Medical school, interdisciplinary programs, extension and outreach, forestry, student fees, creamery, faculty leadership training, discretionary money for department heads
Audience member comment: I was glad to hear you address the medical school and that you’re doing collaborations with the other colleges. I think that’s a great thing. I wanted to say that right now we have a discovery team going out and meeting new alums. We’re hearing a lot about the medical school, because it’s one of our talking points for getting people involved and getting their feedback. I think they have to see themselves in it a little more, and one of the things we’ve been working on is an idea called Rural Success. It’s something that we actually got from Rabobank, a large agricultural lender. They’re investing $30 million in Rural Success, and one of those things is rural healthcare. I think we need to find a way to get our talking points as an institution. Not just say we’re going to go after every donor and that every donor is going to give to the medical school, because that’s kind of our message right now. I think, instead, it’s ‘this is for you. This is for you, Washington state.’ Anyway, just wanted to say I’m glad you mentioned that because I think it’s so vital as we get the feedback.
Kirk Schulz: I appreciate that, and that’s what we need is folks looking out there for those types of opportunities. Starting a medical school is really horrendously expensive, and private dollars are going to be part of that, but I still say it’s an initial upfront investment.
In the long run, it benefits us all that we find these collaborative research areas that maybe before would have been tough to get into. Now, we’ve got, internally, some collaborators in places we can tie in, like extension, with the medical school. And not that our colleagues to the west couldn’t do that, but I think it brings unique perspective. Ideally, that’s 10 years down the road to make some of those things we want to see happen. That’s fantastic.
Q: What’s your feeling about interdisciplinary graduate programs where we are breaking down silos among multiple colleges and departments, but because of that type of situation, it’s very difficult for that unit to be funded through any one of those particular departments.
KS: Believe it or not, we don’t have meetings in French Admin where we talk about building silos up to prevent people from doing their job (laughter). I know it sort of feels sometimes like we must do that.
A couple things: I would say, I look upon our jobs as helping to facilitate doing cool scholarship and things like that. If there are barriers or walls, often artificial that we don’t realize are put up, we need to know about those. The beauty of interdisciplinary programs is they cross all those boundaries and allow students to work in cool areas. The challenge of an interdisciplinary program always is that nobody really owns it and that can make the funding part really difficult.
I think we’ve got to figure out, as we talk about some of our budget issues, how do we fund interdisciplinary programs? To me, you can have a home for an interdisciplinary program that can sometimes help with financial stuff, as long as you don’t lose the interdisciplinary flavor of working with colleagues and things that like. Sometimes the fact they float out there really hurts because if you have a couple people leave or somebody retires that had a passion for that, you lose that. Bottom line is I want to know what type of things you all think are needed in those programs to improve them. We can’t snap our fingers and make it happen, but at least it’ll allow us to start some dialogue around that.
Q: We heard your discussion about research and teaching. I was wondering if you could tell us your vision of extension and outreach for the University?
KS: Land-grant universities are special places, and part of what makes it special and unique is research and extension and the fact that we’re in every county in the state and work on scholarship and research problems that have a direct benefit to so many of our communities and industries in the state. We need to have a strong research and extension program that’s integrated into the University, that we promote effectively, and that they have facilities and infrastructure and funding for folks in those areas to be able to do their work.
The challenge with research and extension is sometimes it’s in areas that are geographically remote, or it’s out of sight, out of mind, or it gives the sense on campuses that it’s only about agriculture, which isn’t true. I think we need to make sure that we’re having some campus-wide discussions on the value of research and extension for the state of Washington and the fact that it can involve people in lots of disciplines.
We have to remind our faculty and staff and other units of that sometimes. Everybody’s doing their job, right? They’re trying to go out there and be successful. You don’t worry about telling somebody else why that’s important. When I was at Kansas State, we always had these discussions when budget cuts came down, and research and extension got a cut. We would talk about how it was important. You have to do that at other times.
So I would challenge, in a good way and a positive way, the leadership in those areas: we’ve got to have those campus-wide discussions. I’m very sympathetic, and I think it’s important. Clearly, Dan does. But as we bring in new leaders, we need to make sure we’re educating them and giving them that opportunity.
The last thing I’ll say on this is that I’m committed to go out to our extension centers and sites this next year in the spring, and I want to take some of our new leaders with us. I want to do that on an annual basis. I’ve got to be out to Prosser and these other areas to see what folks are doing so I can talk about it more effectively as president.
Q: Why are we driving to 25 and doing Grand Challenges when there is such a glaring hole in covering one of our state’s most basic needs: forestry.
Dan Bernardo: Obviously, forestry has been an interesting dynamic within this college. We have reinstituted the forestry undergraduate program, and our friends in the School of the Environment are engaged in forestry research. We have at least a couple of those faculty involved in forestry here today. So I guess I would just say that it continues to be a vital program within WSU Extension.
I’m hoping that we can move forward from the whole discussions around forestry, funding, budget cuts, etc. and think of how we’re going to integrate forestry more into our natural resource programs. That’s going to require leadership from the School of the Environment and extension to do just that. I think I’m going to leave it at that.
I would like to peel back to extension. I would challenge our extension colleagues to really think about how we utilize extension as a tremendous unique advantage to Washington State University in the Drive to 25 and in really bringing Washington State University to every community in the state of Washington. That can be kind of a threatening statement, I understand, because the first thing people say would be ‘Well, does that mean you’re going to reduce the amount of the extension activity in ag or natural resources or human development?’ No. It means that we need to figure out that this is not an exercise in dividing the state pie up further.
Extension can be a tremendous asset in building programs at WSU. The med school is a classic example. The med school is essentially a land-grant med school. It’s a community-based program. Its fundamental mission is to bring primary care doctors to challenged environments and rural environments, etc. Extension’s got to be part of that thinking. We literally have our new med school and our new CIO thinking about how we’re going to deliver medicine to Omak through our extension center there. That’s the type of creativity that‘s going to expand the pie, rather than defend the pie.
KS: Let me also make a comment about forestry. Whenever an institution makes a really tough decision about program consolidation or elimination, and I’ve been involved in several of these at several land-grant universities, I found that the successful ones are where faculty will stop fighting reorganization and decide ‘Hey, we’re going to work together. I don’t like it, but I’m going to make it happen because I want to be successful.’ Where I’ve seen it be miserable for everybody is when folks decide ‘Hey, you know what? I’m going to go to the grave fighting this.’ Then it becomes a really miserable, difficult thing for everybody.
So I’m not going to go back and revisit why those things happened. The bottom line is we have a structure in place, we need that to be really successful in the state of Washington, and we want to make that work. Sometimes folks just want to keep battling and battling, and I’ve watched people in the faculty be in a really difficult spot because they just didn’t want to acknowledge the change that happened. Let’s make forestry in its current configuration really, really successful.
Q: Is it true that there will be an increase in undergraduate fees?
KS: There’s been lots of discussion in the Daily Evergreen, for example, that we were going to have increased fees to pay for athletics and things like that. We spent a lot of discussion on things like that because there was a presentation I made to the Regents a couple weeks ago where that was part of a plan.
As a reminder—and I’ve tried to be really out there on this—the president does not decide on student fees. There’s a process where our students have to actually vote on that, and they decide if things even go on the ballot. There’s been a lot of noise around ‘Is he going to implement and do it?’ And the fact of the matter is, I couldn’t do it even if I wanted to, whether it’s for the library or athletics or anything else.
I think there’s a lot of worry, appropriately, about the cost of going to school and debt load. What we don’t want to do is have the state of Washington reduce tuition for families and then go back and add so many fees on top of it. That really takes it away. So I think we’re being very, very careful with the fee question. That doesn’t mean there won’t be anything proposed, but that will be voted on by the students like it always has been. That’s a recommendation, and only a recommendation. The Regents can then decide what’s going to happen.
Q: How do you think WSU can leverage our creamery here, which is one of the more successful creameries in the United States?
KS: I have a very extensive ag background growing up in a large city, so you have to remember most of my comments are based nothing in fact (laughter). The Cougar Gold cheese, for example. As I travel around the country and meet with Washington State graduates everywhere, that’s an iconic part of the Washington State experience. The ice cream in Ferdinand’s. We do all of that.
However, I will say, and I’m not trying to be offensive to anybody, we got a game day where we’ll have 50,000 people come into town and people leave on Sunday and they can’t stop by Ferdinand’s and get stuff. I think we need to look at if we can enhance any of those things to make sure that we’re being really strategic with something that’s a part of our culture. How do we go about growing that? I know there are some restrictions on where we get the milk, the size of the herd, and some of those things. I would like us to really think creatively, because I think that this college, it can be awesome. It can be a great revenue producer for us.
Every alum that I’ve ever met, no matter what state they’re in, if I give them some Cougar Gold cheese, I’ve made their day. How can we capitalize more fully on that. I just want us to be as creative as we possibly can. Coming from a non-ag background, I say, hell, we ought to be open on Sundays after game day so that we sell more of that stuff to people going back, and we can promote it. We’ve got some great opportunities here.
Follow-up question: What’s your favorite ice cream flavor? (laughter)
KS: So… I have not actually been to Ferdinand’s yet.
Audience: (collective good-natured groan)
DB: Shortest tenure president ever.
KS: I’ve had lots of Cougar Gold cheese, but the ice cream I haven’t done yet.
DB: One other…
KS: …Dan’s going to save me now.
DB: Oh no, he’s saved me a number of times. One of the things we are exploring is a center for food and liquid arts in Seattle. It’s more than an idea. Basically, the idea is to put a high-profile facility there which showcases our food and liquid arts. Not just telling it, but also producing it. It’d be a little bit like a food incubator. That has a lot of play in the giving community, as well as the government of the city of Seattle. I think that could very much be an opportunity to not only put forth the creamery, but a lot of the other food products that we produce through CAHNRS.
And you do know my favorite ice cream flavor.
Audience member: Mint chip?
DB: Yep! As long as you’re doing mint chip, I’m cool with the creamery.
Q: Our department has an interim chair, and the college has struggled to find chairs. What’s your vision on training faculty to become leaders?
KS: If we look at how people sometimes become department chairs or heads or whatever, we take somebody largely who is a successful researcher, got good grant money, mentored students well, taught in the classroom, etc. Then we move them into this position where, frankly, none of that really had anything to do with preparing them. Then we all get frustrated after a year or two. And of course they’re working their ass off, and they’re really struggling to make it all work. To me, we absolutely must provide internal training opportunities, not just for new department heads, but for people who say ‘You know what? I might want to be in academic administration at some point, and what types of things do I need to start learning or doing to prepare me to be successful in those particular fields?’
So I think we absolutely have to do it. I did this at my previous institution and people used to say ‘I’m not sure we do that, because if we train Dan really well, he might leave.’ And I go, ‘Well that’s no reason to not start a leadership development program.’ That’s silly. Those are the kinds of things I think we absolutely have to do.
Second thing is, you’ve gone through some changes in leadership with Dan moving up to the provost’s office and then Ron’s tenure. The new dean coming in here, that’s going to be something we’re going to expect he or she to work on: attracting, retaining great department heads. I love this place. We’ve got a lot going for us. There are reasons people are going to want to be here, and I think we just have to go out and sell that a little bit.
DB: I think that you hit on one of the greatest challenges we have: leadership at all levels, including the provost, but certainly chair leadership. I just was talking to the provost at UW, and actually they’re putting in a program for sort of inter-generational development of leaders. In other words, their mindset is every dean position, every chair position, we will have an heir apparent. They will develop that person. They are not going to go out and hire new deans. They are going to build their own deans.
We certainly should be doing that with chairs as well. To be quite frank, university wide, our batting average on hiring external chairs and bringing them in here is, let’s say, .500. Those are expensive misses. And a lot of that is culture and not really understanding WSU or maybe not understanding that department. So I really appreciate you bringing up the point. It is something we really want to focus on. The Provost Leadership Academy is one small thing we’re doing.
So I’ll just make this announcement right here. The long-term vice provost for faculty affairs is retiring. We’re going to convert that position and that office to a vice provost for faculty development and recognition. We’re going to take that position and focus more of its time on the development of our faculty and working with the 95 percent of the faculty that are doing a great job, rather than the 5 percent that we have to deal with on performance and discipline and all that. I think this really is a theme that we need to focus on: faculty development, administrative leadership, etc.
Q: One of the issues for retaining department chair is the net effect of all the things that have happened to this University over the past 10 years. We’ve adapted and reacted as well as we can to replace our funding. The discretion at the departmental level has gone down considerably. Talk to any department chair. They have no discretionary money to do anything with. I think that’s a discouraging thing. We hire somebody in, they come in with great ideas about what they want to do, and then they find out they have no discretionary money to work with. It’s been an unintended consequence of a lot of adaptations and change, but I think it’s an issue that I would suggest, sir, that you really seriously consider here. I think it’s a structural problem that leads to us not being able to retain department chairs.
KS: Let me offer a different perspective. I think the department chair job today is different than it was 10-15 years ago. And I don’t think it’s just at Washington State. I remember colleagues, when I was early in my career, that took that first department head job and it was all about how good they could negotiate with the dean for new faculty lines and resources and stuff like that. I don’t know of any department head job at any institution where that’s even part of the conversation anymore.
When I was a department head at Mississippi State, I had almost no discretionary money, no extra faculty lines and things like that. So I looked out there and I thought ‘Where can I get some resources? Externally.’ So I actually spent a lot of time as a department head out fundraising and working within that and was able to bring in some resources to be able to do some things. I think the department head job has changed, and we need to do leadership development and some recognition that it’s probably a little more externally focused job than it used to be 10-15 years ago.
I’m not making excuses as much as I just think the landscape has changed, and it’s unfair to take a colleague, put them in that position, and then the faculty all go ‘well, you’re a crappy negotiator.’ I think it’s a little bit of a different job that we have not, institutionally, helped prepare people for. I would argue the same with deans. It used to be the dean could go to the provost and get a big package to come in, and I don’t mean their salary. There were lots of other resources. We don’t really have those discussions anymore with prospective dean candidates.
I would love to continue the conversation but I think the challenge is landscapes have changed. I just don’t think they’re going back. I wish they would on some things, but I just don’t think they will.
DB: I guess I would just add to that. I appreciate what you’re saying, and in some colleges that’s true. And perhaps in some departments in this college, it’s true. But I would say that if the chair of economics—he’s here— had an HD of AMDT, I would guess that they would dispute the theory that they don’t have very much discretionary money because they have a great deal of discretionary money.
I think what we’re after with the chair and the dean is a program builder, somebody who’s entrepreneurial, and somebody who’s going to take the incentive structure that’s out there and build the resources for their department. Now, I would agree that those opportunities are uneven and we need to continue to work on that.
The idea is we have to be program builders and revenue acquirers. I think that goes down to the chairs as well, and the point is still true. We have to prepare people in that way and arm them and provide them the training to go about doing that. It’s not necessarily natural for department chairs, but that’s where we’re going, I think.