Football, the athletics deficit, the role of teaching in the Drive to 25, measuring progress, graduate enrollment, airport expansion, and expressions of free speech
Q: Could you please address the issue of the athletics budget deficit, as well as the current situation with the arrest of multiple members of the football team? There was an article in the newspaper stating that you plan to sit down with the athletic director and coach at the end of this season. I just wonder, is that soon enough?
Kirk Schulz: Yes, suffice it to say it’s been an interesting week. Allow me to start with the conduct issues.
The University has a clear process in place for any student—athlete or not—involved in an altercation. And there is another process in place that the police use. Sometimes they run in parallel and sometimes they end in different places and at different times.
Do I like reading about WSU student issues like this in the newspaper? Absolutely not.
We want a safe campus where all of our students and student-athletes can come, get together, have a good time, go to class, and we don’t want anybody being hurt doing that. That’s our bottom line.
However, we have to let these processes play out. And whether the news media or the football coach or me as president or anybody else would like to see the process go quicker, the fact of the matter is that we have processes in place and we need to let them play completely out.
I think some of the stuff in the news media over the past week has implied that we ought to just go ahead and make a decision on this student or on that situation without going through the due processes that’s in place.
We are going to let these situations move through the established processes, and then at the end of the season I will sit down session with the athletic director and coach or student life professionals and ask ‘Are the processes that we have in place working? And, are the internal penalties within our athletic programs appropriate and meeting our needs, or are we having serious issues year in and year out that need some addressing in a different form or fashion.
It’s tempting to want to do something right now and produce some favorable headlines, but I’m more interested in establishing long-term solutions that make sense. To do that, we need to pull ourselves out of the heat of the moment and sit down and have a more logical discussion.
I met with the police chief about some of the accusations that were out there. We had a really good discussion, which is important for us to continue.
On the second topic regarding the athletics budget—ideally, I would have much preferred to have entered a situation where the athletic department was a revenue generator. But, that not being the case, one of the things I was tasked with and talked to the regents about is putting together a plan to correct this situation.
Now, it’s not going to be a perfect solution. People won’t like some parts of it, but we’re going to put it together and lay it out there, and it will be fiscally transparent. Generally, it will take about four years to correct the situation, but people will be able to see how we plan to accomplish that goal, and how we’re progressing on a year-by-year basis.
I completely expect there to be pushback over different aspects of that proposed plan, including a possible increase in student fees and things like that.
I’m trying to remind everybody that regarding student fees that there is a clear process that must be followed. The president cannot and should not be able to impose any fee, regardless of whether it is something I like or dislike.
I met with student leadership today and we’re going to let it roll another month or so, and I suspect that in the end we’re going to elect to not even put it (a fee increase proposal) out there for inclusion in a student election.
Ultimately, we’ll put together a solution that’s imperfect and will require some additional adjustments, but we’ll get there. At the end of that process, athletics will begin paying back to the institution some of the debt they’ve accumulated.
Right now, from my perspective, we’re sort of hemorrhaging. So for me, step one is to stop the hemorrhaging.
Q: Regarding the student fee topic, when you say you might not even put it out there for a vote, does that mean that it might happen without a student vote?
KS: Number one, it cannot happen without a student vote. Second, there is a clear process in which student leadership first has to select what things get put on the ballot for students to vote on. Then, if it’s put on the ballot, it has to receive—I think—51% support of the students who voted. And then, if it is passed, it becomes a recommendation to the regents for approval. So there are all these steps that must be taken, and I can’t wave a wand and make that happen.
Q: There is a lot of emphasis being placed on the Grand Challenges and research in your presentations. But as a land-grant university, part of our mission is teaching. And I’m not seeing any mention of that. Can you talk about your vision for instruction and teaching at the University.
KS: When we talk about being a top 25 research university, I want us to be top 25 in all that we do.
One of the easiest areas to measure is scholarship, because we can count dollars and publications and things like that. But I want us to also have a top 25 educational experience for our undergraduate and graduate students.
The question is, what does that need to look like? That is an interesting discussion in and of itself, and it is one of the top areas in which our students and alumni can help us.
For example, we’d like to hear from them, if they hypothetically had an infinite amount of money, what one or two things would they change about Washington State University?
I’m looking forward to getting out there and having this dialogue and hearing what they think currently makes, or can make, WSU absolutely unique in a world of public universities that all offer excellent degrees.
In my mind, I think it might include the ability to conduct meaningful groundbreaking research and scholarship at the undergraduate level, or having a life-changing international experience.
When WSU students graduate, we want them to be able to say, not only did I get a great education and degree, but I learned a lot about life and I’m prepared for those next steps and to continue learning.
Dan Bernardo: We need to define what the core elements are to creating that transformation experience for students, regardless of what majors or degrees they are pursuing or what campus they are on.
One element of undergraduate programs that we know we are good at, and that we are consistently ranked highly in, is taking students from underrepresented groups—including low income, first generation college students—and helping them graduate and succeed in society. This is about our land-grant mission and our dedication to access and our mission to change lives.
Some programs offer these out-of-classroom experiences, and some don’t. One of the things we need to do is to make sure these transformational experiences are available to all our students.
It’s a matter of faculty, facilities, funding, mission, and providing those developmental experiences both in and out of the classroom, which the president talked about.
We have a plethora of ideas and initiatives for improving and driving student success and student experience, including curriculum, advisors, freshman courses, various tools. Ultimately, however, a lot more needs to be done.
A lot of our focus over the past couple years has been one metric, and that’s freshman to sophomore retention rate. We graduate 67% of the students, but we lose 20% between the first and second year. We do a great job of retaining those students once we get them into the second year. We drove that up about 1.5% this past year, which doesn’t sound like much, but that’s how you get there. And we have a goal of increasing that to 80-85% over the next five years.
Q: Regarding the Drive to 25 indices. How are we doing in terms of growing our graduate student levels?
DB: Our graduate level enrollment has flattened over the past 3 years. If you look at our graduate level over time, about 5 years ago we had a huge increase in doctoral enrollment, and it was quite intentional. The University put quite a focus on that. But during the same period our graduate student levels decreased.
When looking at the AAU metrics and how we compare to other universities, this is definitely our number one weakness.
The Graduate School does an excellent job in terms of what they do, but we need to increase our enrollment levels. Plus we need to expand those transformative experiences for our graduate students. For example, we need to explore things like: How we can expand their teaching experiences and training so that they are better prepared for careers in the academy? How can we better prepare our graduate students for nonacademy jobs? How do we better prepare them for grant writing?
Q: Can you please talk about where we are today in regards to WSU and the expansion of the Pullman-Moscow Airport?
KS: I think the airport discussion might have been characterized 4 to 5 months ago as a Taj Mahal vs. a dirt runway debate. But it’s come a long, long way since then.
Olivia Yang, associate vice president of facilities services, has been working hard with the airport board and the mayor to come to some consensus over issues like what we need, what do the dollar costs look like, what structures we need to move and not move.
We had to give Avista right-of-way approval to relocate some power poles and things like that.
I think the reason you haven’t seen much in the media lately is because we’ve been moving ahead quite well.
Reality is, we need that airport and that runway to be exceptional for Washington State University and the Drive to 25. I think we’re impeded in some ways by the current airport, in that during the winter months flights are not as reliable as we’d like or need them to be.
If we’re going to be a high-ranking university, we need air travel and jet service in and out of here on a consistent basis for faculty, staff, students, and our corporate partners. In fact, I would label this a critical factor in the 25 success.
Q: Knowing the number of students that identify as a minority at WSU, what is your take on the fence that will be built (by Trump student supporters) on Terrell Mall in October? The freedom of speech policies here do not prevent this from happening. Does this seem to you to be the best way to represent the opinions of Republican students on campus and the values of WSU in making freshman minorities feel welcome here?
KS: Dan and myself and Melinda Huskey, who serves as our interim vice president for student affairs and the dean of students, will put a letter out to campus next week that talks about several things.
We believe that regardless of someone’s views, they should be allowed to express them on a college campus and community. I might find someone’s viewpoint abhorrent or disagree or not like their way of communicating it, but I’m a big believer that college campuses have got to be a place where people can express different viewpoints.
That means, at times, we’re going to have somebody or some event that our students, faculty, or staff find objectionable. However, I believe that people have the right to express themselves. I think we’ve got to maintain the freedom of speech.
I would encourage anybody that objects to any of those sorts of things to peacefully demonstrate and express your viewpoint.
Secondly, when it comes to political things, people need to vote. The most powerful thing that somebody can do with a political stance is to register and vote.