Funding the Drive to 25, CAS funding, libraries, dean searches, evaluating graduate student success, staff salaries and support, graduate student stipends, and health insurance
Q: It’s going to be tough without some specific support from the legislature to make Drive to 25 happen. I wonder, if prior to announcing this to the world, you’ve had some conversations with the legislature that make you think some additional support might be forthcoming?
Kirk Schulz: Most of my discussions with legislators have been introductory in nature and talking about the medical school. As part of that conversation, though, I’ve talked about Drive to 25, and I’ve used the analogy that I would like Washington to be like the state of Michigan, where you have the University of Michigan and Michigan State. Two fantastic institutions, world-class schools, and very different in their styles and what they do. We can have two equally world-class institutions in the state of Washington. However, I would actually argue that the state would not do the things it would like to do if it didn’t have two world-class institutions. That’s been well received from both Democrats and Republicans. So the question then becomes ‘what do we need to ask for?’ There are lots of things we need.
I’ll set aside buildings for a moment. Our salaries are not where they need to be for faculty and staff. That’s a concern we have, because we recruit excellent people, but we also need to keep them here. That needs to include salaries, laboratory spaces, and great opportunities. I think the biggest challenge I see is number of faculty. You all, with the numbers that you have, have been super efficient. But at some point, we just need to add more bodies to teach, do research, and things like that.
I want us to be very strategic in what we ask the legislature for. I want to describe the vision, get some excitement behind the vision, and then what happens is people start saying, ‘Kirk, I like this. I see you’re measuring success. What do you need to get there?’ And that’s the conversation we need to be ready to have in the next 2-3 years.
Q: As 60% of the monies for the University now come from undergraduate tuition, and as our college is disproportionately producing those credit hours, are we going to be rebalancing some of those monies to our college so we’re less starved for faculty and space and other resources?
Dan Bernardo: First, I would like to say thank you for all your hard work last year to make a very difficult situation one where we were quite successful. Clearly, we do need to revisit how we allocate funding for enrollment growth. It’s not only where it goes, but how much of it goes.
The good part about the enrollment-based budgeting model was it allowed us to grow the University’s enrollment. The challenge has been utilizing those funds more strategically and pushing them out to the right places, if you will. We have to grow all faculty—clinical, instructors, and tenure-track—not one at the expense of another. We haven’t really used our enrollment growth to build our tenure-track faculty. So we’re going to have to have an exercise around that.
I think the dean would be the first one to say that one of our grandest challenges is that we don’t have enough money to push many of our strategic initiatives from the provost’s office or the president’s office. I think the answer is yes, and it’s not going to happen overnight because you can’t tweak that model too much without really thinking hard about the negative externalities. It’s a discussion we’re already having and have done quite a bit of analysis on.
KS: We need to look at the budget model for the entire institution. Dan mentioned starting with going through each college and unit making a presentation about where their dollars are. But it’s not just that, it’s what the college’s aspirations are and what each of our colleges needs to get where they want to go. It’s also to let us know, centrally, what things people need.
Everybody I know of is always in favor of changing the budget model as long as their unit gets more resources than it had previously. So when we talk to other colleges, they’ll tell us exactly the same thing except they’ll use a different measure.
Putting all that aside, I think most of us don’t feel good about the way we currently do it, and it’s going to require a collaborative effort. We need to talk as a campus, make some decisions, work with our new CFO when that person is hired, communicate widely, and then over a period of years, phase it in to make sure we’re fulfilling our teaching, research, and service missions.
DB: One point I would add is you saw that bar chart. This is not going to be an exercise in getting significant new funding from the legislature. We’ve got to grow that thing, and we’ve got to strategically allocate the funding. That’s the only way to take us to top 25.
Q: My question is in regard to the libraries, which seem to have been largely absent from conversations. I’m a sociologist, and we received an email two months ago saying our top journal was going to be cut, among others. We publish in that journal. I asked a librarian for more information and learned that according to the Chronicle of Higher Ed and the Association of Research Libraries, we’re ranked 108th out of 114th libraries for funding and staffing. It seems to me a big conflict in being a top 25 research university and having a bottom 5th percentile library as a resource. What are some plans to help us not cut our journals and continue our teaching and research?
KS: I wish I had a magic wand answer for this particular one, but a couple things. First is that we heard from many of you and your faculty colleagues when that first announcement came out, and I give Dan a lot of credit. They went and found some money so that it’s not just kicking the can down the road, but also giving us some time to be thoughtful and look for other resources. So I think that conversation, at least, has shifted a little bit for the time being.
The second thing is, it’s an issue nationwide. It’s not even a cut to the library’s budget. It’s a flat budget and the price of serials keeps going up, which means they can do less and less. I think we have to look at the library as a kind of core facility, if you will, for research and scholarship. We’ve got to find ways to make sure that we’re funding it well and that we have the journals and resource materials that faculty need to be successful here.
That also means that we have to have some conversations. There may be things in the library that we don’t really have to have. The librarians can work with us to make sure that we’re being strategic. Something that somebody uses once every five years is different than something that you and your students use on a weekly basis. We’ve got to separate that stuff out. I wish we didn’t have to and we could just acquire, but I want us to have some deliberate discussions and work with the library staff to make sure we have the right resources there.
Q: What are the processes for dean searches? Is there any idea when the CAHNRS dean search will begin?
DB: We have the engineering dean search ongoing. I announced to the CAHNRS community last week that we are initiating that search. Like with all of our dean searches, we’ll be having listening sessions, and anyone can participate. We’ll gain insight about what a CAHNRS dean should look like. I do know one thing, and I’ve assured the CAHRNS people of this, it doesn’t look like me. Maybe I was the right person 12 years ago, but the new person needs a different skill set and a different background.
Just like in engineering, Dean Claiborn did a great job, but it’s a very different looking college now, as is yours, obviously. Your dean has done an absolutely splendid job under some really interesting and difficult circumstances, for the college as well as for him, personally.
We’ll be having those open sessions. Once we have finalists, anybody will be able to participate in that. We will have representation from outside of the college on that search committee, not only stakeholder types because it’s CAHNRS, but also from other colleges.
KS: It’s important for folks to nominate colleagues from around the country or places they think would be really good for those jobs. And not just send a note to the search committee chair, but also reach out to that person at that institution and say ‘Hey, I think this is a great opportunity. I think you’d be well qualified for this. You ought to take a look.’
We sometimes get hung up on having the right search consultant and the composition of the committee. Those are important things, but so often that personal contact from somebody who knows somebody else makes a huge difference. For the engineering dean search, I reached out to a whole bunch of people I knew. I was surprised. I had several people I thought were cemented in where they were that said ‘You know what? I might just take a look at that. I’d like to learn more.’ I think that personal contact plays a big role, and I would urge all of you to interact in that way. It’s very impactful, and frankly, we need outstanding faculty, we need outstanding academic leadership, and you all have a sense sometimes of what’s needed as much as Dan and I do.
DB: We need collaborative deans, and if you look at the ones we’ve hired lately, we’re looking at people who can collaborate. Not just build their own college, but collaborate, build WSU, and be resource acquirers.
Q: I’m a graduate student, and I’m also a part of Teach USA. I have a question regarding student success. The focus is on undergraduate students, and I understand that. But I’m also interested to see what you plan to do to evaluate graduate student success, particularly with retention and the job market. As far as I know, we don’t have any good metrics for tracking where graduate students end up after graduation and what kind of jobs they’re getting.
KS: I think there are a couple things that are important. One, all of our graduate students need to have a terrific research and scholarship experience. I’m going to set that aside, because that’s obvious, and I’m not saying we don’t need to have additional funding for that. It’s the other set of things that I think are important, like professional development opportunities for our graduate students. If people are interested in an academic career, there are a lot of things we can do so that when you get that next great assistant professor position, you feel ready to go, you know your scholarship, plus we’ve done some things to help.
For folks that don’t want to go the academic route, we need to also provide career guidance and mentoring to help people like that to be really successful. As I’ve gone around and visited colleges and academic departments, it’s become apparent that one of the points of pride is where Ph.D. students from those departments go and are placed. I say ‘That’s great. Where is that on the website?’ And they say ‘Well, we don’t really put it on the website. We just tell people.’ We’ve got to do a better job of recognizing that our doctoral and master’s students go out and do lots of different things. We need to do a better job of talking about those things. We need help from a lot of folks on this, but we have some real opportunities here to make this truly one of the best places to be a graduate student.
Q: I’ve seen nothing so far in this campaign on the subject of issues related to staff. I’m hearing a lot of talk about how happy are the students, and student success, and the faculty and if they’re researching. This is a difficult subject for many of us staff members. In many ways, the staff is the foundation of the house, and we’re talking about replacing the roof and shining up the windows. But there are cracks in the foundation. We have low staff salaries. They’re working in buildings dangerous to their health, their workload is tremendous, they’re overburdened, and all of those things can lead to a feeling of devaluation. But if all the staff stood up and walked out tomorrow, the University would come to a grinding halt.
I’m just curious what, if any, of the elements of this campaign might focus on the staff and improving conditions for them, getting feedback, and including them?
KS: Great set of questions. We could talk about that a long time, but let me try to give my usual short answer. The first is, when we talked about doing these sessions, we talked about doing them with faculty, staff, and students. We want staff to be involved and engaged by being here, asking questions, and bringing things forward. We want staff members to fill out the comment cards and go online and talk about the environment and some of these other things that are really important to them. If we look at the satisfaction survey that we did, the response rate on that is really low. It’s in the 20s. I would argue it’s not high enough for us to know some of the issues that are out there, so maybe that’s….
Questioner: That’s because staff feel like their opinions don’t matter.
KS: From my perspective, it’s like a catch-22. People say their opinions don’t matter so they’re not going to do it. But how will we know if people don’t do it? What I want to do is encourage these kinds of comments. I want to encourage staff members to feel like an integral part of the institution and that they’re helping grow it. It’s hard to fix anything if we don’t know truly what’s broken. And the only way I know how to figure out what’s broken is to have people tell me the things that need fixing. I want to make sure that we have a great atmosphere for our faculty, staff, and students here. I don’t want staff members, in particular, to feel like ‘Well, I grew up in this area and I’m not going to move to another state, so I’m kind of stuck.’ Nobody thrives in that kind of environment. You need to feel that this is a great place to be.
In regards to the surveys, say we bring in an outside firm every several years to do a survey and we push hard institutionally to get a response rate up to 50 or 60 percent. At that point, I think we’d have a meaningful data set, and it can show us two or three major things that we need to work on. We did this at Kansas State. It took awhile, and we still had some issues. To me, we have to identify the problems first, develop a plan second, and then execute. Getting those problems identified is our primary issue right now.
DB: The staff voice is an interesting question. Serving in this role and then as president for a year, I think our friends in the APAC leadership of WSU will tell you that as they go and visit with APAC groups across the west coast and the Pac-12, they realize our administration, particularly the president’s office, is very accessible. President Schulz meets with APAC leaders once a month, so that’s a good conduit. So if you’re an administrative professional, definitely work with and through those folks because that’s an hour a month. It’s not trivial.
The other point I would make, and maybe this is something we need to figure out, is we don’t have a like group for civil service employees. That’s always been explained to me as a state thing, but let’s look into that. It’s always been a puzzle to me because that’s a larger group but there’s not a representative group. So we talk to APAC, but civil service isn’t really represented.
Q: We talked earlier about faculty and staff salaries, but graduate student stipends are so low we qualify for state Medicaid. With repeated awareness and issues surrounding graduate student health insurance and ever lowering stipends for grad students, what, if any, proposals do either of you have for addressing graduate student salaries and the issues of graduate student health insurance?
KS: My conversations with graduate student leadership have really focused recently around the health insurance issue and what we can do legislatively to make sure that isn’t as big an issue. I would say that’s probably been the number one thing that we’ve talked about. Stipends are an issue everywhere that I’ve worked, and I think this is going to be a key challenge for us. How do we start bringing other solutions, private dollars, and others things to help those stipend issues? It’s a critical issue everywhere in the U.S. and I don’t have anything specific right now. The next time we talk with you, and we do it in this kind of a session, we’ll be in a better position to have some answers.
DB: The stipends are a variable. You can collapse stipends and increase their dollar value within a unit, but that’s a difficult discussion as well because you compact your enrollment, don’t have TAs, etc. I think through this next campaign, stipend supplements will need to be one of those priorities.
KS: And don’t underestimate a $2 billion campaign and the impact that we could have on graduate student stipends and supplements if we were able to put up a large fundraising number, build some endowments and some annual giving in that area. This is something that we’ve got to find a way to do. It’s not an option. And just going and beating on the state about it is probably not going to get us where we need to go.