Town-gown relationship, airport expansion, grad student insurance, experiential learning support, the tuition-driven model
Q: I have two questions for you. The first is surrounding your mention of the importance of growing faculty and diversity in the faculty and the faculty backbone. I think one of the main things that I’ve seen this past three years in the Allen school is that we really struggle to attract and retain high-quality faculty. And I think there are a lot of things that go into that, but one of the things is, I don’t see a lot of communication and collaboration with the actual city infrastructure component.
I wonder sometimes about access to amenities and the bus systems and things of that nature, or some of the civil planning and opportunities that may exist to, say, involve civil engineering graduate students in a revitalization effort, those kinds of efforts. I’m curious if you’ve got that on your radar, if it’s something that interests you in your plan, and the next thing…
Kirk Schulz: Can we talk about that first?
Questioner: Sure, go ahead!
KS: Okay, let me attempt to repeat the five-minute question…
KS: As we build faculty, retention in the faculty and the community is really a critical thing.
And how do we engage the city of Pullman?
So when I was getting ready for my interviews, interestingly online there were about 30 town halls that were done with all these different groups. They were about what they wanted in the next president of Washington State, and interestingly the one that was done locally, in Pullman, talked a lot about improving town-gown relationships and things like that. So we’ve actually had a couple meetings during my time here with leaders in the community to discuss a lot of these types of issues.
What kind of things can we do to make a more attractive community? What types of things can we do working together on this? What can we do to make the downtown more physically attractive and have additional types of businesses there? So the answer is those discussions are ongoing. We’ve had two or three pretty high-level ones already. And instead of each of us kind of lobbing hand grenades at each other, I really want us to be thinking ahead, saying what do we want Pullman to look like so that as we bring new folks and colleagues in they go, ‘Hey, I love my job at the university, and I love the town and the community.‘ We’ve got some work to do there.
And it’s both sides that have work to do. I don’t want to just point fingers anywhere else. So the bottom line is yes, we’re having those discussions, and I would welcome any thoughts you might have, or anybody might have. Olivia Yang, who’s our interim vice president of finance and administration, is working really hard on this dialogue, and I know anything that she sends to me I’ll make sure we put as part of our conversation.
Okay, that was question one.
Q: The next one is related to that a little bit as well, with respect to retention and recruitment. The airport expansion is something that dramatically affects the College of Veterinary Medicine. I, for one, am a faculty member with animals in those research facilities, and I know that the expansion of the airport may help us a bit with retention and recruitment, but I’m a bit concerned about the impact on ongoing research. In your list of buildings and plans for buildings, etc., you didn’t address that and I’m wondering if you could.
KS: Does anybody have easier questions?
KS: So, when I started in March, let’s just say that the dialogue between the airport board and the University was stressed. I’ll put it that way.
KS: And I think over the last six months, we’ve really worked much more closely with the city and airport board and so forth to come to a little bit more of a consensus that we were not going to be able to build Taj Mahal facilities. But on the other hand, this idea that it was a bunch of barns that we should just be able to go and erect and that was all we needed also was not completely true. So the good news is, I think we’ve settled in on a reasonable figure.
I think the airport board is in good alignment with the University there, and I believe that one of the reasons that you’re not reading so much about it in the newspaper is not that we are not working on it, it’s that we are working on it. We’re going to approach the FAA about how they can provide the necessary dollars to make sure we can do those facilities in a timely fashion without huge interruption to the important research that people are doing, so stay tuned. We’re still working on it.
Just because you’re not seeing it in the newspaper, please don’t take that as meaning that we’ve given up or we’re not worried about it anymore. There’s lots of work going on behind the scenes.
Q: I’m a second-year doctoral student in the vet med school, and I had a question on behalf of graduate students who are teaching and research students. Recently, some legislation has come in and American universities can no longer subsidize health insurance for graduate students, which is a consideration for retention of graduate students and recruiting new graduate students. I wonder, assuming that there are no legislative changes that would fix this problem, how does the administration plan to address this?
KS: So, largely, the question centers around the changes that are going to occur that prevent universities from providing subsidized health insurance to graduate students. I’m actually headed to Washington, D.C., later this month with other presidents at APLU schools to work with some of our Congressional delegation, not just in Washington, but nationally, trying to resolve this particular issue.
It went from, literally, about three weeks ago, almost no interaction out of D.C., to a couple days ago, they said, ’Hey, we got a group of presidents that are going to go. We think we can make something happen here. Can you find time to fit it into your schedule and go to D.C.?‘ So I’ll be representing several APLU presidents on this particular issue, and I am actually more optimistic now than I was even a few weeks ago, because it looks like there’s some traction that this is something that we need to find a solution to. So I don’t want to over promise, but the Graduate and Professional Students Association has been very vocal in a good way about being an advocate for trying to find solutions to this. Their primary objective this year is to get this resolved in a positive way for students, so we’re working on it. Yes?
Q: I noticed you have experiential learning and increasing opportunities for experiential learning in your mission statement right up front. I’m wondering what you’re doing or what you’re planning with respect to infrastructure that would encourage other than lecture-type teaching, not just at the undergraduate level, but also at professional schools and graduate level. I’m also wondering what you’re planning in terms of faculty development that helps move faculty who have been largely lecturing into a more experiential, interactive front?
Dan Bernardo: The question is basically how do we intend to elevate experiential learning into a transformational student experience, both in terms of training faculty as well as with facilities. There’s no magic bullet there. I’m going to deviate just a second intentionally, but I’ll answer it.
One of the things that the Drive to 25 is not about is simply a research agenda. We have to have the top 25 undergraduate programs to match top 25 research programs. So one of the things that goes along with that is we’re very congruent with a strategic plan, and that is defining what this transformational student experience is. And a lot of that has to do with transforming how we teach classes. We continue to invest in new facilities to assist in that.
Obviously, there’s a large investment going on up the hill from here with the digital classroom building that’s available to all faculty and all classes. That’s going to be a resource that we’re very much committed to finding faculty who are going to utilize that facility in the fall of 2017 in the way it’s intended.
So, it’s not just a free-for-all in terms of who’s going to be teaching there, but you have to present a plan as to why and how you would use the facility in the correct way. Dave Cillay’s unit is developing plans to augment what we are doing right now in terms of helping and assisting faculty. We have the resources in each unit. The challenge is giving them more exposure to the faculty and getting the faculty more exposure to them to try to advance this.
You’re leading the way with your teaching academy. That’s a model that a lot of colleges are following. They try to continue to increase the pace at which we adopt new teaching and learning methods.
What we hear, interestingly, if you survey the majority of the faculty on the Pullman campus and ask them what kind of facilities they need, many of them will tell you we need more lecture halls that hold 100 and 200 students. Fortunately, you’re shaking your head no. We do not want to invest in the past, so we want to continue to, as we build facilities and buildings, develop the best in these facilities.
Another part of this on the facilities is we need to develop multipurpose buildings. We develop research buildings for the University, but most of them have no undergraduate teaching mission associated with them outside of an undergraduate being in a research lab. Hopefully, we will move to multi-functional buildings as we continue to build out. That just is a necessity given the limited amount of new buildings that we’re going to be putting up. They have to be multi-functional.
Hope that helps some.
Q: With the increasing tuition-driven model, is that a model that we want over the next 15 years, or is it a model we’re stuck with, or are there plans to change it? I’m just curious what your opinion is.
DB: Well, it’s not a model of increasing the tuition cost to the student, but it is a model in which tuition is going to be a more significant component of our overall budget. I think the bottom line is, it doesn’t have to be tuition, but it has to be revenue that we generate. The idea of waiting for a money drop from Olympia… that is a losing strategy. It is not going to happen any time soon. So, we have to be entrepreneurial, whether it’s undergraduate tuition, whether it’s professional programs, whether it’s online, whether it’s research and increasing our overall research expenditures, whatever the case may be, we’re going to drive that budget ramp. Olympia is not going to.
Obviously, we’re going to do our best in Olympia. We just met with one of our candidates for the vice president for finance and administration who was from UC Davis. And you think we have limited budget for buildings? He told me Davis gets about $20 million a year on the average from the state for buildings. That’s a big AAU institution. We’re actually fortunate on the capital side relative to a lot of our peers. We’re just going to have to raise more funds from private donors and public-private partnerships. It’s just going to look different. Hopefully, it’s not going to be all tuition-driven. And you probably want to comment more about that.
KS: I think if you talk to the other presidents in the state of Washington, what we ask for is a predictive tuition policy, and not everybody is going to change what it’s going to be. And so, part of the challenge in a lot of states is, every time a legislature meets, it becomes a new idea of what to do with tuition. So, if we say we want to keep tuition as low as possible and increase it by cost of living, or pick something, it would be great if they actually did that for three or four years and didn’t change it.
I think one of the challenges is that major state universities like Washington State are becoming increasingly privatized in how we have to operate, and that means that tuition dollars coming in are going to be a bigger issue for us. It’s easy to look at affordability and things like that. We have to continue to convince the state of Washington that the best thing they can do is keep tuition low and help our families. And that’s, I think, where we were very fortunate last biennium to see the tuition reduced and, this is important, and the state backfill those dollars. In a lot of states, the legislature loves reducing tuition. They just say, ‘Go make the cut.’ And I think that part is really significant. There’s not a single elected official I talked to at the state of Washington that will take credit for doing that.
KS: It’s amazing. Democrats, Republicans, they all are extremely proud of that. And if they’re so proud of it, they can do it again but they have to continue to backfill those dollars to make sure that it doesn’t become, ‘Yeah, we’ve reduced tuition, but now the University has taken a major budget cut.’ So, we’ll see how things go. I know it’s five o’clock and you’ve got other things to do, like happy hour starting in places (chuckle), so let me take this opportunity to thank all of you for coming out.
A strong, dynamic vet school is part of what we need to get to the Drive for 25, and I look forward to hearing your suggestions as we move forward. Thank you.