Presidential goals, Drive to 25 metrics, doctoral students, faculty productivity, WSU Tri-Cities’ role

Q: A few weeks ago you shared a list of goals that the Regents gave you. And I have to say I was surprised that you did that because it’s like we all get to evaluate you, so could you talk a little bit about your thoughts behind that? And also the Drive to 25 is pretty aggressive, by 2030, so you’re kind of putting yourself out there, you know?

Kirk Schulz: Yeah, so one of the things that I did at my previous institution is when I had goals that were agreed upon by the board, I always put them out publicly. The reason I do that is I think it’s important for people to know what the president thinks that he or she should be working on. To me, they should be a shared set of goals and objectives. So this year, since it was brand new, they said ‘Well Kirk, what do you want to accomplish this year?’ So we had some iterations. Generally, what happens is, as we do goal setting for the chancellors and vice presidents in the spring, I would take some of those goals and their shared goals, so by the time the Regents approve them there would be some goals for this campus. There would be some goals for the other campuses.

I think it’s important for people simply to know what I’m spending my time doing. What I think is important and, as several people communicated to me, there may be some things in that list they think are missing. So for example, we had our students say ‘Kirk, great set of things, where is there anything in there about diversity?’ I said, well, the Drive to 25, I scrambled around a little bit. But that was a great point, to say, ‘Hey, it’s great to see them, but some things seem to be missing.’

That’s part of the reason for doing that, but I believe that institutionally we have to stretch ourselves. If you say, ‘Well Kirk, I don’t know how we’re going to get there, we don’t have enough money, we don’t have enough buildings, we don’t have enough faculty.’ We’ve got all these issues, whatever your favorite things are. In my mind, if we don’t set something very high out there to strive to, spend the time to collectively pull us together, and think about that, you’ll certainly never reach them.

Let’s say we do all this wonderful stuff and at the end of year 2030 we’re all getting together having a big party and we’re number 28. Right. And you say, ‘Well Kirk, awesome, you didn’t make it, it’s a failure.’ In my mind, if at that point we say, ‘Hey, Washington State is a better institution today, we’re happier in the work environment, our students are getting better job opportunities, graduate school opportunities, then I’ll say it will be a success.’ And so I want to reach number 25, but be mindful of what we want to do is get to the end and say, ‘Hey, we’ve worked together and we like where we are today, better than when we started.’

Q: On the Drive to 25 page, I’m looking at the 10 metrics that you mentioned. And I understand that these may not be finalized in terms of your priorities. So my question is this, how do you see the dispersed campuses contributing to Drive to 25? Before you answer, let me point out something. The top two metrics that you emphasized are total research and development expenditures and federal research expenditures. Then if you go down to the bottom, that’s student centric. It’s talking about median SAT scores and National Merit Scholars, which are actually metrics before the student graduates. So I’m not sure those are relevant metrics for us.

 Let me circle back, how can the dispersed campuses contribute when there is disproportionate allocation of resources?

KS: That’s a great question and one that we’ve had, when I was at Vancouver, faculty and staff there asked the same question. And Everett, they didn’t come out and ask it as directly because there are just not enough of them yet, but that’s there as well.

So a couple things. We put those 10 or 11 on the web page in August when we were first starting some discussions. Interestingly, as we have gone out and done this, several people have pointed out that the student success ones, for example, are all incoming, not what are we doing in a good way to a student when they are part of Washington State. And we should really be worried about the exit, not necessarily the entrance. That’s why I believe you’re not going to see that SAT one and some of that. There was really very low support for that and most faculty and staff members at universities are generally A type personalities, so that if they see something they’re figuring out some way they can contribute to it, which is good.

If we said, for example, that incoming SAT score is going to be one of our big things. Guess what, everybody starts adjusting to how we do that, and I think we’ve been successful and we may not be happy with the results that we have at that particular point because we’re emphasizing the wrong thing. So, part of the reason for this dialogue is to think about how the system as a whole can contribute. So, I would say here, for example, some sort of fundraising will be part of that, annual giving, pick whichever one. Annual giving, I think, is where we’ll land. I think this campus has some opportunities for doing some new buildings. Not all of that will be public dollars because we won’t get enough public dollars to do what we want to.

So, we need to maybe up our fundraising game so that we’re getting additional dollars coming here to support that. I use that as a very specific example, but I think we’re going to ask each campus to engage in dialogue and say, ‘How can you be contributing to the Drive to 25,” and the answer should be different in Tri-Cities than it is in Vancouver. It’s going to be elsewhere. If everybody has the same answer, I’ll think nobody’s thought about it thoroughly. So, does everybody have to contribute equally on each campus? No. But everybody can contribute in some areas, and I think that’s important to do.

Q: Can I ask you a follow-up question?

KS: Sure.

Q: When we were sort of moving toward trying for that AAU club membership… By the way, I appreciate how you look at it. That it’s just a country club. But one of the things that was on this matrix that was given as a benchmark for possible AAU membership was the number of doctorates we have here. I expressed this to a previous provost as well. Lately, why are you always so focused on doctorates? There are a lot of master’s degrees, and in today’s world, a master’s degree could actually be more valuable than a doctorate. And so I don’t see why all graduate student awards were not recognized as a benchmark. We always focus on doctorates, which I think is misplaced.

KS: I’ll take a shot at this and let Dan have it. Probably, I’ll tell you in advance our answers will probably be unsatisfactory, but I’ll give it a shot anyway. (laughter)

A couple of things. I think each campus needs to determine some of those things, but the doctorates are used by most universities as a metric. And just because every lemming goes over the cliff doesn’t mean that everybody has to do that, but I do think that’s a comparator we need to make and use. However, if you look at my Ph.D. educational experience, my dad was a doctoral student, and we compared our experiences 30 to 40 years apart. They were, unfortunately, incredibly identical, and to think of what the undergraduate experience looked like then and now, you’d say, ‘Man, there has been a lot of progress and things have changed.’

The reason I mention this is we have, as an institution, for a long time said, ‘If Kirk gets two more publications he will be a better doctoral graduate than if he has two less.’ And you’d say, ‘What about communication skills and other types of things that will make somebody successful in the marketplace?’ Or maybe a dialogue in the first year of doctoral saying, ‘What do you want to do?’ We tend to do most of our doctoral education assuming most of our students are going to go to academic positions when a huge majority, especially in sciences, go on to work in industry, and some very successfully. So instead of always saying doctoral education is not the right way to go, in my mind we ask ourselves, ‘Are we doing the right things to help prepare our doctoral students for the marketplace that most are going to be in?’ And simply doing what we did 30 years ago may not be the answer to that.

So I want us to have dialogue about not just whether master’s degrees are more valuable than doctorates, but also to ask ourselves, ‘What are we doing in the graduate educational experience to ensure that it’s a value-add for our students?’ And if they want to go into some particular fields and say ‘I want to be a science writer, I don’t want to go work in a chemical plant,’ we don’t go, ‘I’m kind of disappointed. That’s a terrible career path’ and instead say ‘We’ll happily work to get you there in a meaningful way so that Ph.D. experience is better.’ So that’s part of my philosophical argument.

Dan Bernardo: I think those are all excellent points. I don’t need to repeat those three. The other one I would add is probably that relative to our peers, it is where we horribly underperform. And there was an interesting study done at WSU about eight years ago that showed rather clearly that Ph.D. students were the main driver and explanatory variable in research publication production, not postdocs, not master’s, whatever. And so there’s a high causality of it between the two.

You also mentioned how does WSU Vancouver, WSU Tri-Cities, contribute to the matrix. It’s one, to add a couple things. Everybody contributes differently, but you have a comparative advantage here in some things, like the percentage of students who participate in a research or scholarship experience. You can contribute mightily to that because of your environment and the faculty, student numbers, etc. Think about that.

Take, for example, psychology at Pullman. Psychology at Pullman has 14 faculty. They have over 1,000 undergrads. Now that’s going be a challenge for us to pull this off in psychology in Pullman. It’s going to be a lot easier to do it here, where it’s already kind of ingrained in the fabric, anyway, where you can engage the students with faculty.

The other part, going to graduate education and research: Obviously, this campus can contribute mightily to graduate education and research. One of the challenges we have is that where we have some capacity, in terms of graduate education, is in Tri-Cities and Vancouver. Because some of our departments aren’t pushing out the opportunity for faculty on these campuses to participate in graduate education and have graduate students, many classes and other activities associated with graduate education are sort of held, in many cases, in Pullman.

And we have to change that. Because, if you look at the numbers, where we have capacity is outside of Pullman. It’s going to be imperative that, if we’re going to put tenure-track faculty at campuses, that those faculty have opportunities for graduate education. It just isn’t a choice. And the department chairs and the deans are beginning to understand that, at least with the current provost (laughter). Yes?

Q: A lot of universities are also measuring their metrics based on faculty productivity, or research productivity. I haven’t heard anything being mentioned about that. It’s kind of a mixture based on the number of publications, the presentations, the students, and the faculty. And one example starts in the Carson College of Business at WSU, that’s actually in the Top 100, in that area. Not many people actually talk about the WSU College of Business in terms of that. I just want to put it out there for consideration, to maybe include faculty research productivity as one of the methods.

DB: Well, I think the president was going to mention citations as likely going to make the list. And certainly, that is one particular productivity metric. One of the key things here is the metrics really are a byproduct of scholarly success, right? Not all colleges are going to contribute equally to each of those metrics. And what we don’t want to do is drive incentives away from those colleges being the best college they can be. Business is a really great example, right? Business tends, not at all institutions, but tends not to receive as much in the way of extramural support, right?

Well, they might not contribute as much there, but they can contribute to doctoral students, to citations, and we want to make sure that our business programs in that case are taking every step to be the best that they can be as they compare to their peers. Because if they do that, the rest is going to take care of itself, right? That’s a really good point. We don’t want to get away from the uniqueness of each of our disciplines. I mean, art doesn’t generate citations. They don’t generate Ph.D. students. They don’t generate research expenditures, for the most part. But they can contribute in different ways. And we want to have the best fine arts program we can possibly have.

I would say, too, that one of the challenges with setting any metrics is there always will be different opinions, appropriately, on what we should have, what we shouldn’t have. There are some metrics that are much more per faculty member in the 57 metrics in the strategic plan. I want to make everybody clear. That’s not going away. It’s just we want to take a few that we really are pushing institutionally to respond to.

KS: A quick story. At my previous institution, when I arrived there as a brand new president, they shared with me all these places where the institution ranked in the Top 10. And what they had done is self-optimize these metrics, so that the institution looked really good. And one thing that we have to always ask ourselves, with some of the metrics: If I sit down with the president of Stanford, the president of Michigan, and we were comparing, are we having at least a few apples to apples comparisons between the two institutions?

There are some sets of those things that I think are important to include if we really have these national aspirations that you have to have. A second set of things, like undergraduate research, and percentage of under-represented faculty, and those types of things, to me, are ones that we say, ‘I don’t care what they do at the University of Michigan. These are going to be important things to us, at Washington State University, and we want to measure those, and have campus dialogue about how to get there.’

And I don’t want to underestimate that. We, the administration in Pullman, don’t want to just set anything we want, and you guys go back to your office and say ‘I am going to ignore it. They’ll change it eventually, and I’m not going to do anything.’ Or, we pick a set of things. We engage in healthy faculty, staff, and student discourse on those, develop some plans around where people go, ‘Yeah. I’m not just on board, but I’m a part of this and I think these are important.’ We’ll be amazed at what we can do with 30,000 students and 2,000 faculty and stuff like that. That takes longer, but in the long term it’s more sustainable, and that’s what we want to get to. So, I encourage us to continue dialogue, and that’s a great question.

I’ve got time for like, one more. Yeah, most presidents by this time during the week, we’re out on the golf courses. (laughter)

Q: Now that you’ve been here to WSU Tri-Cities three times and you’re getting to know our campus, where do you think our campus will be able to contribute most to the Drive to 25 while still meeting the needs of our community?

KS: So the intersection between university system aspirations and gaining leads in the community: That’s a dialogue that you all need to be having here with your leadership team, and we need to be able to support that. A few things: We had a very active dialogue before this with a leadership team about a Hispanic-serving institution’s status. We’re asking the leadership team to put together a set of recommendations and finally engage the faculty and staff. We’ve got to make a decision on this. Not talk about it for the next 10 years. That doesn’t mean that it needs to be a go. Maybe after a lot of work everybody looks and says, ‘Hey, it sort of makes sense for us.’

But that would be something that would be part of the Drive to 25, that it would be unique to this campus and this set of communities. So, those are the types of things that I think are important out there. The other thing is, let’s use percentage of undergraduate students involved in scholarship. And scholarship here, folks, means something broad. Social sciences, art, anything. This campus may go, ‘We want 100 percent of our students to be involved. We don’t want to settle for 25 percent. We want to have every student that goes through here have that kind of experience.’

That’s the kind of thing that has to be a campus-wide discussion, but then all of a sudden, there’s something a little bit unique about being here where we say it’s not an option. This is going to be part of our expectation of what a student gets when graduating from the Tri-Cities campus. That’s where I think the exciting opportunities are going to be, and each of those will be different on each campus.

Well, folks, thank you very much for being here. It’s great to see everybody. Good luck, and you’ll see me. I’ll be back at least one more time before the first of the year and, as I mentioned, I think on my first visit, my goal is for me, personally, is to be here enough that it’s not notable when the president’s walking around campus.

As you have ideas and suggestions of things that we can do better, both as the senior leadership team and here on a campus, please keep Dan and I informed. We want to support your leadership team here. I’m excited about the direction that we’re going in and want to see this campus be wonderfully successful.

So go Cougs. Thank you.