 25 sit-in in French Administration, and now they are working to address the issues raised. Schulz said he will meet with the student representatives again next week. Once a plan of action is created, Schulz will share it with the campus community.
“We’ve got some work to do, but I think as long as everybody’s willing to come together and work together on it, we’ll get there,” he said. ”It won’t ever be as fast as everybody wants, but I think we’ve got to show some progress, too.”
Last year, WSU enrolled a record 30,000 students system-wide, and continued growth is expected in coming years. Most of the growth has occurred at the non-Pullman campuses, particularly with the addition of the Everett campus.
As of fall 2016, the student body demographically was 58% white, 13% Hispanic, 7% international, 6% Asian, and 3% African American, with the rest being other races or unknown. Schulz and Bernardo said the university hopes to continue increasing student diversity to reflect the changing demographics of the state. Schulz said he also sees an opportunity to greatly increase the number of international students.
“At most top 25 public research universities, this number would be larger,” he said, “because it adds to the intellectual climate on campus and prepares our students to work in a global marketplace, so I think you’ll see that grow.”
WSU reserve funds have decreased by $115 million since fiscal year 2013. The university is taking steps to combat the deficit and reduce overspending through actions that include:
- Placing on hold on any capital projects for which funding is not fully identified and in hand
- Instituting recovery plans for units that overspent
- Critically reviewing new and vacant positions before filling them
- Creating a recovery plan to reduce athletics’ deficit
- Replacing aged finance, payroll and human resource software systems
In fiscal year 2017, the university overspent by about $30 million ($8 million by athletics). Schulz said his goal is to reduce the overspending to $20 million in FY 2018, to $10 million in FY 2019, and eliminate it in FY 2020.
Drive to 25
WSU aims to be a top 25 public research university by the year 2030. Schulz said the university is using 11 metrics to measure progress, including four Association of American Universities (AAU) metrics, four peer-comparison metrics, and three WSU-specific metrics.
Schulz has also formed action groups and identified leaders to monitor and measure progress for each of the 11 metrics. Many of the groups already have started meeting and are drafting action plans. The plans will be posted online in November for review and comment by the WSU community. For more information, visit wsu.edu/drive-to-25.
Future town halls
Town halls will resume Friday, Sept. 8 in Spokane and continue through September 20. For a full schedule, visit president.wsu.edu/town-hall.